Individuals who believe that talents and abilities can be developed through effort, practice, and instruction are more successful than those who believe that talents and abilities are fixed. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has spent several decades studying the dichotomy between individuals with a growth mindset—who see talents and abilities as malleable—and individuals with a fixed mindset—who see talents and abilities as fixed. The distinction between these two extremes has large implications for motivation, productivity, and achievement.
Having a growth mindset is a robust predictor of academic success. In a study conducted with three hundred and fifty seventh graders, students who believed that their mathematical intelligence was malleable had more positive beliefs about effort, were more resilient in the face of failure and had better overall mathematics performance than their fixed mindset counterparts. Another study conducted with pre-medical students in America found that students with a growth mindset were more concerned about learning than grades, remained more engaged in vigorous learning and ended up with significantly higher final grades than students with fixed mindsets.
The growth vs. fixed mindset distinction has implications outside student learning and education. In the workplace, leaders with a fixed mindset place little value in developing the potential of employees, fostering a fixed mindset environment. Leaders with a growth mindset, on the other hand, appreciate effort put into developing abilities, creating an environment of learning and growth.
As reported in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, Dweck and her colleagues have extended their work on mindsets to organizations, categorizing several Fortune 1000 companies into predominantly fixed or growth mindset companies. Preliminary findings suggest that employees at fixed mindset companies are less committed, more worried about failing and pursue fewer innovative projects than employees at growth mindset companies. Overall, growth mindset firms have happier employees and a more innovative, risk-taking culture.
Fostering a growth mindset has positive implications for both individuals and organizations. However, in Nepal, where many believe that a person’s destiny is sealed at birth, fixed mindsets are all too common. Anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista blamed fatalism—the belief that one has no control over their life circumstances, which are determined through a divine or powerful external agency—for Nepal’s lack of development. As Nepalis, we may have to work particularly hard to shed our fixed mindsets and move towards growth.
The good news is that mindsets can be changed. If you find yourself believing in things like “I’m just not a good public speaker” or “I’m not a math person”, Dweck suggests adding “yet” to the end of the sentence. Doing so, changes the statement from an absolute to one with a potential for change; the key is believing you can improve. Setting new challenges for yourself and prioritizing the value of learning can aid in the development of a growth mindset. Setting small achievable goals for yourself can also improve confidence and lead to a mindset of growth.
If organizations want to pursue a growth mindset, leaders have to promote continual learning, acceptance of mistakes and maximizing employee potential. This means valuing affinity for learning over credentials and previous accomplishments. Focusing on capacity for growth may yield significant advantages over firms that simply focus on the existing talent they have in place.