By Alexander Mistakidis, CEO at Gamelynx.
Startups live or die by their ability to learn and adapt. Prolific startup authors like Eric Ries and Steve Blank articulate this using concepts like The Lean Startup methodology and build-measure-learn loops. Ultimately though, it's your teammates who do the learning, so it's important to consider how they each view learning to maximize results. At my company, we strive to empower our team by taking the deliberate step of discussing the success psychology of mindset and learning. By leveraging firsthand experience and research, we have been able to make our team more effective and more resilient. The easiest way to get started at your company is to share the intuitive and impactful research behind mindset psychology.
Growth-Minded People Learn More
Carol Dweck is a renowned psychologist who coined mindset (or belief) as a psychological trait. She spent decades researching how students cope with challenges and difficulty and identified two mindsets that governed how people approach learning. The results are simple and effective. There is the growth mindset, where people believe mistakes are opportunities to learn and improve, and the fixed mindset, where people think their talent is fixed and mistakes indicate lack of ability.
In a specific study, she gave students problems that were slightly too difficult for them. Some students react positively, indicating a growth mindset. They understood that failure is not permanent. Others felt attacked, that the challenge was unfair because it exposed their intelligence as sub-par. Dweck explained that instead of enjoying the power of "not yet," they were struck by the tyranny of now.
If they failed a test, those same students were prone to cheat rather than study more. In another study, participants looked for a peer that performed worse than they did so they could feel better about their current performance. You can observe similar forms of escapism and defensiveness in the workplace.
Growth-Minded Organizations Are Happier
In 2015, researchers (including Dweck) concluded a two-year study on the effect on growth mindset within several Fortune 1000 companies. The results indicated that organizations themselves either had a culture of genius (fixed mindset) or a culture of development (growth mindset). It demonstrated that a development culture had a positive impact on employee happiness and allowed people to take risks on innovation.
As a smaller company, having happy employees and being agile to innovate is especially important. As a founder, there are many ways to deliberately foster this culture.
Get Everyone on the Same Page
You could simply provide copies of Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, but there's no guarantee that people will read it in a timely fashion. We took the time to present this important material before giving out the book so we all had an immediate common understanding to act upon. From there, it was easy to discuss and establish how our team can practice this daily and lead by example.
Celebrate Owning Mistakes
At Gamelynx, we don't want anyone feeling they need to defend mistakes. We have a mistake trophy that gets passed to a new owner anytime they own up to a mistake. People have owned up to everything from being stubborn and argumentative to inadvertently creating a bug that crashed our product. It's lighthearted and silly, but it gets us talking and gives people an acknowledgment of the positive aspects/effects of their mistake.
Celebrate Giving Feedback
Besides the typical company-wide discussions, one actionable way we encourage honest feedback is through humor. Laughter is a natural reaction when uncomfortable. We use banter to call out inappropriate comments or situations where people are getting off track. The instant feedback is effective in making people aware in the moment, and for us that's a small gesture that goes a long way. By combining this with individual conversations, more serious feedback and non-confrontational options for giving feedback, we've created a forgiving and adapting culture. As a result, the team is more open to celebrating mistakes and providing constructive criticism. It takes deliberateness to maintain a culture of risk-taking and resilience, but these have been effective strategies for us.
Alexander Mistakidis is CEO at Gamelynx, a mobile games studio focused on team-based competitive games.