Musings on “Growth Mindset”

Image courtesy of The Economist

Cross-post with my LinkedIn feed

My husband and I were recently discussing how some people just seem to have “grit” (he’s a big fan of Dave Goggins and his transformation from obese self-proclaimed “loser” to Navy Seal) and some don’t. I told him about Carol Dweck’s research into growth mindset and her assertion that some people are just born with it (about 40% as mentioned in her book Mindset) Our clients often talk about encouraging a growth mindset in the organisation and how they can use Degreed to foster it.

As part of my professional development plan I’ve set for myself (in Degreed of course!), I set aside some time for myself today to reflect on this topic and refresh my understanding. I found this short 3.5 page article worth the time. Dweck summarises her team’s and Rheinbeck’s research and I can personally relate to all of their research subject types:
Individual students: receiving coaching on growth mindset and visualising how stretching yourself creates new neuron connections in the brain can make you enhance achievement.

Typically marginalised or stereotyped students: receiving coaching on growth mindset can enhance gaps for e.g. female or minority students in mathematics. I was not naturally gifted at mathematics but I’m lucky to naturally have a growth mindset. Our high-school calculus teacher was famous for being unfriendly to females and indeed he wasn’t very helpful. This just pissed me off and through hard work I forced him to give me an A.

Students of teachers with fixed mindset: low achievers who started in these teachers’ classes left the same at the end of the term. How can we translate this to our roles as adults today, as leaders, coaches or peer colleagues?

Athletes with coaches possessing growth mindset: athletes who believe their coach values practice and hard work over pure talent will perform better. Honestly, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan or Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have been uniquely gifted in their sport but they had thousands of hours of grind behind them.

After reviewing the research on growth mindset my reflections naturally turn to how can I apply this to my roles in life. At work for the moment, I’m an individual contributor, but that doesn’t mean I can’t demonstrate leadership. I can encourage colleagues, provide resources, help and ideas and critically, embrace the opportunity for a tough conversation. Fear of having a tough conversation seems to stem from two things: dread of confrontation and/or a belief that the person is incapable of seeing what is obviously an issue and will never change. Being a good colleague in this type of situation means swallowing any dread, approaching such a conversation with compassion, and of course a growth mindset that the person can change!

When I am a leader again, I’ll dust off my old “servant-leadership” hat. When I was in the Army I always had the attitude that I was there to get my soldiers the resources they needed to accomplish the mission. It’s not too different in the civilian world, really, we just don’t walk around with our rank and medals on display all the time. In a flatter organisation, sometimes the challenge can be helping talented, experienced people discover how they can “grow” but not necessarily by being promoted.

As a parent: Dweck’s research mentions it’s really important to praise children for the effort they put into something, not just praise the result no matter the outcome. I have been doing this as a parent but am reminded to redouble my effort. My son recently studied really hard for a science test and got a great result. I said, “congratulations! I know you worked really hard on that!” I can do the same with his sports and other activities.

At Degreed in keeping with our values, we all receive an educational stipend of USD 100 a month called FlexEd. Serendipitously, my indirect manager challenged us all on Friday to share what we have been using it for. Some amazing ideas: TED Women, Masterclass, MindValley, a course in compassionate inquiry, books. I’ve used mine for courses in mushroom foraging, German, Farsi, Agile Project Management to name a few things. Today I began a journey to re-awakening my love of music and I had my first piano lesson, funded by #flexed. Playing an instrument is linked to enhanced cognition, at least for developing brains so I shall choose to believe my brain is “still developing” LOL.

I will never be the equivalent of Serena Williams, the president of a country (maybe I could be president of the local gardening club but…) or head of the IMF. I’m not thinking of immortality or much impact after I’m gone. It’s OK, I can make a small contribution while I’m here… to beauty in the world by living growth mindset in my professional and personal interactions, and in honouring the joy of learning for myself.