Why You Should Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Team 🧠
And why you probably shouldn't praise your children's intelligence.
Carol Dweck is Professor of Psychology at Stanford. She has spent decades studying behavioural science, and wrote a fantastic book about mindset.
She also had a profound impact on the way I think about my personal and professional growth.
The first thing I recall, however, when I think at her work, is a particular insight about how I should talk to my child. That's weird, because I don't have children, but still. 🤷♂️
🥇 Don't praise intelligence
Carol argues that praising children's intelligence has a negative effect on their attitude, because intelligence is 1) not something they can grow 2) not under their control.
Children who believe they are valued for their intelligence, in fact, tend to adopt behaviours to optimize their chances of retaining it in the eyes of other people.
They are less likely to address challenging tasks — for fear of appearing stupid — and they generally try less hard at everything, because in case they fail it's better to think it's because they didn't try their best, than because they are not really that smart.
In other words, they learn to seek and protect status, instead of growth.
⚖️ Fixed vs Growth Mindset
What we value, and what we get satisfaction from, has an enormous impact on our life, and it's what separates a so-called fixed mindset, from a growth mindset.
📉 Fixed Mindset — gets pleasure from status and self-image. This makes any feedback a menace, because negative feedback might affect status.
📈 Growth Mindset — gets genuine satisfaction from changing for the better. It welcomes feedback as a drive for improvement.
By seeking status, a fixed mindset tends to focus on qualities largely out of our control, such as talent, intelligence, or beauty. And by doing so, we develop a higher chance of becoming lazy, and sad, as we feel we don't have control over what makes us happy.
What should we value (and praise), then?
Well, any quality that makes us grow, and we can control. Effort, concentration, being stubborn, and ultimately the learning itself, instead of the actual outcome. This mindset never lets us down, and drives us to improve and be happier over time.
📈 Growth Mindset in your Company
Of course, it's not just about children anymore.
As Guy Kawasaki said: "parenting is a form of managing people" — and I suspect great managers make for great parents, and viceversa.
Your company culture and your behaviour as a manager defines what kind of mindset you can expect from people in your team.
Here are a few signs that your company might be falling into a fixed mindset:
Praising the outcome instead of the process — new initiatives are often bets that may or may not succeed based on external factors we can't control. What we can control is the process we follow to develop them. That process should be reviewed and improved over time, and eventually be rewarded.
Praising individuals instead of the team — individual performance is important, but should always be put at the service of team success. When culture drifts towards the opposite, companies get ultimately ruled by politics and hunger games.
Working on big, unclear projects — take the projects you are working on: is the definition of success clear? Are milestones short and well-defined? Vague and long projects allow us to avoid feedback, and keep our status safe.
In the end, these are the three main points you should remember:
🧘 Care about qualities you can control and grow. So you can get satisfaction from improving them, establishing a Growth Mindset.
🙈 Limit your reliance on external validation. Getting pleasure from status and self-image limits your ability to grow, makes you closed to feedback and to challenges that would make you improve.
🎽 Such values should be reflected in your team. Watch out for signs that your team, as a whole, is drifting towards a safe, status-seeking mindset, and put measures in place to reverse the trend.
Being at the intersection of psychology, management and personal growth, there is a lot you can read about this topic. Here are my favorite resources:
📄 Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance — the original 1998 paper by Carol Dweck that elaborates on the first point of this article.
📘 Mindset: The New Psychology of Success — the full book by Carol Dweck that discusses the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset, and why you should strive to adopt the latter.
📕 Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else — a revealing book by Geoff Colvin that shows, through decades of research, how great achievements mostly come from practice and perseverance, instead of natural talents.
Are you a parent? Or a manager? Did you think at some familiar situations by reading through this? I certainly did! Let me know in the comments 👇 or via email
Hey, I am Luca 👋 thank you for reading this through!
Every Friday I publish some advice about product and engineering management, and how to improve your work in a team. If you liked this post and you haven’t already, you can subscribe below and receive weekly updates in your inbox!