Did successful people believe their talents could be developed (through hard work, good strategies and input from others) before the term “growth mindset” was coined? Did teams excel in environments where they felt physically and psychologically safe before the concept was labeled and its results became measurable?
The answer to all of these seemingly pointless questions is obvious, yet asking them is profound. It is as easy to ignore something we cannot see as it is difficult to optimize it. Having a label and a frame of reference can dramatically speed up the process of using concepts to our advantage instead of falling victim to them.
Knowledge is power: The ability to use it is a superpower, but having and applying knowledge the wrong way—due to misunderstandings or being out of date—can cause more damage than good.
Growth mindset is one of those overused and misused ideas that a lot of coaches and consultants want to teach and even more people claim to have. According to Carol Dweck, who coined the term, the two common qualities of false growth mindsets are “being open to new ideas” and being “adaptable.” The false growth mindset is nurtured by praising effort without feedback about the outcome and mistaking positive thinking or a good personal quality with the original idea.
Real growth mindset works no matter what—just like gravity. How much it can be developed, however, is an entirely different story. According to a 2016 study on personality stability, personality does not change quickly, but rather only over a long period of time. That said, change is most certainly always possible with the right amount of motivation and the right quality of resources.
In many traditional industries, there can be fear surrounding speaking up and challenging the status quo. This may stem from the fear of being excluded from the group for thinking and speaking differently. When the choice to move to another organization is limited, it can create an environment where people are working together for the next 10, 15 or 20 years and the culture of silence is alive and well.
The current tidal wave of silent resignation has sent a clear message that people are less willing to put up with toxic environments if they have more options, while the ones who have fewer options might get to the point where they burn out in industries where it could cause exponential damage, such as healthcare.
So, how can teams harness knowledge to consciously create a culture that is primed for growth?
Educational stories without data can be entertaining and temporarily inspiring, while data on its own has little power to improve the situation. Creating meaningful conversations driven by data and rooted in science can be the catalyst to removing the several layers of corporate veils made of a fine combination of political correctness, toxic masculinity and over- or under-emphasized societal issues.
The feelings of psychological safety and growth mindset are created by individuals; therefore, they are rather subjective, although an environment can amplify or suppress them. People can feel vastly different within the same environment depending on their own narratives about what is happening around and to them, why others behave in a certain way and what meaning they attach to particular outcomes.
Solutions should not only measure psychological safety and motivation in a team, but also reveal how polarized team members are within their different domains so participants can discuss how they perceive their situations and clear up misunderstandings stemming from assumptions and lack of communication.
Providing people with a common frame of reference and vocabulary significantly enhances their ability to get to know themselves and others better so they can co-create an inclusive culture conducive to growth and innovation.
Psychological safety to growth mindset is like water to fish. Only one can carry on existing without the other. Future-proofing your organization means ensuring it survives now so it can thrive later on.
Praising effort is great, but fine-tuning your approach based on data takes the growth mindset to a whole new level. As the highest level of growth happens in a psychologically safe, motivating and cognitively diverse environment, guessing should not be an option.
Psychological safety is an equally powerful idea that can be measured and optimized in a much more scientific way. A number of studies have proven how valuable psychological safety can be for an organization and how it can increase employees’ well-being, innovation and accountability. When it comes to many industries, psychological safety should not be a “nice to have,” but rather a “must have.”
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