Growth mindset is the the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems.

A long time client recently said to me “I love that you’re always enterprising.” It was probably one of the best compliments that I’ve ever gotten. Enterprising means having or showing initiative and resourcefulness. It is a great adjective to describe me and also happens to relate to a book that I’ve been reading about the importance of having a growth mindset.

The book is called MindSet by Stanford professor Carol Dweck and is based on her research of fixed versus growth mindset. If you’ve read popular management books like Good to Great you may already have an appreciation for the importance of mindset in the workplace and life. For me, Carol’s book made it crystal clear.

The very core of who we are is a reflection of our mindset. People who have a fixed mindset believe high achievers have innate ability and intelligence. They don’t place much value on effort or believe that a person can change and grow beyond their current station in life.

A fixed mindset is toxic for companies. People with a fixed mindset will work in ways that maintain the status quo because it’s consistent with their beliefs. However, the status quo as many of us know is what causes the eventual demise of companies. So it’s no wonder companies who crossed the chasm from good to great saw the fixed mindset as a threat and rooted out it out of their organizations. 

Fortunately, the growth mindset can be learned and can be applied to all aspects of your life. There are three (3) basic principles:

Do Your Best
Interestingly, this was something my father used to say to me when I was young that stuck. I think he was saying it more to acknowledge the constraints on my time, but it is also an important concept in developing a growth mindset.

The growth mindset is not about perfection [perfect marks] but rather growth. Think about it in the context of grade school – every project, every course and every year we learned more and expanded our potential. That’s growth. If you believe that you have the potential to continually learn more, do more and be more – you have the foundation of a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset are also more likely to believe others can learn more, do more and be more too. Consequently, they will invest their time in training and mentoring the people they work with. That’s why the growth mindset is so valuable to companies and important to your success.

Let Setbacks Motivate You to Work Harder
Intellectually most know setbacks are a part of the learning process and should be expected. However, setbacks are disappointing and unfortunately, can be mistaken for failure by those with a fixed mindset. 

Champions in sport will rise to the challenge when faced with defeat [aka: setback]. I was fortunate enough to see it firsthand when I saw Michael Jordan play against the Knicks. There were only seconds left on the clock when Jordan scored the winning basket. In that moment, he taught me the importance of mindset. Champions keep their mind in the game until the game is over.

The timing of that lesson couldn’t have been better. Shortly after launching our e-learning solution the dot com bubble popped. Talk about setback. We barely got off the launch pad and the game changed in an instance from thrive to survive. I found solace in Lance Armstrong’s books about the Tour de France and later learned others more successful in business than me were too. I specifically remember reading a segment about a wreck on his fifth tour when he had to make a choice whether to get up or give in. It was a split second decision – he got up and rode to victory. 

Armstrong’s wins are now tainted by doping but his books are filed with good examples of the champion mindset and are a fun read for all. Whether you read them or not — remember to get up and keep going when you experience a setback.

Take Charge of the Process
The journey to achieving your goal(s) can be long and will require a lot of hard work and sacrifice. To stay the course, you need to manage your motivation and make the process as fun as possible.

Writing these posts is one of the ways that I manage my motivation and derive pleasure from continual learning. It makes me more disciplined about reading and gives me the opportunity to apply the principles to my journey and to share them with you. I love getting feedback that makes me think deeper about my beliefs and decisions. A colleague wrote me after reading my post about Mountain Rainer asking why I undertook the challenge if a successful summit was unlikely.

There were a lot of reasons but the short answer is that the climb was symbolic of life. You don’t always reach the summit [achieve the big goal] but there is so much to gain from the effort alone.

One of the most important lessons of Mindset is that you don’t have to achieve fame and fortune to be a “somebody”. Somebodies are people who go for it.

It takes time and as Carol acknowledges, developing a growth mindset is a journey in itself.

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~S