A growth versus fixed mindset often means the difference between success and failure

Benjamin Chong startups

Right Click Capital partner Benjamin Chong.

In 2007, Blackberry had the business world in the palm of its hand. And it was quite literally in the palm of every employee’s hand.

So how did one of the first smartphones to market suffer one of the most dramatic failures in modern business history after Apple launched?

Blackberry banked on the qwerty keyboard triumphing over a touchscreen interface.

It also banked on businesses — with their security needs — controlling the smartphone revolution, blind to the role that consumers would quickly play.

Although Blackberry was eventually defeated by Apple and Google, its error was symptomatic of a problem that any business, large or small, could face. Its fatal flaw was a ‘fixed’ rather than ‘growth’ mindset.

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has been researching mindsets for decades. Her book Mindset was published in 2006 and says business leaders, founders and whole companies have either a fixed or growth mindset.

This quite often means the difference between success and failure.

A fixed mindset assumes we can’t change our character, intelligence and creative ability in any meaningful way.

A leader with the fixed mindset is convinced of their strengths and weaknesses, will avoid challenges, give up readily and dismiss negative feedback.

They firmly believe that talent drives successful outcomes without too much effort

Conversely, a growth mindset is based on the belief that a person’s basic qualities are things they can change and improve through effort.

Hard work and dedication will help to develop even the most basic abilities.

A leader with a growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure as a springboard for the opportunity to stretch, innovate and evolve their existing abilities.

An entire business can adopt a growth mindset

Dweck’s own research in Fortune 1000 companies found that most companies had a fixed or growth mindset.

She found that employees at fixed mindset companies were less committed than employees at growth mindset companies.

They were also more worried about failing and pursued fewer innovative projects.

In the example of Blackberry, the failure to support innovation points to the absence of a growth mindset.

In companies with a growth mindset, employees feel empowered and committed and are supported in their efforts to collaborate and innovate.

A growth mindset makes a successful founder

The most successful startups are generally not a product of their intellect or an infallible idea. They quite simply reflect the mindset of the founder, especially in the early days when challenges are the order of the day.

The growth mindset fosters resilience and an insatiable appetite to learn from mistakes and challenges.

The growth mindset founder looks for reasons their startup won’t succeed. And then sets about fixing them.

The fixed mindset founder is focused on reasons for failure, particularly those that are outside their control.

Sometimes a fixed mindset founder will even go in search of reasons if they feel their business doesn’t have what it takes to succeed.

Because a fixed mindset founder thinks that their failure reflects their intelligence and ability, their self-esteem is inextricably linked to the success of the business.

A founder with a growth mindset will move quickly as they test and learn.

They take risks that customers might not like their product and seek real feedback as early as possible so they can incorporate learnings and improve.

A risk is an opportunity to learn and failure builds resilience.

A founder should be aiming to fail to seize a learning opportunity.

A growth mindset requires work

A growth mindset requires recognition that the mindset itself is fluid and able to be changed.

But adopting a growth mindset doesn’t just mean good things will happen and success will be abundant.

Startups that embody a growth mindset have a number of characteristics.

They are built on a culture of coaching, training and regular feedback to show they are committed to the growth of every team member.

The startup with the growth mindset will also reward its people for taking risks and finding lessons that help shape the direction of the business.

The growth mindset also encourages collaboration rather than pitting teams or team members against each other.

As well as creating the right environment for a growth mindset in their business, the founder must also rewire their cognitive habits to adopt a growth mindset. This is significantly more difficult than setting policies to do so within their business.

Dweck suggests that identifying and working with the fixed mindset persona will help put a person in the growth mindset headspace.

The founder should identify what makes them feel threatened or defensive and actively confront these views through the right self-talk and internal monologue that encourages them to learn from challenges and setbacks.

A growth mindset doesn’t come easily.

It certainly didn’t come easily to Blackberry, which thought it was too big to fail and had nothing to learn from a new entrant.

Often, the greatest learning opportunities present at the most uncomfortable and unexpected times.

Change is not easy and requires a founder to embrace the discomfort and learn in order to seize the greatest opportunities for growth.

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