Why is it that throughout life, some people seem to be comfortable going up for new challenges, and growing as a result, while other people want to stay exactly where they are?
It may be partially down to what sort of mindset these people have.
Carol Dweck is a researcher who studies mindset, and her research suggests that there are people with a growth mindset and people with a fixed mindset. These differences relate to how they see their own talents and abilities, and whether they can be improved.
In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.
In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.
This, combined with how people use deliberate practice to improve their skills, is one of the reasons why some people find it easier to develop their creative skills and get innovative project off the ground.
They are not afraid of failure, since they think of failure as a stepping stone to a better performance in the future. Individuals with a “growth” mindset are more likely to continue working hard despite setbacks.
Dweck argues that the growth mindset “will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life“.
What is especially important here is to understand how much of a hindrance a fixed mindset can be, especially if someone was brought up thinking that their success was a result of them being born a certain way. She gives examples from her research with children, where she gave a group of students a task which was deliberately too challenging for them to see how they reacted. Those with a growth mindset enjoyed the exercise, while those with a fixed mindset said the next time they would cheat, they would look for someone who performed worse than them in order to feel better, and that they would try to avoid such challenging tests altogether in the future.
Other studies have even shown that people with a growth mindset’s brains become more active when looking at an error they made, whereas with a fixed mindset there is almost no engagement.
Dweck’s research also seems to suggest that this mindset is partially down to how someone is raised, and especially, how they are praised.
There is a danger in praising children (or adults) for what they are right now. “You are so smart”. “You are so pretty”. This constant validation puts the emphasis on what they are, rather than what they are working on or trying to become. It is also more likely to teach children to constantly try to be perfect, which can result in a fixed mindset where they don’t think they can fail, and thereby they can’t grow.
According to Dweck (2010):
praising students for the process they have engaged in—the effort they applied, the strategies they used, the choices they made, the persistence they displayed, and so on—yields more long-term benefits than telling them they are ‘smart’ when they succeed
In a recent article in HBR, Dweck outlined the differences in what impact a growth mindset can have for innovation in a company:
When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation. In contrast, people at primarily fixed-mindset companies report more of only one thing: cheating and deception among employees, presumably to gain an advantage in the talent race.
Organizations that embody a growth mindset encourage appropriate risk-taking, knowing that some risks won’t work out. They reward employees for important and useful lessons learned, even if a project does not meet its original goals. They support
collaboration across organizational boundaries rather than competition among employees or units. They are committed to the growth of every member, not just in words but in deeds, such as broadly available development and advancement opportunities. And they continually reinforce growth mindset values with concrete policies.
Much like all other psychological factors, there is a spectrum, and nobody is 100% growth or fixed mindset all of the time. This will vary based on a number of factors, including your surroundings, other people and triggers.
But everyone can develop more of a growth mindset.
And this in turn can turbocharge your creative performance if you let it.