Friday, 11 December 2015

Fixed Mind vs Growth Mind

(Winkler, 2014)

Stanford University professor Carol Dweck has identified the growth mindset as being one where efforts are praised in place of intelligence (Dweck, 2006).

The concept of the growth mind-set as opposed to the fixed mind-set is a variation on the age-old question of nature vs. nurture. The idea behind this concept is sound; praising people's effort, rather than their cleverness, will result in greater motivation, and better results.

Those praised for success through effort are encouraged to continue this effort and improve. Tackling new challenges is not so intimidating when success is not linked to intelligence.

The opposing mind; that intelligence is the factor to be recognised in success, can have a demotivating effect. Often, those who recognised their achievement as a primary result of their intellect were apprehensive about facing obstacles where their failure could be attributed to less intelligence.

I find this theory particularly relevant to my own life. Too often, I find myself looking externally for reasons I have failed, rather than focussing my efforts on what steps I could have taken to improve outcomes. Personally, due to suffering from two chronic illnesses, I am often lacking in energy and feel unable to complete course-work to a standard I find acceptable. It is very easy for me to shift blame for any under-par work on my health, rather than owning the results. Exploring the growth mindset has interested me as I believe I would benefit from growing a growth mindset, and instead of looking for past reasons for times when I haven’t achieved as I would like, to looking for future solutions, actions I could take, and efforts I could improve.

A growth mindset places the locus of control internally, leading to solution-orientated thought, focusing on how obstacles can be overcome through effort, and believing that their success or failure will be attributed to how they deal with these obstacles. A fixed mindset places the locus of control externally, shifting ‘blame’ for failures on factors outside of their control such as other people, unfair practices, or even the weather. Such thought patterns lead fixed mindset individuals to lack motivation, as they view their results as something they have no ability to change.

Those with a growth mindset can be inspired by the successes of others, seeing their achievements as demonstrations of how great effort leads naturally to achievement. With a mindset that determination has gone into others success, it is simple to see how the same effort applied by themselves could achieve desired results. By contrast, those with fixed mindsets can feel threatened by the success of others. As they perceive the result of others as having to come from a deep-rooted intelligence or innate skill, other’s success undermines their own, the successful party must therefore be of superior intelligence. This mindset can lead to a defeatist attitude as it is believed that no amount of effort will ever change the ‘status quo’ of intelligence dealt (Dweck, 2006).

Research into the outcomes of growth vs fixed mindset has revealed fascinating result. Carol Dweck undertook an investigation of children’s study habits, asking groups of children a range of 10 questions:
  1. Group A was praised for their intelligence after the first round of questioning. The feedback for this group included words such as ‘smart, clever, and intelligent’. After the initial testing, the performance of this group fell. The group were reluctant to take on new challenges as they did not want appear less intelligent if they were to fail.
  2. Group B were praised for their effort. Words such as ‘hard-working, diligent, and tenacious were used in their feedback. Contrasted with Group A, Group B excelled in further testing. Their performance improved, and 90% of participants sought out new challenges.
Personally, I would find it helpful to follow the growth mindset both as a leader and when being led. I have learned that the fixed mindset has been pervasive in my thinking for much of my professional and academic life, and that this may have hindered my confidence to face new challenges at times. Using the growth mindset would allow me to enable myself, and those around me to meet greater potential than that which is capped with a fixed mindset. Using this theory of leadership, previous tasks which appear to be insurmountable or beyond the limitations of my intelligence are conquerable with an attitude that the effort put in is the determining factor on whether I achieve success, rather than an arbitrary genetic limitation beyond my control.

Encouraging others by the strength of their efforts, and acknowledging the effort that I have exerted, will allow me to see the fruits of my labours as precisely that; the end result of my effort rather than a set outcome of whether or not I am ‘smart enough’ for the challenges ahead. When praising the work of myself and others, using words such as ‘hard-working, full of effort, and tenacious', will encourage a growth mindset. Conversely when considering where things have gone less well, looking for solutions, identifying areas where more effort could have been expended, and searching for internal explanations which can be overcome, will be far more helpful than adopting a defeatist attitude where my results are out of my control.

The growth mindset theory is definitely one I would use in my future, both at work and in my private life. In my current role, the growth mindset could be beneficial in several areas. Dealing with complaints is a reality of my job, using the growth mindset, instead of thinking of the customer as being impatient or unreasonable, I would instead look at how I can make a difference to their experience, and how I can meet their needs more effectively in the future, such as offering alternatives, remaining patient, and remaining assertive without crossing into passive aggressiveness.


This post was written by Cat James, used with permission.

  • Dweck, Carol (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. USA: Baltimore Books. 
  • Winkler, Dan (2014). The Growth Mindset: The Important Concept NOT Taught Under the Common Core. Retrieved 25 November 2015 from

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