Why is that some people strive to reach their potentials and others don’t? Why do some of us seek out challenges and others shy away? Why do some of us accept feedback more readily than others? Why are some people primarily motivated by recognition and others by learning? All of this, and much more, can be tied to our mindsets.
In his brilliant book Start With Why, Simon Sinek gives an illustration of the race for manned flight that is ripe for highlighting the distinct differences between two mindsets. Near the turn of the twentieth century, two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, set out to fly. Against all odds (no funding, no college degree, no governmental support), they believed they could fly man’s first airplane. Each day they displayed perseverance as they lugged five sets of parts out to the fields for the inevitable crashes and repairs before dusk. They certainly didn’t shy away from the challenges and setbacks. Then, on December 17, 1903, they successfully took off and, 120 feet later, successfully landed their manned aircraft.
You would be correct to assume that the Wright brothers weren’t the only horses in the race. In fact, another man, backed by a $50,000 government grant, brilliant minded connections and plenty of publicity also sought to accomplish the feat. His name was Samuel Pierpont Langley. A professor at Harvard seeking fortune and notoriety, he was the clear favorite to be the first in flight. However, you’ve probably never heard of him. That’s because the Wright brothers beat him to it.
It is Langley’s response that clues us in to his mindset. He didn’t congratulate Orville and Wilbur. He didn’t celebrate the world-changing accomplishment of manned flight. Instead of building on the Wright brother’s success, he packed up his operation and ceased his research and efforts. He quit. That doesn’t sound like a winning mindset to me.
Fixed and Growth Mindsets
Stanford University psychologist and author of Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck, identifies mindset as the difference maker in those who achieve and succeed and those who don’t. Dweck identifies people as having either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence, talent and abilities are unchangeable, fixed. They often rely on talent alone, skimping on work-ethic. People in a fixed mindset spend more time documenting successes than building on them, getting better.
In stark contrast, people in a growth mindset believe their intelligence, talent and abilities can be developed through persistence and hard work. Their genetics and talents are only the foundation. This cultivates a insatiable desire to learn, improve, and grow.
The Wright brothers displayed the growth mindset, while Samuel Pierpont Langley illustrated the fixed mindset quite nicely.
Why Foster a Growth Mindset?
While the value may seem obvious, it is important to highlight 3 tangible benefits of fostering a growth mindset.
- Deeper Motivation
It has been well documented that more autonomous forms of motivation (like a personal desire to get better) are more powerful then gaining rewards and accolades.
- Greater Effort and Persistence
People with a growth mindset see effort and hard work as essential for success. This is because they believe they can change, learn, adapt and improve. Those with a fixed mindset often see hard work as fruitless because their ability is simply static, unchanging.
- Thirst for Learning
People who foster a growth mindset are more likely to capitalize on lessons learned, take other’s advice, learn from experts and seek opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Think of a few high achievers you’ve known or admired. Did they achieve their accomplishments on the coattails of their genetic predisposition or did they have to work for it? Similarly, we can all think of individuals we went to school with who were highly intelligent, yet didn’t develop their talents or squandered their potential.
If you’re wondering how to develop a growth mindset in yourself and others, two initial actions come to mind:
1. Tell yourself time and again that you can improve, learn, grow and get better (whether it’s at work, parenting, math, etc.). And, clearly send that message to others too.
2. Begin to praise the process, not the person, with your team, family and yourself. For more on this, see my previous post.
Question: What’s holding you back from having more of a growth mindset? In what areas do you think you’re stuck? I’d love for you to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.