How a Growth Mindset Leads to Innovation & Engagement

Big Think Edge | October 31, 2017

There are many different “secret sauces” used by various organizations to fuel employee innovation and engagement. From production systems that foster employee independence and authority, to specific training programs and skills matrices, there are many different strategies that organizations can use to foster improvement.

Here’s another tool that you may want to consider adding to your talent development arsenal: the growth mindset.

What is a “Growth Mindset?”

The growth mindset is a concept in the field of education that, as Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck states in a Big Think article, “is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.”

Ultimately, a growth mindset is a way of thinking that encourages constant learning and self-improvement. With a growth mindset, intelligence isn’t a fixed statistic, but rather a function of learning and effort that the learner is in control of. However, encouraging a growth mindset can be tricky.

How Can I Encourage Employees to Have a Growth Mindset?

Encouraging a growth mindset among employees isn’t necessarily a cut-and-dry process. It takes constant effort and careful attention to not only assess employee behavior and performance, but to also provide constructive feedback along with these assessments.

For example, as noted in the Big Think article:

“In one of Dweck’s experiments, students were either told following a test ‘you must be smart at these problems’ or ‘you must have worked hard at these problems’. [sic] Following this, the scores of the students who were praised for their intelligence dropped in further tests, while the scores of the children who were praised for their effort increased. The students who were praised for their intelligence avoided further challenging tasks while the students who were praised for their effort proceeded to more challenging tasks.”

The children who were told they were smart ended up being more anxious about failure, and began to attribute failures to their innate ability rather than to a lack of effort to learn; or, as the Big Think article stated, “praising people for their intelligence rather than their effort can actually make people perform drastically worse over time.”

Additionally, according to the article, “the same findings have been found in adults (Wood and Bandura, 1989) where once again, not only does mindset predict success but an individual’s mindset and rate of success can be manipulated with only a few simple misguided words.”

So, when providing feedback to employees about their performance, it’s vital that the feedback is couched in terms that emphasize effort, learning and progress—and NOT innate talent or ability. Praising existing ability gives employees an “out” for failures to perform. They may think “I can’t do that, I’m not smart or talented enough” rather than “I failed, but if I do some research or try a different approach, I bet I could succeed.”

It’s the difference between finding new ways to succeed despite failure and simply closing off the possibility of improvement.

So, How Does a Growth Mindset Lead to Innovation & Engagement?

By encouraging employees to think of intelligence as a skill to be cultivated and a product of consistent effort, organizations can broaden the abilities of their workers. Rather than giving up on new skills or tasks, and categorizing them as impossible, workers with a growth mindset will learn from failures and mistakes to improve their skill sets to handle different challenges.

Learning new skills encourages the application of different solutions or points of view to traditional work challenges. This can impact the ability of workers to innovate by letting them look at “old hat” tasks in a new light.

A growth mindset also inherently boosts employee engagement with work. Instead of stagnating and the tiresome nature of repetition, workers with a growth mindset are more likely to actively search for new solutions to a problem. These workers have a greater sense of control over the success of their work—which fosters engagement.

Cultivating a growth mindset among your employees can mean the difference between an engaged workforce that constantly innovates and a passive workforce that shows up, punches the clock, and passes along by doing the same things—the same way—day in and day out.

Get insights on how to encourage the development of growth mindsets among your employees from experts like Carol Dweck by taking advantage of Big Think Edge’s online learning courses!

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