Growth mindset: definition, characteristics, and examples

Are your abilities set in stone? Or can they be improved? Here’s how a growth mindset can help

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The term “growth mindset” has become something of a buzzword in business circles. You can find it everywhere you look—in the seminars of motivational speakers, in the job requirements of Silicon Valley tech startups, and in the mission statements of the most successful S&P 500 companies.

But despite the ubiquity of the phrase, some people don’t understand what it actually means to have a growth mindset. In this article we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics of a growth mindset, where the concept came from, and how it differs from its opposite: a fixed mindset. We’ll also give some examples of growth mindsets in action.

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What does it mean to have a growth mindset?

Having a growth mindset means believing that a person’s abilities aren’t innate but can be improved through effort, learning, and persistence. A growth mindset is all about the attitude with which a person faces challenges, how they process failures, and how they adapt and evolve as a result.

In business, the ability to learn and grow after a setback is one of the keys to success. People with a growth mindset are always looking for ways to improve, whether that means learning new skills, trying out new strategies, or making big changes to how they work. When they encounter a setback, a person with a growth mindset can recover more quickly and might view unanticipated problems not as barriers to progress but as opportunities for growth.

Fostering this positive, forward-thinking approach can be an essential tool for anyone in business, whether they’re just starting out or are seasoned entrepreneurs. A growth mindset can be the difference between simply surviving or thriving in today’s rapidly changing business landscape.

The science of growth mindsets

The earliest studies of the “mindset” were carried out in the 1980s and 1990s by psychology professor Peter M. Gollwitzer, whose research centered on how our goals and plans can affect our cognition, emotion, and behavior.

In this context, a mindset refers to the sum total of our attitudes, feelings, core values, and philosophical outlook on the world. Not only can individual people be described in this way, but teams, companies, governments, and even entire countries can be said to have a mindset.

In cognitive psychology, the concept of a “growth mindset” is based on the work of Stanford University professor Carol Dweck. Dweck’s primary research found that people with a growth mindset—those who believe that their abilities, talents, and intelligence can be molded and improved with work—tend to achieve more than those with a fixed mindset, who believe that their abilities are set in stone.

Characteristics of a growth mindset

So how do you know if you have a growth mindset? The answer isn’t always obvious. For one, there’s no such thing as a pure growth mindset. Most of us adopt different mindsets depending on the situation we’re in. 

For example, you might take risks and behave more openly in business, but yvalue routine and be more resistant to change in your personal life.

No clear line separates the two types of thinking, but here are some signs that suggest you might lean toward a growth mindset. 

  • You believe that achievements are down to effort, not just inherent talent
  • You’re willing to learn from your mistakes and find value in criticism
  • You believe that your intelligence and ability can be developed
  • You’re willing to ask questions and admit when you don’t know something
  • You seek out challenging tasks and take on risks

Benefits of having a growth mindset

Whether it’s in business or everyday life, fostering a growth mindset can have both short- and long-term benefits. Here are just a few examples of how it can help.

  • A growth mindset can help you become more resilient in the face of setbacks. When you come across a difficult situation, you’re more likely to frame it as a challenge to be overcome rather than a reason to throw in the towel. You become better able to persist in the face of adversity and achieve your goals.
  • A growth mindset can help you become more adaptable. Rather than feeling overwhelmed or threatened by big changes, you’re more likely to see them as opportunities to learn, grow, and reinvent yourself. You can embrace new challenges and use them to your advantage.
  • A growth mindset can help you cultivate a positive attitude. When you believe that your capacity to improve your own talents is unlimited, failure stops being something to be frightened of. You can approach challenges with optimism and confidence, which makes you a better leader and fosters a more positive work environment.

Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset

If a growth mindset believes that certain traits can be improved with effort and training, a fixed mindset believes we’re stuck with the characteristics we’ve got forever.

That might sound like a bad thing, but there are still some advantages to having a fixed mindset. While it’s often framed as a fear of change and growth, a fixed mindset values a conservative and risk-averse approach to doing business. Those with fixed mindsets are often better at focusing on the things they know they’re good at and mining that expertise for great results.

How to develop a growth mindset

The mindsets we’ve got right now were formed by decades of personal experience, but that doesn’t mean they can’t change. Research tells us that our brains are always making new connections, even as we get older. With training and self-discipline, it’s possible to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Examples of growth-mindset thinking

  • You take small steps each day toward your goals. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but if you can build small, positive actions into your daily routine—such as meditating after you brush your teeth—you can turn them into habits.
  • You get out of your comfort zone. Take on a project doing something you have no experience with. Try a new hobby, play a new sport, or challenge yourself to do something you’ve never done before, such as speaking in front of an audience.
  • You roll with the punches. It takes time to develop a growth mindset, so don’t be dismayed if you don’t see results. Instead, focus on consistency. Take positive steps each day and trust that the results will come in time.
  • You seek out new perspectives. Books are an invaluable source of new ideas and viewpoints, and can expose you to novel ways of seeing the world that you hadn’t considered before. Exploring new subject matter with an open mind can also help you view existing challenges in a new light, making it easier to spot solutions you might otherwise have missed.

Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.

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