November 15, 2011

The importance of a growth mindset

At the Neuroleadership Summit in San Francisco last week, neuroscientists and business leaders connected to share ideas around the theme "Adaptive Organisations."

Carol Dweck's conversation on the beliefs organisations should hold was particularly important as it illuminated one of the essential components of success: a growth mindset. 

Organisations that are willing to learn will be more adaptive and innovative, making them more ready to deal with the increasing complexities and challenges of the 21st century.

Our mindset creates a whole realm of psychological rules and behaviours that govern our potential for success, and learners are more successful than non-learners. When we learn from our mistakes, we can move on from them and push past previous limitations. However, non-learners will continue to  stay mired in their issues as they make the same mistakes over and over again.

We are born curious about the world around us. Babies continually scan their environment, picking up cues from the people and events around them to understand how to think and be in their culture. It is natural and effortless for them. What then happens to change someone into a non-learner?

Interestingly, our willingness to learn is associated with our relationship to talent. Those who perceive intelligence and ability as genetic will have a fixed mindset that stops learning. They'll be more likely to give up if a task proves to be difficult as they'll believe that talent should come naturally and that their efforts will not pay off.

However, people who realise that talent and genius are a result of years of dedicated learning and practice will have an open mindset. They will be more likely to seek out challenges and take on projects and opportunities that are out of their comfort zone. They'll put themselves on a journey towards mastery and enjoy the process, as well as strive for results.

Promoting a growth mindset in your people is quite easy to do. Simply praise the effort and reinforce the importance of learning.

Teachers and employers who praise the effort will foster a growth mindset. "Genius talk" that praises the intelligence shuts down learning, hampers performance and leads to cheating. A recent study found that 40 per cent of people with a fixed mindset lied about their test scores, even when they knew their names would not be revealed.

Forget the superstar labels. Give people permission to make mistakes and learn. Let them know that  that their efforts are valued and encourage them to push out of their comfort zone. It's where breakthroughs occur and where true genius is found.      

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