Let me ask you a couple of questions:
- Do you think you have what it takes?
- Do you think you can take on the challenge?
These two questions display a subtle difference in mindset and the way we approach a problem. The first is indicative of a fixed mindset; either you’ve got it, or you don’t.
The second invites the test of ability, encourages struggle and growth. This is a question that allows you rise above your current level to achieve greater success. Taking on an obstacle means having a growth mindset.
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
In the 1980s, Dr. Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, researched how children responded when faced with impossible puzzles. Some of the children just gave up, becoming defensive and believing that they simply could not solve the puzzle.
Others became more and more engrossed in the puzzles, determined to figure it out. One even expressed gratitude because they felt they had learned something that day. These children displayed a sense that they could succeed. These children exhibited a growth mindset.
A fixed mindset refers to a way of looking at problems and life generally under the assumption that we’re born with certain abilities and capabilities that cannot be changed or improved upon no matter the amount of work we put into trying to do so.
This type of mindset is reinforced by ideas such as IQ and the label of genius, gifted, or talented. Some people are just born with certain abilities that others are not. If you fail at something, it means you just might not be cut out for it.
It sounds kinda crazy when you say it out loud, no?
On the other hand, a growth mindset is a way of looking at situations by understanding that obstacles can be overcome with work and determination. A mistake or failure is not a bad thing, but a learning opportunity.
This taking on of a challenge is vital to achieving any real success. A fixed mindset will ensure you stay a fixed level of ability and development. A growth mindset will help you to move past obstacles to reach new levels.
As B2B marketers, we can take this to heart and apply it to strategy and business practices.
Growth Mindset at the Business Level
Dweck has since researched Fortune 1000 companies to see how a fixed or growth mindset affects employees in the workplace and, ultimately, the success of the company.
She found a significant impact on a company came from hiring people who exhibited a growth mindset. These were people who had a thirst for learning and a willingness to take on projects they were unfamiliar with. Organizations that valued growth mindset hired employees based on potential.
It reminds me of a thought experiment:
You have to choose between two baseball players to coach: one who has perfect form and one who has terrible form. They can make it to first base in the same amount of time. Who do you decide to coach?
Well, you’d choose the one with terrible form because if you can improve his technique, he’ll beat the other guy to the bag every time.
This scenario gives an analogy of what it’s like to hire someone who has a growth mindset. They may not have what it takes right away, but with a little bit of training, they’ll far surpass the “talented” fixed mindset candidate in every way. It’s the passion for growth that allows them to succeed.
Dweck also found that at organizations that encourage a growth mindset, employees were more committed to their work, more innovative, and more willing to work with other teammates. Managers were more likely to describe employees as having managerial potential. These organizations exhibited a commitment to learning and growing within the company culture. To achieve a growth mindset culture, higher management must work to champion the potential for growth in their employees.
What does that look like? Managers allow for setbacks and mistakes without creating a culture of shame around them. Bosses encourage innovation and employees invite constructive feedback. The office environment is one where you can acquire new skills and be creative with your solutions. This is a workplace where it’s understood that learning is a lifelong endeavor.
The relationship between management and employees is especially important. If employees feel they will be shamed for mistakes, there’s no way for them to develop ideas that will bring the company to the cutting edge of the marketplace.
Enter Growth Hacking
Companies that support a growth mindset see new strides in product development and a broader reach to attract prospects. Examples of this are clear in the way Airbnb broke into the market by “hacking” Craigslist and the annual hackathon at Microsoft that provides a venue for innovation without the high stakes of sink or swim in the market. Being the leading wave of the marketplace means occasionally taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy (channeling my inner Ms. Frizzle, there). These are the basic tenets of growth hacking.
Growth hacking is a term coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis, and while an explicit definition of the term is rather elusive, the general idea is not: focus on growth rather than marketing.
Every decision you make should be guided by the question, “Will this help the company to grow?” You don’t want to stay with the herd of companies, all regurgitating the same ideas everyone else agrees is the “correct” procedure. You want to look at new ways of achieving your goals and innovative solutions to challenges, pushing forward to bring something new into the world.
This guiding principle of “growth” means that employees are not confined to their siloed departments. An essential element is understanding this fact: being a marketer doesn’t limit your ability to also program, and being in product development doesn’t mean you ignore customer experience.
The central element of growth hacking is testing. Get out there and try things out. Will this copy work here? Should I redesign my website? Can I reach my target market some other way? Growth hacking encourages the attempt, the potential. Mistakes are okay, and in fact supported, because a willingness to make mistakes means you might hit on a success no one else has attempted.
Sound familiar? Embracing mistakes and obstacles is a hallmark of the growth mindset. Innovation can only occur when employees feel the freedom to try new methods to achieve success.
The Power of “Yet”
I’ve been working on developing a growth mindset for a long time now. I was a Hermione-esque student throughout high school and college; school came pretty naturally to me. It turns out, the ease of school actually set me back in the long run because as soon as I came up against some real challenge, I became defeatist and defensive.
Well, that’s no way to succeed.
What I’ve been able to take away from the idea of a growth mindset is that nothing is set in stone. I constantly remind myself that, when I’m faced with certain situations that trigger defensiveness, it’s the struggle that helps me grow. More importantly, even if I can’t do something at the moment, if I believe that I can improve if I work at it, then I can get there someday.
From reading other examples of Dweck’s work, I found one of the most powerful words in the growth mindset is the word, “yet.” When working to develop a growth mindset, you can tack on the word, “yet” to any fixed mindset statement: “I’m not a math person—yet.” or “I’m not good at reading people—yet.”
You can turn around any negative fixed idea with this word by opening up the possibility that you can become these things if you work at it.
Ultimate inspiration: we’re not bigger than Google—yet!