Is your performance stunting your growth?


Having recently come to the end of an intensive contract, I've found I've had more time to reflect. I have, of course, been thinking about what comes next. But I've also been considering my performance, and how I can continue to improve how I work. And that reflection has led me to a concept that's becoming well known in schools, but perhaps less so in business: a growth mindset.


The concept was developed by Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, to describe the different ways children learn. Some have a fixed mindset. These are the kids who are told they have a talent or innate ability for a particular subject or activity. Great if you're smart, right? Well, no. Dweck's studies showed that these learners were less able to cope with failure, and tend to reach a plateau. In contrast, using a growth mindset means learners are praised for the effort they put in, instead of the results. Students embracing this approach believe they can get better or smarter if they practise, which leads to better results. Not only that, they become more resilient, better problem solvers and look forward to challenges.

Why does this work? Neuroscience tells us that the connections between the neurons in our brain - that allow us to think and solve problems - are strengthened by the actions that are linked to the growth mindset. So, asking questions, using good strategies, and practising all contribute to neural growth.


The majority of studies have so far been aimed at school kids, but more recent research has started to look at the potential impact of a growth mindset not only for individuals within the workplace but also for entire organisations. A two-year study looking at the culture within Fortune 1000 companies showed that a growth mindset had a positive impact on the organisation, leading to greater trust, a stronger commitment to the company, and stronger support for risk taking.

If we're lucky, then, our workplace might have a growth mindset, but how do we make sure we take the same approach? We all know how busy we are, dealing with the day to day. How do we make sure we continue to practice, put in the effort and develop our skills?

It's easier than you might think. In a TEDx talk, Eduardo Briceño reveals his take on how to build the growth mindset into your working day. Briceño talks about two 'zones' that we move between throughout our lives, whether that's at work, in our hobbies or in our relationships. When we're in the 'learning zone', then the growth mindset is easy to apply. However, most of what we do is in the 'performance zone'. We have to actually do our job - or be a partner, parent or spoon carver - to be successful. So how do we keep learning? Briceño provides three ideas to help: 1. create safe spaces to make mistakes; 2. reflect on our performance, observe experts and identify areas to improve; and 3. ask questions, solicit feedback and model behaviours that encourage others to do the same.

Two year ago, I published an article about the joy of being an opsimath, or lifelong learner. With the world changing so quickly, it continues to strike me how important this notion is. We could approach this learning with a fixed mindset, or we could adopt a growth mindset. For me, it's growth all the way!

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