What Is a Growth Mindset?

What Is a Growth Mindset? was originally published on Forage.

A sign about growth mindset and fixed mindset

When you think of intelligence, do you think of it as a fixed trait — that the intellect someone is born with is all the intellect they’ll ever have? Or do you think of intelligence as something you can grow and develop if you’re willing to learn?

While there may not be a definitive scientific answer to the above, embracing a growth mindset throughout life can help you achieve the goals you set for yourself. And having a growth mindset at work allows you to take control of your career no matter how new or experienced you are.

So, what is a growth mindset, and how do you develop one?

Growth Mindset Definition

Carol Dweck coined the term, “growth mindset,” after studying high school students in impoverished schools in Chile. She found that having a growth mindset can help overcome the effects of poverty and contribute to achievement throughout one’s life.

So, what is a growth mindset? Dweck describes it as the belief that your abilities can grow through hard work. People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence isn’t fixed — it can be developed through determination and practice. What’s more, people without a growth mindset can cultivate one by believing in themselves or when someone else believes in their ability to grow and improve their intellect.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

The difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset is that people with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence cannot change. Whatever you’re born with is all you’ll ever have.

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Dweck says that people with fixed mindsets often run from challenges. They generally won’t take on projects that seem too difficult or are outside their comfort zone, even when they believe they are naturally bright or intelligent.


“Because they fear failure,” says Nitzan Pelman, CEO and founder of Climb Hire. “Being thought of as unable to master a new skill or competency is scary — especially for people who have been told their whole life that they are smart or capable. The last thing they want is to take risks, go outside of their comfort zone, and fail. So, they stay in a fixed mindset and stick to what they know and where they are safely going to succeed.”

Why a Growth Mindset Is Important

When you accept the challenge of learning something new or taking on tasks outside your comfort zone, you’ll develop new skills and enhance your existing ones. And when you encounter challenges and obstacles, you’ll come up with new and creative solutions. “People who operate with a growth mindset generally have more resilience and creativity when approaching any number of challenges,” says Pelman.

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How to Develop a Growth Mindset at Work

This resilience and creativity can help accelerate your career. Pelman explains: “Employees who aren’t daunted by challenges and in fact are exhilarated to tackle them are the kind employers and managers relish.”

But maybe you have a fixed mindset, or you’re not sure how to develop a growth mindset on the job. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Try New Things

Employees with a growth mindset are often willing to tackle new projects because they know that no matter what they accomplish or which obstacles they encounter, trying new things will benefit them in the long run. “Being open to taking on a variety of responsibilities also allows you to discover new skills and interests that otherwise may not have been obvious, and shows your managers that you’re willing to be a team player and jump in where needed,” says Pelman.

So, say “yes.” If your supervisor asks you to head up a new project or develop a new procedure, agree to do it! Embrace the challenge of learning something new and the opportunity to develop new skills that will help you build a toolkit full of transferable skills that can take your career anywhere you want it to go.

And if taking that step still worries you, keep in mind that sometimes saying yes teaches us what we don’t want to do. Trying new things, no matter the outcome, is incredibly valuable early in your career. If you don’t learn what you don’t want to pursue, you could end up on a career path you find deeply unsatisfying.

Welcome Failure

Developing a growth mindset means embracing failure. You won’t have all the answers when you start something new, and people with a growth mindset don’t look at failure as failure! They see it as an opportunity to learn and improve.

“An important step to developing a growth mindset at work is acknowledging that you won’t be perfect … especially early on,” notes Pelman. “Many young people entering their first position understandably want to be seen as reliable and effective at their jobs, so they develop strong anxiety over the prospect of making mistakes. Once someone lets go of that fear, they are able to shift their mindset and view errors as opportunities for learning and growth instead of indications of failure.”

No one expects an entry-level employee to know everything. Even experienced candidates starting a new role at a new company have to learn the ropes. What matters is how you handle obstacles and setbacks. Do you analyze what happened, so you don’t make the same error next time? Do you develop a different approach to similar problems? Or do you throw your hands up in defeat?

Ask for Feedback

Feedback is a necessary part of developing a growth mindset. Without it, we wouldn’t know what to improve or where we’re misstepping. 

“Make note of constructive criticism and make it a point to show your superiors that you’re determined to improve and learn from their feedback, rather than taking it as a personal attack,” says Pelman.

While it’s not always easy to hear what we’re doing wrong and where we need to improve, feedback is a part of almost every job. So, change your mindset. Instead of thinking of feedback as scary or demoralizing, consider it a gift!

Take Control

“People entering the workforce think that their company is going to lay out a plan for them, push them along that plan, and eventually promote them, the way we imagine the way everything should be. And the reality is that people only get moved up the ladder if they are taking accountability for their own growth,” says Jessica Kriegel, chief scientist of workplace culture at Culture Partners.

As noted above, when you say yes to new opportunities, you discover what you do and don’t like to do. However, passing those opportunities up could mean you end up on a career path you don’t like. And the same is true when you say yes, but aren’t taking control of what opportunities are offered to you.

“A growth mindset for someone who’s new to the workforce looks like not waiting for your manager to tell you what’s next and not waiting for the leader of your team to tell you after two years it’s time for a promotion,” says Kriegel, “but is rather being really vocal about what it is that you want in your own growth, asking questions, about where you can improve, and getting feedback from not just your boss, but your peers and having a mindset that you’re only going to advance if you make that happen.”

Kriegel notes it’s crucial to be very clear about what you want to do with your career. That starts by figuring out if you’re happy with the role you’re currently in, and if you’re not, taking steps to find a position you do connect with. 

Once you find a role and career path you’re satisfied with, Kriegel says the next step is up to you. “Get your manager to explicitly tell you what expectations they have of you in order to be eligible to get to the next level. Ask, ‘What measurable goals do I need to hit in order to be able to move forward and advance my career?’” 

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After you’ve achieved all the goals, you can go back to your manager and ask for the promotion or whatever the next step is. “And if they still don’t give you a promotion after you’ve done what they said they needed you to do,” says Kriegel, “then you may want to consider moving to another organization because it could be that that culture is not one that actually promotes growth and is interested in growth for you.”

Develop Outside of Work

Finally, as Kriegel notes, “The workplace is only a fraction of who we are.” Ironically, developing a growth mindset at work means developing a growth mindset outside of the job, too.

Learning and growing don’t end when we finish school. With a growth mindset, we are always trying new things, developing new skills, and growing our intellect! Take a class, start a new hobby, and try new things that have nothing to do with the job, and you may find yourself with a whole new mindset.

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Embrace “Not Yet”

Developing a growth mindset means embracing the concept of “not yet.” As Dwyer says in her growth mindset video, “Not yet gives you a path to the future.” You may not be an expert at something today, but if you keep trying, one day, you probably will be.

Image credit: Canva

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