Growth Mindset

Image of two men – Fraser and Shem – stood next to each other in a workshop with tools behind them. Both are smiling.

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Does throwing your student’s work away encourage a Growth Mindset? 

In the picture above, on the left, you’ll see Fraser, our CEO and Co-Founder, stood next to Shem, the man who taught him to make musical instruments, specifically viola de gambas, about a decade ago.

Every time Fraser or one of his peers made an error in the making of their instrument, Shem would come over to their workstation, pick up the instrument, and throw it in the bin.

It didn’t matter whether production had just begun, or whether the student was 11 months deep and 98% done – if there was the slightest thing wrong with it, the instrument had to go. One student, whilst trying to bend the front of an instrument, went through over £1,000’s worth of wood, attempting the bend 7 times. All of them, lost tragically to the bin.

“Don’t get me wrong, it feels pretty brutal the first time,” says Fraser. “It stings the second time. But by the time you get to the third round, you learn to stop being so precious about your work.

Instead of despairing over how much time you’ve wasted on a piece of literal rubbish, or plotting a salvage mission to save your fallen soldier, you just pick up another bit of wood and start making a new instrument.

Shem taught me two things. First, that I was constantly failing. Second, that failure is not a dirty word. 

Failure is simply the act of not doing something correctly.” 

Most people struggle to admit failure because they believe it diminishes them, their talent, or their judgement, when in fact, the opposite is true. Identifying a flaw in your process, flagging it up immediately and working to start over with an improved understanding shows an incredible amount of self-assurance and competence.

Fraser’s experience with Shem gave him an intensive desensitisation to confronting and admitting failure, and it saved him a lot of time over the following years. He says:

“Much of the poor work completed in this world is the product of someone, somewhere being too afraid to admit they’re doing something wrong.” 

The Origin of the Growth Mindset (a less brutal approach)

The term Growth Mindset was coined by psychologist & Professor Carol Dweck, who changed education forever with her discoveries about how outlook changed the performance of students.

When Dweck was in high school, students who didn’t pass a test, instead of being graded ‘Fail’ received the grade ‘Not Yet.’ This statement had the power to shift the way students viewed their lack of success – not as a failure, but as a point on a learning curve. For Dweck, the power of this word – Yet – embodied the difference between a Fixed and a Growth Mindset.

Fixed Mindset

The inability to see your potential to improve. You view your abilities and talents as fixed, and you believe you will always fail something that you have already failed.

Growth Mindset

The faith in your ability to improve and eventually succeed. You see your failures not as a dead end, but as a challenge and an opportunity to learn more.

Growth Mindset In Action

A teacher and PhD student called Stephanie, after graduating from Stanford, went back to her Native American reservation in the state of Washington and completely transformed the school in terms of a growth mindset. 

This school had always ranked at the bottom of the district, and even the state. Within about a year, the kindergarteners and first graders were scoring at the top of the district for reading and reading readiness. This particular district contained the affluent sections of Seattle; as Dweck puts it: 

“The reservation kids outdid the Microsoft kids.” 

Intentionally teaching a growth mindset is about praising qualities like perseverance and hard work rather than placing emphasis on raw talent. You need to stress that failure provides an opportunity, and push people to find the lesson behind every mistake.

Growth Mindset: for the Manager and the Individual 

Our first example, a la Fraser and Shem, shows the possibility of cultivating your own growth mindset even when brutally confronted with failure, whereas the teachings of Professor Dweck show the power of leaders encouraging a growth mindset on their team’s success.

Individual Growth Mindset

To grow-your-own:

  • Recognise that failure does not diminish you, your talents or your judgement.
  • Analyse your failures objectively, as though they’re just pieces of a puzzle to be reshuffled.
  • Allow yourself to feel disappointment – momentarily. Don’t dwell.

Encouraging Growth Mindset as a Manager

To grow others’:

  • Praise qualities like perseverance & hard work rather than emphasising raw talent above all else
  • Reframe failure as an opportunity for growth
  • Teach people to identify the missteps they took and consider how they would do things now

Fancy a bit more light reading? Check out our article on how to deal with negative feedback.

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