Getting Ahead

Do You Have a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset? Here’s Why It Matters at Work

person thinking at work
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Do you take constructive criticism as a personal attack, or as an opportunity for improvement? Does failure turn you off from trying altogether, or spur you to do better? How you answer those questions are vital clues to your mindset.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, coined the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset to define people’s beliefs in their abilities and talents.

A fixed mindset is the idea that our intelligence, character, and creativity are innate and mostly unchangeable. A growth mindset sees gaps in our knowledge or skills as chances for growth, says Isabel Duarte, a leadership and mindfulness trainer who runs the leadership development department at the tech company Tucows. “A growth mindset is the belief that with effort, training, and determination, our abilities can be increased,” Duarte says.

Duarte uses how someone approaches learning a foreign language as an example. “Someone with a fixed mindset would say, ‘I don’t have a brain for languages,’ while someone with a growth mindset would think that if they’re determined to learn, and work hard, they’ll become better at it.”


How a Growth Mindset Helps You Succeed at Work

With a growth mindset, you’re open to improvement and believe you can only get better and smarter, which are attractive qualities in the workplace, Duarte says. Your mindset can affect everything from how you react to feedback to your willingness to take on new projects to even how you manage employees.

For example, if you take a fixed mindset toward managing your direct reports, you’re less likely to think they are capable of growth and so are less likely to challenge them. If, however, you have a growth mindset, you’re more likely to “provide feedback and create development opportunities for your team,” Duarte says.

Of course, few of us always fall entirely into one mindset or another. Still, it’s worth figuring out which mindset you favor—and trying to cultivate more of a growth mindset, where you can. An excellent way to adopt a growth mindset is to question how you’re reacting to something in the moment. Did you respond defensively to feedback? Did you embrace a chance for growth or stick to your comfort zone?

“Then, flex your re-appraisal muscles,” Duarte says. “Figure out how you can respond differently. Is there room for positive intent or positive outcomes? Can you override self-doubt and focus on the potential for growth?”

Here are some more ways to spot the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset:

infographic illustrating fixed mindset vs growth mindset, full text below
Infographic design by Milkwhale


Skills

Fixed mindset: Skills are set and unchangeable.
Growth mindset: New skills can be learned with hard work, effort, and training.


Feedback

Fixed mindset: Feedback is a criticism and a sign of failure.
Growth mindset: Feedback is an opportunity to grow and improve.


Competition

Fixed mindset: Intimidated or threatened by other people’s success.
Growth mindset: Inspired by successful people or projects.


Failure

Fixed mindset: Failure means you’re not capable.
Growth mindset: Failure is a chance to learn from your mistakes for the next attempt.


Challenges

Fixed mindset: Avoids difficult challenges or tasks.
Growth mindset: Embraces challenges as an opportunity to learn and develop.


Knowledge

Fixed mindset: Afraid to admit when they don’t know something.
Growth mindset: Willing to say “I don’t know”—and eager to learn.


Success

Fixed mindset: Innate abilities determine success.
Growth mindset: Work ethic and effort drive success.