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Shifting from 'fixed' to 'growth' mindsets

How believing in your ability to improve has the power to help shape your future.

The field of entrepreneurship is vast, and it’s a common misconception that entrepreneurial mindsets, skills and tools are the sole property of those in start-ups. Unless you have some serious time on your hands, dedicating a single article to it, is very challenging. Karen Hidden addresses the concept of the growth mindset and provides insights on how it can be developed. Building on this opens the playing field for individuals to experiment with, absorb and immerse themselves in a range of skills that will equip them for a future that requires inquisitive minds and creative problem solving.

The latest GEM Report (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) was recently published and, whilst it’s not exactly bedside reading material, it provides some very necessary insight into what is happening on a global and local level with regards to entrepreneurship. To save you the effort, we’ve distilled the key takeouts, and provided suggestions for ‘what it means in your life’.

As a selfless act I read the report (you can thank me later) and compiled some essential ‘need to knows’ when it comes to entrepreneurship and ‘intrapreneurship’.

In a nutshell

 

Whilst the report does indicate that 72% of South Africans believe entrepreneurship is a viable career choice the fact remains that confidence levels are low and something needs to be done to bridge the divide between wanting to become an entrepreneur and actively taking the steps to becoming one.

The field of entrepreneurship is vast. And, unless you have some serious time on your hands, dedicating a single article that attempts to address the issue raised in the GEM report is futile. What can be addressed, however, is what I feel is one of the key concerns and suggest a solution or, at the very least, a suggestion.

It’s a common misconception that entrepreneurial mindsets, skills and tools are property of those in the start-up arena. The reality however is that regardless of whether you’re currently working in a startup, thinking of founding a startup or embedded in the traditional corporate or social sector, entrepreneurial thinking and entrepreneurial doing are necessary, relevant and key to business and personal growth.

In light of the GEM findings South Africa’s weakest link in terms of our entrepreneurial ecosystem is how we develop positive and robust entrepreneurial mindsets.

Whilst research can’t agree on a defined set of entrepreneurial characteristics, Carol Dweck, an internationally recognised expert in the arena of mindset psychological traits, believes the type of mindset we have, and decide to cultivate, determines our path to success. She calls these Fixed versus Growth mindsets. According to Dweck one of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves involves how we view and inhabit what we deem to be our personality or mindset.

For over two decades Dweck has been studying why some people succeed and why others, who are just as talented, simply don’t. What she has discovered is that people’s mindsets play a critical role in this process.

A fixed mindset assumes a static stance towards intelligence, character and creative abilities – people with fixed mindsets believe their talents and intelligence are fixed at birth and therefore cannot be improved upon.

The converse to this is the growth mindset which argues talent and intelligence can be developed over time and with effort. Those with growth mindsets tend to thrive on challenges and embrace failure as a mechanism for learning and development.

Dweck’s in-depth research uncovers numerous findings but I’d like to highlight two in particular:

  • The way we view ourselves profoundly affects the way we lead our lives and,
  • A growth mindset is the necessary foundation for any aspirant entrepreneur

Research indicates that entrepreneurs who foster a growth mindset are more likely to experiment, discover new opportunities, learn from failure and place a priority on learning. Whilst many of us tend to exhibit one mindset over the other, it’s important to keep in mind that our mindsets can be altered. Having the desire to move from a ’fixed mindset’ to that of a ‘growth mindset’ requires training oneself to be open to new opportunities, take failure as a chance to learn and be comfortable with a certain level of discomfort!

A fixed mindset versus a growth mindset

Having a growth mindset opens the playing field for individuals to experiment with, absorb, and immerse themselves in a range of skills that will equip them for a future that requires inquisitive minds and problem-solving approaches.

The following five points provide insight into how a growth mindset can be developed:

1. Shape your experiences
Whilst it may be true that we don’t have complete control over all our life experiences, we do have the ability to shape our thoughts and (re)actions. Start by actively engaging in what you do on a daily basis and, if undesirable events occur along the way, take the time and effort to apply yourself to mastering what is within your control.

2. Embrace challenges with “YET”
Challenges need to be viewed as the fundamental steps required towards propelling us to our goals. Challenges provide us with the opportunity to learn, grow and develop skills we never knew existed within ourselves. When next confronted with a challenging situation you would rather run away from (from getting to grips with your new accounting system or pitching an idea to a particularly intimidating group of investors) try focusing on a small but powerful word – “yet”.  For example, I haven’t been able to master the art of my new accounting software yet. Adding ‘yet’ to the statements we make about ourselves and our abilities has proven to slowly shift a fixed mindset into one of growth.

3. Approach learning with child-like curiosity
Having an almost unapologetic curiosity and ravenous appetite for knowledge shouldn’t be reserved for children. These are qualities we all need to embrace, daily. Start by asking more questions, actively listening and keeping a journal of at least one new thing you’ve learnt each day. A great question to start with is “why”. Use “why” to gain clarity, challenge existing solutions and conventions and gain deeper understanding and insight into every facet of life.

4. Expect setbacks but keep moving
Setbacks will happen, so best you expect them. And, in the wise words of Dory, just keep swimming. Agonizing over what you should have/could have done won’t help and will gradually kill self-esteem. A technique I’ve started using is allowing myself 15 minutes of moping time (cue a phone call to a significant other to have a full-on rant). After those 15 minutes I need to get over myself, look for the lesson in the process and start moving forward again.

5. Be inspired
Research remains inconclusive but I’m pretty sure jealousy really does make you ugly so take my mom’s advice and just be nice. Feeling threatened by the success of others is not going to help you develop a growth mindset and it certainly won’t help you develop your business or career. Take inspiration from the success of others, reach out for advice and share in your experiences. Shifting from one mindset to another is no easy task but it’s necessary when we take into consideration the pressing need for more entrepreneurial activity in South Africa – specifically the need for greater self-belief.  The consequences of believing in our intelligence and personality as something that can be moulded and developed over time are limitless. Transitioning to that shift will understandably take time but if encouraging robust and engaged entrepreneurial thinking opens the door to addressing societal, business and personal challenges then it’s certainly something we should start investing in.

 

Resources:

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Incorporated.
Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.
McGrath, R. G., & MacMillan, I. C. (2000). The entrepreneurial mindset: Strategies for continuously creating opportunity in an age of uncertainty (Vol. 284). Harvard Business Press.
Monitor, G. E. (2017). Global report. Babson College.
Rock, D., Davis, J., & Jones, E. (2013). One simple idea that can transform performance management. People and Strategy, 36(2), 16.

~ Karen Hidden,  RocketSchool
Karen’s 3 degrees include a Master’s in Inclusive Innovation. She has not only built a successful career in consulting on corporate philanthropy to local and multinational companies, she has also put it into practice by founding various non-profit entities that are all focused on giving humans the skills to make the world a better place.