Mindset Belief Discipline Experience Knowledge Concept

The Importance of Growth Mind-set for Career Development

Adaptability has always played a key role in workplace success. But it seems like now more than ever, our careers require us to be constantly evolving. The pace of change is accelerating.  To succeed in any industry, and to be ready to take part in the next evolution of it, professionals must grow and develop.  In fact, according to a report by McKinsey, up to 375 million workers worldwide will need to change roles or learn new skills by 2030.[1]

One challenge to growth and career development in organisations is that many employees assume they are not capable. We tell ourselves, ‘I’m not a leader.’ ‘I’m not very creative.’ ‘Spreadsheets are not my strong suit’. Or worse, managers assume their employees are not capable and don’t have potential to progress. 

That’s not the case. We can take control of our own development with the right mind-set.  In her 2007 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls this having a “growth” mind-set (vs. a “fixed” one).   She says that it’s not intelligence, talent or education that sets successful people apart. It’s their mind-set, or the way that they approach life’s challenges.

In this post, we’ll explore the meaning of Dweck’s idea of mind-set, how a “fixed mind-set” can hold people back, and how a “growth mind-set” can help them progress.

What is Mind-set?

Mind-set, Dweck says, is the view that you adopt for yourself that determines the way you live your life, see the world and make decisions.  It is essentially your particular perspective, or the way you view the world.  In short, it’s the way your perceptions or your beliefs about your abilities and qualities shape the way you operate.

Think about some of your talents or qualities. Are you creative? Do you have musical abilities? Are you intelligent? Wise?

The way you answered those questions says a lot about your mind-set and how you view yourself and the world around you. Your mind-set is not a small thing. It’s responsible for what shapes your reality, shaping your entire perception of what’s attainable and what’s out of your reach.

Dweck describes the simple, yet impactful differences between the two mind-sets:

The Fixed Mind-set

People with a fixed mind-set believe they “are who they are” and were born with a set level of talent, intelligence, and even interests. Because of this, they’re more likely to seek out opportunities and situations that affirm these views.  For example, they will do the same job over and over to receive praise and believe that talent alone—not effort—is the source of success. 

They are keenly interested to know whether they have succeeded or failed. But they show no interest when offered help to learn from their mistakes. They don’t believe they can improve so they don’t try.

Because of this people with a fixed mind-set may feel an urgency to prove themselves again and again. They tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, and ignore useful, constructive feedback.  Striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.

The Growth Mind-set

People with a growth mind-set believe they can develop their abilities so they invest energy in learning. They’re more likely to seek out situations to experiment, and see failure as an opportunity to grow.  They seek input from others, try different strategies and gain insights from their mistakes.  They use feedback and mistakes as opportunities to improve, while enjoying the process of learning and becoming more productive.

By seeking opportunities, people with a growth mind-set succeed more and achieve great things in their careers. Belief leads to action, which in turn leads to success.  That success reinforces the belief so it creates a virtuous circle of progress.

Fixed Mind-set vs. Growth Mind-set – The Differences

The main differences between a growth mind-set and a fixed mind-set are.

Smart vs. Smarter

Someone with a Fixed Mind-set wants to prove they are smart, while the person with a Growth Mind-set wants to get even smarter. A Fixed mind-set promotes and protects an image of competence at all costs.  A Growth mind-set is happy to pursue and be seen to pursue additional learning and upgrade skills.

Results vs. Process

Someone with a fixed mind-set sees results as saying something fundamental about them.  For someone with a growth mind-set results are just a check point along the way. Fixed mind-sets will focus on the results.  Someone with a growth mind-set is more interested in feedback, what worked, what didn’t, what they can improve on for next time.

Fixed vs. Development

A fixed mind-set sees themselves as a fixed entity with some things they can and some things they can’t do. They will then filter experiences through this lens avoiding situations they don’t see themselves as good at. Growth mind-sets by contrast believe in their innate ability to learn and develop new things.  So, they will approach new experiences focussing on what they could learn and develop.

Threat vs. Opportunity

When it comes to dealing with new challenges, the difference in approach is often discernible. The Fixed mind-set reacts to the challenge as a source of potential threat.  The Growth Mind-set is more likely to welcome the challenge as an opportunity to stretch and grow.

Fatalism vs. Responsibility

Fixed mind-sets drift towards a form of fatalism which sees results as inevitably based on their circumstances and hard wiring. Growth mind-sets see themselves as responsible for results and so take responsibility for working towards them. They also own failure, wanting to learn and develop in light of it.

Implications for Career Development

When it comes to developing their careers, people with different mind-sets are likely to respond differently. Let’s say you have two employees on your team, 

The fixed mind-set employee will be more likely to resist career conversations. They may say they’re happy in their current role and don’t want to progress. They’ll stick to doing the job they know, working with people and techniques they’re familiar with. And will be averse to trying new things because they want to avoid challenge for fear of failure.

The growth mind-set employee, on the other hand, believes that they can develop their talents and abilities. They’ll be more likely to engage in career conversations and search out opportunities.  They will try new challenges and responsibilities even though they may not be good at it right away. They it will take work and it might not be the right choice.  But they’ll learn from it anyway and progress in the long run.

The marriage of growth mind-set with a commitment to learning is a powerful combination for career development. Most people operate with both fixed and growth mind-sets.  The key is to understand when a fixed mind-set is holding someone back and to help them become more growth-minded. We’ll look at that in my next post.


If you would like to find out more about Career Development through effective Career Conversations join me for our upcoming webinar

Alternatively take a look at the Career Development programmes we offer.

[1] Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation.

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