By Kylie Cook
Originally published on LinkedIn
Every week, on movie night, my husband asks me what I want to watch, and every week I shout SHREK 2 at the top of my lungs. I don’t know how it started, but it always makes me chuckle on account of me being very easily pleased. My demands for the cinematic delight of everyone’s favourite CGI ogre are rarely indulged, but I know the film pretty well nonetheless. What’s the point? Well, there’s a bit where Donkey and Shrek are talking about people being like onions and having layers*, and I think people grow like onions, too; they build up their layers based on their knowledge and experiences.
*This is in fact from Shrek, rather than Shrek 2. FYI.
For the last couple of years, GC have been championing mindset theory, so I wanted to share the ‘mindset onion’. The principle being that you can reverse-engineer this growth. Providing a supportive environment helps individuals to explore opportunities, and develop greater self-awareness. And whilst this might sound like we’re wrapping people up in cotton wool, the opposite is actually true; we’re pushing people to take risks, face failure and develop resilience.
We’ve delivered lots of workshops on mindset over the last couple of years, mostly with groups of students or recent graduates who need re-invigorating for their placement or job search, but also with new line managers and careers services. We had competencies, we had strengths (which is still the flavour of the week) but mindset, we believe, is on the up.
For those of you not familiar with mindset theory, I’ll give you my best one-sentence summary: Individuals with a growth mindset believe their potential is limitless and unknown, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe they are born with their skills and cannot do much to change them.
If you’ve got primary school-aged children or work in teaching, this will probably be familiar; there is currently a big push in schools to help children foster a growth mindset. The theory of ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’ mindset was developed by Carol Dweck, a professor based at Stanford University. She designed and ran tests with groups of school children that focused on simple puzzles. If they completed the puzzle, they could opt to do another one of the same difficulty, or a harder puzzle. The children fell into two camps, with those who wanted to push themselves dubbed as having a ‘growth mindset’, and the children who seemed to fear failure or worry that they would not be praised if they took on – and did not succeed – with the harder puzzle as having a ‘fixed mindset’.
So, someone with a growth mindset will typically embrace challenges, learn from their failures and be energised by having their efforts praised. Someone with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, feels that their abilities (rather than their efforts) determine outcomes, and are energised by having their achievements praised.
The distinction between effort and achievement is an interesting one. I’m not suggesting that we encourage the ‘marks for effort’ mentality rather than hard outputs, but there is certainly value in considering the real circumstances that surround significant achievements. It is usually down to hard graft and determination, rather than the mysterious ‘talent’ that many are fawned over for.
I find the theory of mindset fascinating and it genuinely answered a lot of questions for me personally, such as why I might think in the way that I do, when I started reading about mindset a few years ago. I have a tendency towards a fixed mindset and whilst I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing, I can clearly see the impact it’s had on the voice in my head and my attitude in different areas of my life.
I found a bowling certificate during a clear out at home a few weeks ago, in amongst all the school fodder my mum had kept. I texted it to my boss, and she replied: “I bet you’ve never been bowling again, have you?!” I actually haven’t, as far as I can recall...
It’s a silly example I know, but the principle is that fear of failure, or an unwillingness to take chances because you’re convinced that failure is inevitable, is hugely debilitating. I’m not suggesting that we all start having AA-style meetings – Hi everyone, I’m Kylie and I have a fixed mindset – or cross-legged powwows where we recall all the painful gutter balls of our lives. But I do think we can support our friends, family, colleagues and, for many of us, the students we work with to help them see what we can – that their potential really is limitless and unknown.
Like any self-insight tool, model or theory, of course it has its flaws. For example, I don’t think that having a fixed mindset is a bad thing, and I worry that individuals who take the mindset survey and find themselves to have a fixed mindset will be (ironically) disheartened or think they are inferior in some way.
But, I like mindset theory because it promotes the fact that your mindset is representative of a point in time, and that self-talk models and other methods can genuinely shift your mindset. MBTI and other assessment tools, on the other hand, tell you what you are.
Mindset insights are shared in the spirit of self-development which, I think, is the nature of its appeal. How can you use it? Well, for starters you could throw a mindset-focused question into your interview process. Something like: “Tell me about your most spectacular failure.” Scoring candidates on the language they use and their attitude towards the failure could give you a ballpark idea of their mindset. You could also introduce the idea of mindset into your L&D programme. We’ve included mindset surveys, theory and activities in sessions for clients and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, particularly from new line managers. The possibilities are limitless!
(Sorry for the cheesy finish…)