The growth mindset

I was reading this article about a gromth vs. a fixed mindset in the last issue of FastCompany, and it made a few things fall into place for me.

At its core, a fixed mindset is when you believe that people are born with a given trait, and if they don’t have it, tough luck. A growth mindset is the belief that things can be learned. Saying leaders are born, not made is a fixed mindset, and the opposite, leaders are made, not born, is a growth mindset (note the page counts on those searches). Or to give another example “Talent is everything” is – you got it – fixed, while this brilliant quote by Calvin Coolidge represents a growth mindset:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Any given person will typically have some areas that they believe are learned (driving a bicycle, tying your shoelace), but others they believe are innate (leadership, playing the piano, people skills).

The mindsets have consequences. When you believe that a skill cannot be learned, you’ll be less inclined to test it, and react more strongly to negative criticism, because it means you don’t have that particular skill and there’s no hope. Other than to blame the person doing the criticizing. You’ll also be inclined to take it easy, because, hey, I’m born with this skill, I don’t need to work too hard for it.

When you believe skills are learned, on the other hand, you’ll want to apply it, test it, get feedback, and work hard on improving your skill as quickly as you can.

So far, so good. Here’s where I started connecting the dots.

Last Christmas, I had just launched a product onto the market, and we were waiting anxiously for the market to respond. But not much happened. Then, when we visited my brother-in-law, he asked me about our marketing plan, and not only did I not have a good answer, I also reacted with very strong emotions. I closed up, got tense, became sad and defensive.

What happened?

One thing we’ve been taught during in the coaching program is how we only react emotionally to things when we believe they’re true. That’s a quite basic, but also powerful insight, because it lets us easily dig out our beliefs. It’s quite obvious when we react to something, so all we need to do is ask ourselves what we believe is true about what we just reacted to.

In this case, it was true that we didn’t have a good marketing plan. But if that was all there was, I could just admit that, yes, we don’t have one, and we really ought to have one, would you help me make one? What was I reacting to?

Deep down, it was a belief that entrepreneurs are born, not made. That either I had it in me to be a successful entrepreneur, or I didn’t. It wasn’t so much about the marketing plan, as it was about the fact that the product wasn’t selling, and that I was afraid that meant I would never be any good at starting a business. Indeed, a few days later, I dove into a dark hole of depression and self-doubt, where I felt that I was the worst entrepreneur ever. Thankfully it only lasted for a day.

Now, here’s the confusing thing: I do believe in Calvin Coolidge’s quote from above. I do believe that entrepreneurship can be learned. So what’s going on here?

The clue is in another thing Sofia Manning taught us in an off-hand way: We usually have a small team of people or voices inside, believing different things. Unless we’ve made a conscious effort to think it through and figure out what we really believe, we’ll experience this cacophony of voices. So the reality is, I believe both.

When I put them side by side, I know which one I really believe. By examining both, and whatever others there may be (INFPs are lousy business people, they’re better as counselors or priests might be one), and then explicitly phrasing and saying out loud what I really, now believe to be true, the voices can be united.

I believe that anyone who wants to can learn to become a successful entrepreneur. Especially if they know what their strengths are, and partner with people who complement them.

The book they talk about, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success doesn’t look like it’s worth the time to read it. The point is good, but can probably be gathered from the article in FastCompany alone. Besides, the fixed mindset is really just one example of a limiting belief, so you can apply any of the common tools for replacing limiting beliefs with supporting dittos.



How many companies have you started so far Lars? I'd say you're doing pretty well. This 'can't be taught' thing comes up a lot with entrepreneurism, at my business school the courses which dealt explicitly with entrepreneurism came back to it time and again; they had to do a lot of work to convince people (even MBA candidates) that you could just decide to be an entrepreneur, that it could be learned, that there was no secret sauce. The same goes for creativity. I'm fairly militant about this around the office, often telling people that 'there's no such thing as a creative person', because to my mind creativity is not something like height or eye colour, which you have or don't, but something that can be learned (and in the case of creativity seems to be connected to technical excellence).
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I think the persistance quote is brilliant and very true. I regard myself as a relatively intelligent person, but I always fall short of people with the "hamster syndrome" as I've come to call it. You have a bit of the hamster syndrome, I suspect, Lars. The term comes from a friend of mine, who is probably the most persistent and energetic person I have ever met. Constantly involved in projects, big or small. Constantly grabbing the initiative in almost every context. He has been diagnosed with a above-average heart rate which sort of coined the humourous phrase "hamster syndrome". I feel I lack a bit of this maniac persistence. And I think that this is a very important ability in entrepreneurship. If you don't have it in abundance, you will often find yourself more reliant on other team members. Not that this is bad - but it makes it tougher to get anywhere fast.
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