Growth mindset and fixed mindset by Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck is famous for her works on mindset and where people consider their talent and intelligence come from: this is the growth mindset and fixed mindset theory. Growth mindset works are based on the neuroscience and the neuroplasticity of the brain.

Summary of the growth mindset theory

Indeed, in this model, people with fixed mindset consider their talent and intelligence to be innate. So their objective is to prove to themselves and to the others that they have abilities. Furthermore, they tend to avoid risk and effort as they may demonstrate their lack of talent or highlight their limits. Surely for them, failure or even mistake are a threat as they not just relate to an event but they impact their identity. Instead of just thinking, “I failed”, they think, “I am a failure”.

On the contrary, people with growth mindset think that their talent and intelligence develop through efforts, learning strategies and the help of the others. Of course, all people are different and start from distinct initial abilities. But everyone can develop through effort and experiment. At last, people with this mindset look for challenges that are an opportunity to learn and grow. Even more, they take pleasure in the effort and the path prevails the outcome. Truly, failure may still be painful but is not a show stopper as it does not define them. It is a normal and necessary step to learn and grow.

Growth mindset versus fixed mindset. Fixed mindset: Failure is the limit of my abilities. Either I good at, or not. Effort means I am not. I stick to what I known. Feedback is a critic. Growth mindset: Failure is an opportunity to grow. Effort and persistence is the way to grow abilities. I like to try new things. Feedback is constructive.

To illustrate, a growth mindset person would make the following statement on the limitations of the fixed mindset and why the growth mindset overpasses it.

Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better?
And, why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?
Further, why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow?
At last, why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you?
Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfill Your Potential – Carol Dweck

Growth mindset versus fixed mindset


Fixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
Intelligence and talent are static.

A person’s abilities are a given.
Intelligence and talent can be developed.

A person start with initial abilities then develop them through effort and persistence.


Fixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
The person desires to look smart and talented. Indeed, personal and group validation is the motivator.

Focus is outcome. To illustrate, ambition is to reach the top and with success, prove superiority. On the contrary, a failure is seen as a waste of time.
The person desires to learn and develop. Surely, the motivator is the taste of effort and progress.

Focus is on the path, the journey. As a result, the person considers that the success is a by-product. In other words, the growth mindset allows people to more than what they are usually doing. Then comes the outcome as a result.

About Fixed Mindset:
When you’re given a positive label, you’re afraid of losing it, and when you’re hit with a negative label, you’re afraid of deserving it.
Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfill Your Potential – Carol Dweck

Challenge and obstacles

Fixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
The person try to avoid the challenge and related risk to stick to what he or she knows.

When meeting an obstacle, doing a mistake or worse failing, the person gives up easily. Without a doubt, everything that reveals imperfection is a threat.
The person is excited by and embraces the challenge. Surely, it is an opportunity to learn and experiment new things.

Obstacle, mistake and failure are opportunities to learn and grow. Certainly, it is the way to stretch oneself. So the person persists when setbacks happen and even works harder.

About Fixed Mindset:
If you think I’m smart when I’m fast and perfect, I’d better not take on anything challenging.
Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfill Your Potential – Carol Dweck

Effort and help

Fixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
Effort or looking for help demonstrates a lack of talent and intelligence. Clearly, it is not just that the person takes no pleasure nor pride in effort, it is that effort casts doubt on abilities.Effort and getting help is the path to mastery. Truly, it is the natural price to pay to success, as talent is not enough. In other words, effort turns ability into achievement.


Fixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
Feedback is taken as a judgement or worse a personal attack. So, the person will discard it unless if it is praising. In this case, the person will accept it as a validation. Furthermore, negative feedback may increase competition or even trigger revenge.

Coaching is not possible as others are judges not allies. Therefore, the person is blind on his or her deficiencies and cannot take advantage of feedback to improve.
Feedback is an information about an event or an action, not a judgement. Even more, feedback is a gift and the opportunity to learn from the others. In other words, it is the possibility to self-reflect.

Coaching is looked for, as the person sees the value of learning from the others and their feedback. Improving prevails on being perfect. And really, can someone be perfect?

Success of the others

Fixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
A threat: “they are doing better than me”!An inspiration and a way to learn: “success is possible in this area, how can I learn from them”?

The result of growth mindset versus fixed mindset

Fixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
People reach early a plateau, quite below their full potential.People reach high level of achievements. Actually progress is never ending.

How to develop growth mindset over fixed mindset?

Building a good feedback to support growth mindset

One of the key tool to develop growth mindset is the feedback.

Negative feedback but constructive feedback

Feedback is not just praising and can be an opportunity to identify areas for improvement. Surely, it is important to tell the truth not to try to take some distance with reality, as it only leads to future disappointment and does not preserve self-confidence. In addition, transforming the reality prevents learning from failure and understanding what to change to succeed in the future.

Nevertheless, the person should deliver the feedback with empathy and receive the disappointment or pain from the other person. At last, advice should be on preparation and effort, not on pressuring to deliver perfectly.

Positive feedback, encouragement and praise

To support growth mindset, do not praise talent or intelligence. Instead, praise the effort, the investment and the learning strategies that the person has demonstrated. For instance, instead of praising smart ideas or outcomes, praise people for taking initiative despite the challenge and the risk. And praise them for persisting despite obstacles and setbacks.

Definitively, praising talent and intelligence is a risk to switch the person to fixed mindset. In addition, it spoils people abilities, investment and motivation. Indeed, it may boost people but only for a short moment.

Yet, it is important to still connect the effort to the performance and the outcome. Clearly, people should understand that engaging in that process helped them learn. At last, when the outcome is perfect, it is clearly a sign that people were in cruse mode then did not learn much. So, say it, with something like:

I guess that was too easy. I apologize for wasting your time. Let’s do something you can really learn from!
Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfill Your Potential – Carol Dweck

How can management develop growth mindset over fixed mindset?

Fixed mindset manager

Surely, fixed mindset managers believe that some people are superior and that they are part of them. As a result, they have the need to demonstrate and show their superiority. In addition, they use their staff to support this need, instead of developing them. Furthermore, they may serve their purpose rather than working for their companies.

About fixed mindset:
Great geniuses do not need great teams. They just need little helpers to carry out their brilliant ideas.
Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfill Your Potential – Carol Dweck

What is the impact of fixed mindset managers on teams?

When the manager is or become over-controlling and team-stressing, they switch people into fixed mindset. As a result, instead of learning, growing, and pushing the company forward, the team starts worrying about being judged. Surely, this is the recipe to average or even worse, burn out.

What is groupthink and what is the consequence?

Groupthink is when in a team, everyone thinks alike. To illustrate, no one disagrees and there is no critical stance. When does this happens?

  • When people have no limit in the faith they put in their talented leader. As a result, they may just seek for validation.
  • Or, when a fixed-mindset manager punishes dissent. This happens usually because of ego issue. Therefore, people stop thinking critically. They discontinue speaking-up.

Growth mindset manager

On the contrary to fixed mindset managers, growth mindset managers keep trying to improve and learn. They surround themselves with the most skilled people and make them grow. In addition, they look with attention at their own mistakes and deficiencies. Of course, they grow with their company, not at the detriment of it.

Moreover, growth mindset managers are usually self-effacing people who constantly ask questions and confront hard reality or feedback. Truly, they face failures, including their own, adapt their strategies accordingly. Nevertheless, they keep the faith that they will end succeeding. At last, they reward teamwork rather than individual best performers. And share credit for ideas and successes with their teams. Really, this is the best reward, motivation and inspiration for the teams.

True self-confidence is the courage to be open, to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.
Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfill Your Potential – Carol Dweck

How does the culture of a company influence growth mindset over fixed mindset?

Fixed mindset culture

A “culture of genius” is a culture that communicates that either people are able or they are not. Further, the extreme of this kind of culture is the “worshiped talent“. Indeed, here the company places the talented people on pedestal. As a result, this boosts even more their fixed mindset. Surely, they will even less admit and correct their deficiencies. But a company that cannot self-correct, cannot flourish.

Growth mindset culture

A culture of growth mindset communicates that people can learn, grow and improve with effort, good learning strategies and the help of the others. In other words, this a “culture of development”. As a result, people trust more their company and feel much more empowered and committed. Therefore, they are ready to take risk, create and innovate.

What the personal path to growth mindset?

Carol Dweck proposes an approach to switch from fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Mixed mindset

Firstly, she highlights that people are not just fixed mindset or growth mindset. Instead, all of us are a mix, depending on the topics or how confident we feel. So, the objective is to understand what triggers our fixed mindset. In addition, we need to pay attention and change our internal monologue so we stop judging ourselves to allow the switch to growth-oriented mindset. Some key questions can help:

What did I learn today? And, what mistake did I make that taught me something? What did I try hard at today?
Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfill Your Potential – Carol Dweck

The journey from fixed mindset to growth mindset

  • Step 1: Embrace your fixed mindset. Become aware and acknowledge your fixed mindset.
  • Step 2: Develop awareness about your fixed-mindset triggers. Investigate what triggers your fixed mindset.
  • Step 3: Give a name to your fixed-mindset persona. Indeed, the author proposes to give a name to your fixed mindset and to make it a person. This is to make it more concrete and to facilitate the internal dialog.
  • Step 4: Now that you know your fixed-mindset triggers and persona, educate this last one.
    • In reality, the author reminds that your fixed-mindset persona was born to protect you and keep you safe. So, the purpose is good. It is the way of doing it that has limitations.
    • Then, educate your fixed mindset persona in the new growth mindset. So, it can support you to take challenges, persist on them and stay away from failure.
    • At last, try to understand the persona’s point of view, but at the same time, teach it gradually a different way of thinking to a growth mindset.

What’s next? Learn more about Agile Leadership and Coaching

Do you want to learn more about Growth mindset and fixed mindset? Here are some valuable references

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