Fixed Vs. Growth Mindset – power up your innovation potential to outsmart the hare as the tortoise did

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Do you remember the famous fable of “The Hare and the Tortoise” [1]? How the hare, being naturally born faster, lost a won battle from the tortoise and set an example for the world to make conflicting interpretations? As children, “The Tortoise and the Hare” fable has always been one of my favorites. But there is still a lesson in that story that I didn’t grasp completely, or maybe I did—the prominent portrayal of the growth mindset.

If the tortoise were anywhere like most of us, he would have instantly thought, “I’m too slow to win the race with the hare,” as soon as he was paired with him. Instead, the tortoise, demonstrating a sharp growth mindset, took the challenge head-on and believed in his “growth” to outsmart the hare. On the other hand, the hare clearly depicted a “fixed” mindset instead of a growth one, and thought, “I’m too fast. Therefore, I will win even if I take a nap,” and ultimately lost the race.

The different mindsets influenced the fate of both the participants.

Understanding the growth mindset

The growth mindset is consequential, to say the least. Many companies have witnessed the value of cross-disciplinary problem-solving and have adopted the growth mindset readily. Tim Brown, the CEO, and president of design consulting firm IDEO [2], explicitly explains the value of the “T-shaped person.” He symbolizes the vertical line of the letter to represent one’s depth of expertise in a said field. However, the horizontal line at the cap represents the diverse interests and ability to work and collaborate across various areas. In essence, individuals with a stronger growth mindset are T-shaped – they do not have a singular focus; instead, they look for inspiration from multiple avenues.

Interestingly, the significance of a growth mindset is seen in several industries, from engineers for a climate change design to architects improvising social welfare designs to facilitate housing for low-income families. Therefore, a growth mindset is relevant to innovation in virtually all fields of work.

Another study [3] revealed that mindsets relate to people’s expectations around motivation once they discover a passion. For this purpose, researchers asked 47 undergraduates to write about their expectations regarding a newfound passion. They coded their responses and revealed explanatory results. Participants with a fixed mindset responded that after finding their “passion,” the discovery should develop boundless motivation and make pursuit relatively easy. On the contrary, those with a growth mindset were likely to believe that pursuing a newfound passion would inevitably involve some setbacks and difficulties.

Innovation, in particular, requires reaching across fields and acquiring more than a surface-level understanding of those fields. The team must maintain interest even when the project becomes complex and challenging. Therefore, only a growth mindset, in all honesty, can help promote this resilience.

It is interesting to know why different people have different mindsets about interests and their impact, so researchers decided to investigate it. They found out that people vary, of course; some lean more towards the view that interests are inherent, awaiting to be stirred to life or found. This illustrates their fixed mindset. The same study revealed that other people lean towards the view that interests can be developed and grown over time with proper commitment and investment. This showed their growth mindset.

As a result, these different mindsets affect how open people are to new or different interests, whether in arts, science, business, athletics, or other areas.

Consequently, we realize that people who believe their talents can be developed through hard work, actionable strategies, and input from others possess a growth mindset. This is why they tend to achieve more than those with a fixed mindset who believe their talents are innate gifts; they take on a learning approach instead of looking merely like a “smart” wannabe.

When companies embrace a growth mindset as an institution, the employees report feeling far more empowered and committed. They receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation than feeling only competitive in a talent race.

Misconceptions surrounding the growth mindset

In the wake of these findings, Carol Dweck [4] described how the term “growth mindset” has become a buzzword in many major companies. Here are the three common misconceptions associated with the concept:

1.     Already have what I have

The first misconception of a growth mindset is being flexible or open-minded or having a positive outlook would be enough.

2.     It’s all about praising and rewarding effort

On the contrary, unproductive efforts are never a good thing. It’s critical to reward not just the effort but also the learning and the progress. The processes that yield the results must also be emphasized, such as seeking help, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward.

3.     Espouse a growth mindset, and good things will happen

While it’s wonderful to include lofty words like growth, empowerment, and innovation in the mission statement, they are worthless if the company doesn’t implement the policies that make those terms real and attainable. Organizations with a growth mindset, in practice, encourage appropriate risk-taking despite knowing some of the risks will not work out. Their policy includes rewarding employees for important lessons learned even if a project doesn’t meet its original goals.

In theory, even if we correct all of these misconceptions, we still find it tough to attain a growth mindset. It is because we are wired with fixed-mindset triggers. As soon as we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared to others, we immediately fall into insecurity or defensiveness that effectively inhibits our growth. Therefore, to remain in the growth zone, we must identify these triggers and work on them until they are unwired.

Granted that it’s a lot of hard work, but individuals and organizations can gain immensely by deepening their understanding of growth-mindset concepts and the processes to put them into practice. In a nutshell, it provides them with a richer sense of who they are, what they stand for, and how they aim to move forward.

Can we cultivate a growth mindset?

“Technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” Steve Jobs

Taking inspiration from the greatest “growing” innovators of all time. Steve Jobs’ vision for Apple was rooted in the belief that arts and sciences do not live in isolation. Instead, the two complement and enhance each other.

The abovementioned statement was echoed by John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar, who stated, “Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.” However, while integrating these areas are necessary for innovation, many people tend to confine themselves to only one.

Therefore, encouraging people to stick with a new interest even when it becomes challenging suggests that encountering difficulty is normal in developing new interests and strictly not a signal to move on.

Mantras like “find your passion” can be effectively replaced with “develop your passion,” the latter suggesting that interests and talents are not simply lingering within, waiting to be awakened. Many of them can be developed with involvement and persistence.

Wrap up

In today’s hyper-competitive and ever-changing world, a growth mindset will help you to adapt and operate in the long run. Today, many companies and organizations often signal employees regarding what types of mindsets are valued on the job, such as whether they should be singular in focus or open to new areas.

An innovative organization dwells on the growth mindset more than a fixed one. The continued globalization of the world demands industries to devise novel solutions to the new and old problems across all disciplines. Consequently, adopting a growth mindset sparks the process of long-term success as an employee and an individual.

What’s next? Instead of finding your passion, let’s start by developing our passions. They are just waiting to be awakened.

References

[1] “The Hare and The Tortoise,” Aesop’s fable, [Online]. Available: https://fablesofaesop.com/the-hare-and-the-tortoise.html.

[2] M. t. Hansen, “IDEO CEO Tim Brown: T-Shaped Stars: The Backbone of IDEO’s Collaborative Culture,” 21 January 2021. [Online]. Available: https://chiefexecutive.net/ideo-ceo-tim-brown-t-shaped-stars-the-backbone-of-ideoaes-collaborative-culture__trashed/.

[3] C. S. D. G. M. W. Paul A. O’Keefe, “Implicit Theories of Interest: Finding Your Passion or Developing It?,” 6 September 2018. [Online]. Available: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797618780643.

[4] C. Dweck, “What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means,” Harvard Business Review, 13 January 2016. [Online]. Available: https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means.

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