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Essentials of a Growth Mindset

By Karla Schlaepfer
creativity, innovate, growth mindset, co-creation, teams, collaboration, personal growth, interview

What makes people tick, grow and want to learn? Carol Dweck’s TEDTalk was called the one of best in this list of the 10 best TEDTalks to view instead of going to business school. We’d like to share with you part of our interview with this amazing Stanford psychologist on the links between creativity and a growth mindset, read on below.

JoinCreativePeople: How would you define the relationship between a growth mindset and being creative?

Prof. Dr. Carol Dweck: Well, there is research showing that a growth mindset can foster more creativity. And when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Because being creative, it’s not about thinking in one right way, it’s about not being afraid to make a mistake. It’s not about being perfect… it is about coming back from setbacks. So people who are creative, not just in the moment, but in the long run are the ones who have tried many different ways to do something and have finally found something very novel or creative.

So you probably know Thomas Edison is considered to have said “I didn’t fail a thousand times, I found a thousand times ways to improve.” And Einstein said the same thing, he said “ninety-nine times out of a hundred I’m wrong but one time I’m right.” So you need a growth mindset to get to the one-thousandth-and-one or to the one-hundredth time. You need something that says you’re learning from setbacks. You’re growing as you engage in this process. It’s not that you’re not good at it. It’s that you need to keep going trying new things. And that’s… that’s creativity. And also I’d like to talk about group creativity…

How would you characterize a creative team?

I’ve worked with a number of business groups, Many of them are coming out of a fixed mindset background in which their company worships talent and brilliance – and they’ve told me this puts a damper on their creativity. Because if everything you say has to be brilliant right away, how do you get to the kind of offbeat ideas? How do you get to the brainstorming? But in a growth mindset where people are learning together and striving for growth together, then people can make mistakes, they can suggest preliminary ideas. Maybe even something that’s wrong will spark something in someone else that is exciting.

I worked with a group at a big Silicon Valley company where they felt intimidated and stifled by this culture of genius around them. And together we worked out the idea of struggle. I talked about how in a growth mindset you can say “Oh, I had a great struggle today”. And then they started every meeting with each person saying what they were struggling with.

Really, okay.

Maybe they’ll struggle together, what are they going to struggle with next. And it normalized the idea that things are hard, that things take a long time, that you’re not perfect right away. And according to them, it completely unleashed their ability to create and innovate as a group.

Is co-creation possible in a team in which the team members live with a fixed mindset and if so, how?

I think it’s harder. I can’t say it couldn’t happen. Of course, it could happen but it’s harder. In a fixed mindset team there are smart ones who are the stars and the focus of the group and then there are the other people who may feel intimidated or whose contributions are not as valued. So it kind of becomes more hierarchical. Which is less conducive to co-creation.

But a growth mindset is more about equals. Equals working together, people having unique contributions regardless of their backgrounds. So it’s a more fertile environment for co-creation. There has been work on simulated organizations where people were brought together to solve management tasks. And sometimes they were given growth mindset instructions and sometimes more fixed mindset instructions, that is, instructions about whether the abilities involved are just fixed—you have  them or you don’t, or whether the abilities involved are ones that you acquire over time.

The groups that had the growth mindset instructions had a much more intense and dynamic group process with discussion and disagreement and re-agreement. In the end, they had much better performance.

We asked Professor Barry Katz what are the three most important behaviors he’d like to teach his design students and he answered: curiosity, integrity and patience.

That’s interesting.

How are these characteristics related to a growth mindset?

So the first thing, curiosity… We have done research showing that people’s interests or curiosity within a fixed mindset is much more narrow. You decide, I’m good at this, and you focus on it. And we’ve shown they are not that curious about other things.

But in a growth mindset you kind of see things as related more and your interest is broader. But also in a fixed mindset you want to perform and be judged as brilliant. So, you may not step out of your comfort zone, I mean curiosity isn’t part of that so much. But in a growth mindset you are interested in learning, growing, developing your abilities and that is through curiosity, either about broader things or curiosity about going deeper. So, that’s important.  And the second thing was…

Integrity and patience.

Integrity. Yes, so we and others have shown that cheating or deceit is more prevalent within a fixed mindset. We’ve seen it in students, other researchers have seen it in negotiations, and we saw it in our study of Fortune 500 companies—where employees said there was much more deceit was in the fixed mindset companies than in the growth mindset companies.

When you want to be the superstar, at any cost, and I am in competition with you for that title, then anything goes. Then ends justify the means in people’s eyes. Then I have to hide something from you. It makes sense. You are my competitor, why should I share my information?

But in a growth mindset setting where people are encouraged to collaborate, the teams are valued, team progress is valued. It’s not the currency of genius. Then the incentive for low moral standards is not as strong.

And patience, has this something to do with making efforts?

Yes. Yes, exactly. In a fixed mindset only the outcome matters. It’s now. What have you done now? You feel you are being judged on, am I successful now? So you are going to look for short-term successes. In order to get that kind of validation.

And in my book, Mindset, I talk about the fixed mindset leaders, who just weren’t looking after the longtime health of the company. They were just looking for the bottom line stock prices, so the company looks good even if it’s unhealthy. And some of them even thought it’s a testament to my greatness if I leave and then the company falls apart. But a growth mindset allows you to have longer-term goals.

Two of the growth mindset leaders that I focused on set long-term goals for their companies, they were bringing the companies back from near death. And they were criticized very strongly in the press because even after a year or two, the companies were not performing. But they were completely transforming the companies into ones that could flourish in the future. So in general a growth mindset leads you to form longer-term goals that you work toward and the process itself, the process of working toward them, is rewarding.


This recorded interview took place in Prof. Dweck’s home in Palo Alto in July 2015.

JCP Interview questions: Karla Schlaepfer and Martin Welz