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The Tale of the Twin Brothers: Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset

04 June 2021

How can team leaders easily and truly define a growth mindset vs fixed mindset? With a tale as old as time, of course.

The story follows the plot of two twin brothers with an alcoholic father who take part in a scientific study.

Despite the twin brothers identical genes and similar environment, both brothers took a different path from one another as they grew up.

The first brother grew to be an alcoholic like their father, and was left destitute and penniless on the streets. The second brother meanwhile grew to be a successful, and sober, businessman.

Nearer the middle of their lives the scientists return to interview the brothers and try to gain insight as to why they each ended up taking such drastically different paths.

The first brother and the now alcoholic son ended up telling the scientists that because he grew up with an alcoholic father, he was always surrounded by alcohol and so it was inevitable that he would also grow up to rely heavily on drink. His reasoning was his environment, and his genes.

The second brother and the now successful businessman told the scientists something completely different. He said that because he grew up with an alcoholic father, was surrounded by alcohol, and always saw his father drinking, that he supposed it was perfectly natural that he would grow up to swear to never want to replicate his father.

The crux of the story is this: Both brothers started the same. They grew up in the environment with the same circumstances. However they both end up on wildly different paths to one another because of their mindset.

The alcoholic brother is, in this story, the example of a fixed mindset. The brother believes that his circumstances dictate his journey, that he will never escape or better them, and so he may as well conform to the narrative that life has clearly already established for him.

Meanwhile the successful brother is an example of a growth mindset. He believes that he can better his circumstances, and can use his environment as motivation. In the brothers eyes, he believes that there are no limitations, and that his circumstances should not hold him back from achieving a better life; that in fact, they should springboard it.

The story ultimately favours the moral of the growth mindset, seeking to explain that although we don’t get to choose our circumstances or our backgrounds, they should not provide limitations for what we can achieve.

 

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset in the workplace

The above story is a great example of defining growth and fixed mindsets, and it can help team leaders to identify the mindsets they may be balancing within their teams.

However growth mindset vs fixed mindsets require very different management styles, and it’s this that leaders and managers can often struggle with.

Strategic management is another management style managers and team leaders must be aware of in 2021. Find out more here.

Below we’ve noted some quick ways to assess growth mindsets and fixed mindsets, and also some helpful management style tips. First, let’s recap on the definition of growth mindsets and fixed mindsets.

What is a growth mindset?

According to Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset and the first person to coin the term “growth mindset” back in 2006, the definition of a growth mindset is the belief that a person’s abilities can be developed through dedication, hard work and practice.

We define a growth mindset in more detail here.

A person with a growth mindset believes that their background, circumstances, initial level of intelligence and levels of talent are just starting points and can be improved upon. They believe that with dedication and time, they can improve to a top performing level and eventually surpass others’ levels of talent.

Employees with a growth mindset will view effort as their key element of success. This means that they will accept failure before acquiring a new skill, and will view it as a challenge to better so that they can improve for the next time.

 

What is a fixed mindset?

On the other hand a fixed mindset, also defined by Carol Dweck, is the belief that a person is born with a specific level of intelligence and talent, and that that cannot be improved upon or bettered because that’s just how things are.

Fixed mindsets can be commonly seen in a number of educational and corporate settings, and obvious indicators include things like “I’m just not good with numbers, so I don’t think math is for me”. This is a fixed mindset: The person believes that because they do not automatically possess the skill, they are destined to never possess it.

Employees with fixed mindsets will often view failure as an indicator to not improve upon their weakness and accept their limitations, and will shy away from opportunities to learn and grow in areas that they do not feel comfortable with.

How can team leaders manage differing mindsets?

In workplace settings, it’s not just individuals who fall into a growth or fixed mindset bracket. Sometimes teams can be guilty of conforming to one way of thinking or another, purely because there is enough influence from other members of the team, or from the team leader, to sway them.

There are however easy ways to assess and manage differing mindset styles, which we’ve pointed out below.

 

Assessing employees

  • To identify potential growth mindset employees: The first place to start is to look at their passion for learning. Are they eager to take on new challenges? Do they view failure as the springboard to success? How do they handle setbacks? What’s their resilience level when things go wrong?
  • To identify potential fixed mindset employees: Look at a person’s established skills. Are they “top-heavy”? Meaning that they have top level skills in only one or two certain areas? Whilst not always an indicator of a fixed mindset this could be a sign that the employee prefers to stick to where they feel most comfortable. Other areas to check are the employees appetite for challenges, and how resilient they feel under pressure or when faced with unexpected changes or circumstances. Do they believe they have the talent to handle them? Or do they shrink away from the unknown?

Resilience is an important factor in the workplace. Learn how to keep your resilience and innovate in a challenging environment, here.

Managing employees

  • For growth mindset employees: Team leaders and managers must give growth mindset employees ample opportunities to grow. Growth mindset employees are hungry for challenge and learning, and should be provided ample opportunity to learn new skills, or take on challenges which could lead to failure the first time around but may produce a lesson. Employees with growth mindsets should also not be set performance goals as this creates a ceiling. Instead, they can be set “learning goals”.
  • For fixed mindset employees: Team leaders and managers should work on a results based infrastructure with fixed mindset employees and congratulate them when they achieve results. Fixed mindset employees will not function well under learning goals, and will often feel overwhelmed and defensive, leading to a lack of motivation and productivity. Instead setting frameworks that utilise their skill sets and help them to have a clear roadmap of what to achieve can help them to best function effectively.

 

Growth mindset vs fixed: Which is better?

The debate as to which mindset is better is one that is entirely circumstantial and depends on the industry and objectives of the organisation.

Encouraging growth mindsets does have positive outcomes for a business. It boosts employee productivity and morale, therefore boosting business profitability, and it also promotes a sense of belonging and independence throughout the organisation. Employees feel more committed because they believe the organisation is committed to helping them grow.

On the other hand although creating a growth mindset culture does present many benefits when compared to a fixed mindset environment, this can become entirely dependent on the business. For example in technical industries where specific skill sets are required, and where the tasks are heavily detail orientated or results based, a fixed mindset culture will work just as well because fixed mindset employees will be performing at a level that is optimum for them.

No matter which of the two brothers you, your team, or employees are, your organisation can still achieve its goals, and both growth and fixed mindset employees can play their roles in the success of your business. To find out more about how your business can reach its next level, click here to book your strategy review with us.

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