How best can we support ourselves and others to ‘grow’?

10 November 2015

When we think about enhancing innovation in our business we know being ‘happy @ work’ will help create the conditions required for that essential dose of creativity. Harnessing a ‘growth’ mindset is critical for both creating happiness and creativity – but how can we help employees to do this?

I’ve been privileged to witness an inspiring journey towards a ‘growth mindset’ from which I have learnt a lot about embracing personal change.  Myself and a colleague came to our understanding ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets through our co-creation of Bristol SportWatch – we were on a mission to learn everything we could about what motivates people to participate and succeed.


I read the work of Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (and here on TedX), when qualifying as a cycling coach.  I identified that I was someone with a largely ‘growth’ mindset, in essence the,

belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience”.

To me this ‘made sense’.  I often feel I am more inclined than many other people towards seeking improvements in my work and life and the likelihood is that I chalks a lack of success is up to “not working hard enough”.  It also, importantly, attests to my strengths of perseverance, resilience and my apparent ease and willingness to “give new things a go”.  These skills are all essential in being creative.

For my colleague the insight gained from an inspiring presentation by sports psychologist Dr Abbe Brady was nothing short of transformative (as she expressed at the time in this inspirational blog).  She identified as having a strong fixed mindset,

“A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone  who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed”.

These mindsets influence how we measure our success and the approaches we take in life, and in our work.  For my colleague, a large degree of her self-esteem was therefore wrapped up in an idea of talent; it is either 0 or 100%.  Attempting new things can become fraught with difficulty if a lack of immediate success is seen as complete failure.  This idea is epitomised in the notion of the ‘natural talent’ often lauded about great sporting stars, despite clear evidence and testimony to the contrary about the role practice and effort play in their success.

But the great thing about mindsets is that they are not inherent traits, as Dweck points out,

 “Mindsets are just beliefs. They are powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.” 

Importantly, for my colleague and many others there is an increasingly fantastic scientific evidence base debunking many of the myths around fixed abilities of ‘left-brain’ and ‘right-brain’ thinkers.  The focus of neuroscientists instead is on the opportunities for growth and development that understanding our neural networks can provide.

Reflecting on this last week, we considered the opportunity this understanding presents and some of the challenges changing long-held and powerful beliefs brings.  My colleague’s journey for example has included finally taking on a long-held desire to write a novel, a task she proceeded to complete in a month, after having held the required knowledge for 10 years; a journey she happily shares in this blog.

In any workplace there will be a mixture of ‘mindsets’, and its clear success in an innovative environment requires us to nurture the ‘growth mindset’ of allSome critical tips to doing this:

  • Share the learning, just understanding can cause a shift in approach and the scientific understanding can be a powerful tool in its own right
  • Encourage and reward small steps, building on existing strengths to encourage risk taking
  • Pay attention to how you and colleagues react to set-backs
  • Promote tools that utilise networks and peer support such as ‘Working Out Loud’.
  • Foster an environment in which new challenges are important learning experiences, regardless of outcomes
  • Facilitate time for reflection on what might be encouraging people to shy away from new things or give up too soon

Nicola Waterworth,  Associate

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