Embracing A Growth Mindset In A Fixed Mindset World
Inventions — that is to say, new things or ideas — can lead to dramatic changes in people’s lives. But inventions never go anywhere without innovation.
Because it is innovation that changes behaviours and implements new processes. Innovation finds the hidden utility in the invention. Without innovation, you simply have a stack of patents.
The Economist article goes on to note that a political system which opposes free thinking and suppresses certain modes of operation has a detrimental impact on innovation, limiting the lasting success of any and all inventions.
And while we’ve probably all had enough of politics for a while, we were struck by how this theory resembles something we see in our work all the time: a limiting, closed-minded approach that inhibits the potential for innovation.
Bill Walker, in this piece from Wired, similarly details the difference between invention and innovation and how dependent the one is on the other. “Very few inventions are, by themselves, successful innovations,” he states.
So how do we foster innovation and not just invention? What can be done to ensure we promote a culture of free thinking that takes an idea from concept to application?
The answer is by fostering a growth mindset.
“When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation.” — Carol Dweck in the Harvard Business Review
A Growth Mindset Primer
In an article for Brain Pickings, Maria Popova writes:
“A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way… A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”
In general, operating with a growth mindset means believing in the existence of untapped potential, believing that there are always opportunities for change and for learning.
It makes sense, therefore, that we in the startup, tech, and design worlds would centre ourselves around the ideas of a growth mindset.
We prioritize innovation. We pride ourselves on being agile and lean. We favour collaboration and knowledge sharing. And we do it because without these things, we couldn’t exist.
Disruption — the kind that tech-sector startups, in particular, rely on — comes from thinking about things in new ways. We cannot limit ourselves to what has gone before.
We have to be open to trying something new, and possibly failing. Because ultimately, we know that learning from that experience is the only path to making something better.
For startup companies that work mainly in the consumer space, this is a natural flow.
Airbnb, for example, succeeded in upending an industry by finding a way to merge new technology with user-centred design in a market with unmet needs. Uber did the same thing. And Tinder. And countless other consumer-space disruptors— the list goes on and on.
But unlike a consumer startup, an enterprise organization has a lot at risk. The costs of upending their own operations are astronomical. And in the eyes of many a stakeholder, they’re not worth it.
Instead of embracing the idea that you’ll never know unless you try, enterprise organizations have a tendency to lean towards a fixed mindset.
We see certain fixed-mindset attitudes often, and recognize them as red flags. Believing that because something worked before, by replicating it as closely as possible it will succeed again, for example. Or the more insidious counterpart to that thought, that because something didn’t succeed before, nothing that resembles it ever will either.
A fixed mindset becomes even more entrenched when concerns about shared knowledge helping industry competitors flares up, as it often does in the enterprise space.
And in the end, the desire to be top of the heap in a measurable field (like net revenue) supersedes the desire to improve, and the opportunity to shape the future of an industry is lost.
“The findings so far suggest that at a minimum, growth-mindset firms have happier employees and a more innovative, risk-taking culture.” — The Harvard Business Review
Growth Mindset for Enterprise
We know first-hand how essential it is to keep a growth mindset at our core.
We also know that bringing that growth thinking to fixed environments is a key part of our work. It’s because of our internal focus on innovation that we can bring ground-breaking ideas to our clients.
David Colburn, Product Enhancement & Support Manager at Myplanet, knows how important that internal focus is to our client work:
“A side effect of the growth mindset is that it enables really important ways of working. Being agile and innovative — those two things come from a growth mindset. If you don’t have that mindset, you won’t be successful with those two things. And they are what delivers value to customers.”
Being Agile — with its focus on pivoting when necessary, on continuous improvement, and on rapid, evolutionary change — is a natural partner to a growth mindset in innovation.
As noted before, enterprise businesses tend to be somewhat risk-averse. They are large and—at the risk of sounding redundant—they have a lot at stake. We can help mitigate that for them, to a certain extent.
Erin Marchak, Drupal Practice Lead and Developer at Myplanet, notes, “It’s nice that we, as the external contractor, can take some of the risk on for them. We can be the wild one; it gives them a bit of a buffer. We’re leveraging growth mindset on their behalf.”
Because we promote innovation in-house and give our staff opportunities to experiment (and yes, to fail—without penalty), we have a wealth of innovation to offer our enterprise partners.
“There are benefits to stopping and critically evaluating ideas,” Erin says. “We can do the growth mindset work that has those inherent, bigger risks and then bring it to them in a more-fleshed out form. It allows them to take some time to carefully weigh and consider their options.”
We also are experts at guiding smaller, leaner approaches to implementing big new ideas. By working quickly and testing things on an ongoing basis, we minimize the risks faced by our Fortune 500 partners.
For Erin, this approach feels like second nature. “It’s like improv: you come up with something, you build on it quickly, and you go from there. It’s the same with working in a lean framework — it gets you to a logical conclusion as fast as possible (2 weeks instead of 2 months). That way you can evaluate it as fast as possible.”
The rapid response mechanisms of a lean approach only work within the growth framework. Let failure happen fast and it becomes a chance to learn, rather than a reason for panic.
When we partner with a new client, we often know very little about their industry. But when we enter into that partnership with a growth mindset, we’re ready to learn. We’re ready for new challenges and to present challenges to old norms. This leads to more thoughtful, nuanced understandings of the problems our clients face— and more innovative solutions.
And when unforeseen challenges arise, the growth mindset keeps us from getting mired in negative outcomes. We forge ahead, ready to tackle and solve problems as they come, not beset by doubt at the first sign of trouble.
We also know how important maintaining a growth mindset is for our staff.
“Because we work in small teams,” says Erin, “having a growth mindset means we work together to get to a solution. This can be a good thing. If we find ourselves pausing because someone is struggling with something, it’s an immediate red flag.”
Internally, a growth mindset means the quality of our work improves, as collaboration plays a bigger role. And it means the opportunity for individual growth is enormous, as staff experiment and test without repercussion.
For our enterprise clients, the benefits can be even greater.
We’re better able to bring expertise and new ideas to the table. We can help mitigate the risks they face by taking some on at our end, and we also help them navigate risks by working with a lean, agile approach. And we learn more, getting to the heart of issues faster, by engaging fully with what we encounter instead of shying away from what we don’t already know.
“Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.” — Carol Dweck
Growth Mindsets Are A Growth Industry
As the name implies, a growth mindset fosters growth. And not just personal growth, which is important for attracting and retaining top talent who, in turn, provide our clients with the best work.
But it also fosters business growth. Working with a growth mindset encourages new ideas and offerings, which attract new customers to our clients and literally grow their business offerings and revenue.
A growth mindset is important to this kind of work because in the enterprise space, there are always new challenges — often in fields we know nothing about. “Enterprise work” is a broad category and it spans almost every industry.
We need to be ready to tackle new challenges. We need to be ready to take on new problems that seem complicated and tangled at the outset. And we need to have determination, resolve, and a mind ready to learn as much as it can if we’re going to succeed in crafting the right solution.
Being open to change and to new concepts encourages abundance thinking, instead of scarcity. Knowledge isn’t one person’s to own, but everyone’s to share.
A growth mindset is better for our staff, because it builds trust, encourages collaboration and fosters a team-first mentality where competition is for improvement, not for individual status.
And for our enterprise clients, it provides a level of acceptable risk-taking. We foster innovation internally that can be brought to their organization with more tolerable levels of risk. And we support and grow a culture within their organization that staves off stasis.
Innovation — especially in a globalized world — is crucial to the survival and ongoing success of a business. Embracing a growth mindset is the only way to achieve it.
Written by: Leigh Bryant
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