Have you ever wondered why some people grow more than others?

You would, I am sure, realise that I am not talking about physical height here, but rather why some people increase their ability over time while others seem to stagnate.

Thanks to the luxury of time afforded by two long plane flights, I read a wonderful book this week that shed some light on the subject. In Mindset, Dr Carol Dweck suggests that changing the way we think helps us fulfil our potential, in particular moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
These mindset descriptors give us a solid clue as to which is more helpful to our growth, so let me share my takeaways from her most readable work:

The main difference between having a fixed mindset or a growth mindset comes down to how we see ourselves

If we see ourselves as being born with certain abilities and that's all we will ever have (say, an IQ of 100 or a talent for tennis), then we assume we are ‘naturals'. Our abilities are innate and we are more likely to hide our failures or potentially blame others for them as any failure is a direct reflection on ‘us', not ‘our actions'. If, however, we see ourselves and others as being born with potential and have a willingness to see failures as learning opportunities (without denying how painful they might be), we have a chance of growing through them.

Everyone has a fluid mix of mindsets

Any combination is possible and the mix can change over time depending on what happens to us in life and how we respond to it. In our twenties, some of us have fixed mindsets with regard to relationships and growth mindsets about work and our health, for example. Equally, by the time we are forty, the balance may have shifted significantly – or not.

Everyone has the potential to grow (if we want to)

Dr Dweck shares numerous stories where adults and children alike change their mindset from fixed to growth to achieve great turnarounds. Children can turn from being seemingly ‘impossible' to highly engaged learners regardless of their age. Likewise adults can have late-stage awakenings that enable us to see life differently and adapt in our personal and professional lives. The key thing is to realise that any change must be consciously maintained lest old fixed habits return.

Teams that embrace a growth mindset are more likely to succeed

Dr Dweck discussed a number of corporate failures and turnarounds to make this point. Leaders such as Lee Iaococca of Chrysler fame and Al Dunlap of Sunbeam were exemplars of the fixed mindset. They believed they were superior to others and wanted the organisation's success to be about them. When the organisations started to fail they responded poorly as they saw any problems to be a direct attack on their own personal standing. In contrast, she described some major turnarounds such as IBM where leaders assumed they must take responsibility and learn with their teams to change the organisation's fortunes. These turnarounds were often slower than those engineered by charismatic leaders with a fixed mindset, but sustained after the leader left as the whole organisation had grown.

The journey toward having a growth mindset has four steps:

Embrace our fixed mindset. Given we all have some parts of a fixed mindset, we may as well accept the fact and get to know ourselves.

Become aware of our fixed mindset triggers. What are the things that set us off, make us criticise ourselves or others, hide from a challenge, refuse to accept feedback? Don't judge, just observe.

Give your fixed persona a name. Yes, really. I am still mulling on mine. Someone in the book called hers Gertrude which has a good ring to me. It feels bossy, exacting and critical which might work. I can imagine her sneaking up and making me jump as she reminds me that I should not try and conquer some new big challenge I am facing.

Take your fixed persona on a journey and educate it. Take charge of your bossy Gertrude and put her in her place bit by bit as you realise how she is taking control of your thoughts and stopping you reach your potential.

I loved the conversational style of the book and the simple practical steps that I could employ toward the end. Click here to go to a blog with some more detail about the book as well as access to Carol Dweck's TED Talk.

Talk soon,

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Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

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