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Developing a Growth Mindset is a core future skill

I recently ran a workshop on building the agile learning organisation. Again, the main question is how do we get our workforce ready to embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution? What are the core skills we need to focus on building?

My response is always the same. We need to equip people to become Agile Learners.

To achieve this we need to shift mindsets. Focusing on developing a “Growth Mindset.” throughout the organisation, at all levels; this is the game changer.

Through the research conducted by *Dweck, we see that the core differentiator between people, it terms of intelligence, potential, and achievement, is this “Growth Mindset.”

We are all born with a specific set of genes, however, we know now, scientifically, that through experiences, reflection and learning we can grow and mould our neural networks far beyond what we were born with. The surprising thing here is that people with a fixed mindset choose not do this.

When people have a growth mindset, they are not afraid to try, to push themselves beyond their perceived limits. They are undeterred by perceived failure. Instead they put themselves out there knowing that when they are out of their comfort zone they are learning, growing and developing themselves. In contrast, individuals with a fixed mindset are bound by the limitations of their perceived abilities. They are fearful of exposing their limits and hardly ever attempt anything that they could fail at. The psychology that underlies these two mindsets is fascinating and I strongly recommend reading Dweck’s work in: “Mindset, The New Psychology of Success.” The diagram below provides a quick view of the key differences between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset:
As you can see from the contrast of the two mindsets described above, cultivating a growth mindset is the game changer; this is the mindset needed to future proof ourselves and our teams. It is the mindset needed to meet the VUCA world head on.
We can easily cultivate this mindset by doing three things differently:

  • Personal reflection: Take some time to deeply reflect on your own mindset. Identify where you are creating your own barriers to reaching potential. Look at what beliefs or mindset you hold about your team or the individuals in your team you could be unconsciously holding them back by not acknowledging the efforts they are making to grow and develop.
  • Change your Speak: When you are giving feedback to an individual or your team, focus on the amount of effort they have put in – or failed to put in, and the process of learning they went through. Make the discussion around what it took to get them there and what was learned rather than a positive or negative outcome. Don’t assign the outcome to some intrinsic quality, i.e. Instead of saying “you’re really brilliant at coming up with innovative suggestions” say something like “I am really impressed by the amount of effort you put into thinking about things, it often leads you to come up with innovative solutions.”

Most importantly, stop validating people. Individuals with a fixed mind- set are always looking for approval or validation, stretch them by not providing validation and instead focus on their effort and their learning.

  • Retrospect vs performance Conversations: Use Retrospectives often with your teams. Don’t only have feedback conversations as per your performance management cycle. Use retrospectives to ensure that you are constantly providing your team with feedback. Retrospectives provide time for reflection on the learning process and extend our focus beyond the outcome. Focusing on the process we followed, what was learned and how we can use what we have learned demonstrates that we value the learning process above the outcome; this removes the fear of failure and creates a culture of learning. Use your retrospectives to Celebrate failure – if people are not making mistakes they are not trying! Now obviously we are not talking about encouraging a cycle of continuously making and repeating the same mistake. But there definitely needs to be room for error. And with a strong retrospective this can become a great platform for knowledge sharing and growth in our abilities.

I think Emerson sums up the Growth Mindset beautifully in saying that “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us” –Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Spending the time to cultivate a growth mindset for yourself and enabling the members of your team to do the same is in my view a worthwhile investment. I hope you agree.
* (Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.: Mindset, The New Psychology of Success: Ballentine Books, New York.)

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  1. Justin Bodill Justin Bodill

    Hi Kerryn
    Great article. I love this topic – his work by Dweck is a so important for people to know, and I really like the practical points you mention for team leaders. Thanks

    • Thank you Justin. I am also a huge fan of Dweck’s work and want to bring more of it into the consulting space.

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