“Growth mindset” seems to be a phrase on every business leader’s mind these days, popping up everywhere from Twitter feeds to official management initiatives. But despite its ubiquitousness, it seems that a lot of people misunderstand the true meaning of a growth mindset, and what growth mindset in business means.
Growth Mindset in Business
Author and Stanford University professor Carol Dweck coined the term in her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. As she writes for Harvard Business Review,
“[P]opularity has a price: people sometimes distort ideas, and therefore fail to reap their benefits.”
But when properly understood and effectively cultivated, a growth mindset has demonstrable benefits in business, including more trust between colleagues, boosted morale, and increased innovation. According to Emeritus, people who work at companies with a growth mindset are 65% more likely to say that their company promotes risk-taking—and without risks, there is no innovation.
At my company, Jotform, doing our best to achieve a growth mindset has helped us to navigate the pandemic and lean into experimentation and adjustment during rapidly evolving circumstances. Having founded my company over 16 years ago, I’m increasingly convinced that a commitment to continued learning is not just a benefit but also a requisite for success.
It’s worth taking a closer look at research-backed strategies for cultivating the mindset necessary to grow your business today. But what does “growth mindset” really mean according to the term’s creator?
Growth Mindset in Action
A decade after the publication of her groundbreaking book, Dweck decided to set the record straight on growth mindset. Summing up the findings of her research, Dweck explained in Harvard Business Review that individuals with a growth mindset believe that their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others.
“They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset…because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”
On an organizational level, having a growth mindset means that employees feel more empowered, committed, and receive greater support for collaboration and innovation. More on what that looks like in practice below.
A startling finding from Dweck’s research is that employees of fixed-mindset companies report more of just one thing: cheating and deception among employees. While this kind of dog-eat-dog culture might lead to short-term gains, it ultimately leads to a less collaborative and, therefore, less innovative organization in the long term.
Because what happens when employees feel less trust and commitment? There’s a direct impact on organizational productivity, job satisfaction, and employee turnover—in other words, these factors can make or break your company.
Importantly, all mindsets exist on a spectrum. There is no such thing as a purely fixed or growth mindset. “Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience,” noted Dweck.
Tips for Cultivating a Growth Mindset in Your Company
Below are a few pointers for nudging your mindset toward the growth side of the spectrum.
1. Lead by Example
The world’s most successful companies recognize the importance of a growth mindset—and that it comes from the top-down. They make it no secret that their leadership team is committed to continued growth and learning.
Take Canva, the Australia-based graphic design platform that was recently valued at $40 billion and goes toe-to-toe with corporate giants like Adobe. Co-founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht, who initially set out to create a school yearbook company, have learned tons throughout their meteoric rise to global success.
“He’s very adaptable,” Perkins said of her co-founder in an interview with Financial Review. “We get challenges every day that we haven’t dealt with before, and he’s really good at learning while he’s problem-solving.”
This kind of transparency sends a clear signal to Canva’s 2500-plus employees: no one’s knowledge and skillset is a fixed entity; we are all learning as we go.
Or consider recent news from Airbnb that CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky would spend the next year living in Airbnbs across the country to learn about and improve the experience for the company’s customers—increasingly digital nomads.
After a tough stretch during the pandemic, when changes in the travel industry forced Airbnb to cut its workforce by 25%, the company’s commitment to continued learning—to adjust to changing circumstances and remain relevant—is a prime example of a growth mindset in action.
By admitting that we have room to grow and explore, we create for ourselves and our companies new opportunities
2. Encourage Processes That Promote Learning
Publishing a tweet or an organizational manifesto that outlines your commitment to a growth mindset is not enough. To cultivate a growth mindset, you can’t just talk the talk.
So, how do you walk the walk?
As Dweck notes,
“It’s critical to reward not just effort but learning and progress, and to emphasize the processes that yield these things, such as seeking help from others, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward effectively.”
Create and promote channels for colleagues to seek help from one another. Acknowledge wins but also failures, and identify the teachable moments.
When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took the helm in 2014, he led his company back to relevance by shifting from a “know-it-all” culture to a “learn-it-all” culture. To cite one example: in monthly videos, Nadella shared his top lessons and encouraged employees across the company to share theirs.
Establish practices that create an atmosphere of risk-taking and experimentation. At Jotform, we host weekly Demo Days that give employees a chance to share what they’re working on and think through their latest ideas, regardless of how far-fetched. By focusing on the process, not the results, we aim to create a space for unbridled innovation.
In the words of investor and former AngelList CEO Naval Ravikant,
“In the modern world, don’t minimize your risks – maximize your opportunities.”
3. Encourage Cross-Domain Collaboration
While the recent boom in remote work has resulted in various benefits for some teams—like slashed commuting time, increased familiarity among colleagues, and more time with family—one of the unintended consequences has been more corporate silos. In short, that means less interaction between employees across departments.
Why is this so problematic?
You don’t know what you don’t know, as they say. Not only can employees maximize their learning potential by exchanging ideas with other departments, but they can also identify untapped potential.
“Organizations with growth mindsets understand that an employee’s full potential may not be immediately apparent,” highlights Emeritus.
One way that my company tries to break down silos is by organizing our employees into cross-functional teams. Each team operates like its own mini-company, and the effects are clear: boosted motivation, more creativity, and remarkable momentum.
In fact, McKinsey found that the companies that saw improved performance during the pandemic “increased their reliance on networks of small, empowered, cross-silo teams by 61 percent.”
Empower these small, cross-functional teams, then get out of their way and let them do their best collaborative work. Learning opportunities will arise organically.
4. Invest in Education
Finally, providing employees with skills training isn’t a corporate perk, it’s an imperative.
As McKinsey found, moving forward, the most successful companies will invest in reskilling and upskilling their current talent pool with both formal training and informal apprenticeship and mentoring.
This is especially critical with the advent of automation and other new technologies. McKinsey explains,
“When 50 percent of a job is automated, the way to capture that value is to evolve the work, creating new full-time roles that often require new skill sets.”
Aside from the cold-hard skill acquisition, investing in your people’s education and advancement signals to employees that their organization views them as evolving professionals with boundless potential.
We all have a growth mindset to a certain extent—and at the same time, we can all cultivate more. Hopefully, the above practices will help your company to promote the kind of growth mindset envisioned by Dweck herself.
Featured photo credit: DocuSign via unsplash.com