Carol Dweck's seminal book Mindset and her decades-long research at Stanford University have made a company's mindset the focal point of how companies will compete in uncertain times. It is indeed the strategic imperative of choice among leaders across sectors who want to advance and continue to thrive. Trouble is, many entrepreneurs aren't actually using it. Why?
Dweck's mindset theory is simple and, when applied consistently, can be very powerful. It boils down to one simple observation proved by countless studies by Dweck and others -- each of us is equipped with the ability to tap into two mindsets: fixed and growth. Each mindset produces vastly different paths, in particular for those who hope to build thriving organizations. Here's how the two mindsets play out.
With a fixed mindset, you see the world as limited and you muddle through your business doing the best you can with what you're handed. Not you, you say? Look around. The places we learn, the roles we fill, in truth the world around us, encourages a fixed mindset. Just think of the entrepreneur (maybe the one you see in the mirror) who becomes so focused on producing results and hitting metrics tied to a business plan that they fail to see when the world around them renders that plan irrelevant. They may convince themselves that by meeting their numbers they increase predictability, but inevitably, by failing to stay open to better ideas and opportunities for growth, they end up reducing it.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, yields a different view. Through it, you see the constraints you set for yourself (a plan, its measures, even a targeted market) as useful but inherently temporary. You're conscious of, and believe in, the opportunity for perpetual expansion when it comes to your ideas, skills, and impact.
When placed side by side like this, the growth mindset is attractive, which is in part why so many leaders are talking about it. Yet many also feel stuck in environments (often of their own making) dominated by a fixed mindset. But there's good news: Dweck's studies repeatedly prove that even if a narrow mindset governs your world right now, you can change it. And when you do, the research shows that it tends to stick. It seems we hunger for it, and when we feed that hunger, we thrive.
The challenge is how to make the switch.
My own research into entrepreneurship has found the best way to move to a growth mindset is to start with three simple steps.
Look for ways to make ideas collide.
One of the earliest creativity researchers, Arthur Koestler, observed that creative breakthroughs in any field share a common origin: an intersection of ideas. A fixed mindset tries to keep our ideas in orderly files, hoping to yield predictable results in our lives. Trouble is, it's pretty hard to innovate by cordoning off ideas from one another. In reality, it's when two ideas are allowed to come together in an unexpected way that we actually see something new. Freeing ourselves to look for those intersections, even by shifting where we look or whom we look to, puts us in the mindset of growth.
Explore new learning environments.
Education reformer Ken Robinson is known for his TED Talks on learning and creativity, but his insight about how humans are built to learn is arguably more powerful. People thrive in learning environments that are diverse, distinct, and dynamic. But that isn't the way most of our learning environments, from public schools to business training programs, are structured. We're taught rules and in turn teach our employees, even our customers, to follow set paths and look for familiar conclusions, drawing on only people and ideas known to us. Even a simple break toward a more diverse or distinct point of view (like asking your customers what they see, rather than telling them what you want them to see) can completely shift the opportunities available to you to grow.
Be open -- and stay open.
The final way to help unlock the promise of the growth mindset might sound familiar: Be open. But there's an important footnote lesson: Don't stop. At the beginning of every good innovation is openness--that willingness to cross boundaries, explore the unfamiliar, and experiment. In every case, openness lights the path to innovation and those valuable outcomes we want. If we want to grow, if we want to create, we must not only start open, but also learn to stay open. That's where the power is. And the only way to unleash that power is to change your mindset to one of growth.
Three simple steps, so logical you're probably nodding in agreement right now. Stop nodding, and get going.