Organizational mindset: what are its characteristics and consequences?

Carol Dweck's mindset theory is usually associated with individuals: do they see individual abilities and traits as malleable or not? But there is also such a thing as a mindset culture. A mindset culture reflects shared ideas in an organization about the malleability of capabilities. In a fixed mindset culture there is the belief that abilities cannot be developed. In a growth mindset culture, there is a belief that abilities can be developed through effort. Organizational mindsets can affect the thinking and acting of individuals in those organizations in important ways.

Lab study: Organizational mindset influences thinking and acting

Murphy & Dweck (2010) investigated whether there is also such a thing as mindset cultures. In other words: can there be such a thing as a fixed mindset or a growth mindset at an organizational level? Is there such a thing as an organizational mindset, or as Murphy and Dweck call it, an organization's theory of intelligence? And if so, what are its characteristics and the consequences? They did 5 studies and found that organizational mindsets exist and that they have an important influence on how people within the organization think about themselves and about the organization, as well as on how they behave.

What this research showed is that organizational mindset primarily influences how people present themselves when they apply for a job at the organization concerned. To apply to a fixed mindset organization, they emphasize intelligence-related qualities of themselves. To apply for a job at a growth mindset organization, they emphasize their motivation-related qualities. Furthermore, participants in the study were generally less attracted to fixed mindset organizations. They indicated that they felt more at home with the growth mindset culture club, that they would feel more comfortable here, that they would feel more accepted there and that they would differ less from the other employees there.

Also, people's self-image shifted under the influence of the values ​​that were emphasized in the organization. In a fixed mindset organization they came to see intelligence-related qualities of themselves as more central to their self-concept; in a growth mindset organization they came to see motivation-related qualities of themselves as more central to their self-concept. Subsequently, organizational mindset also influenced how they started to look at other people. In a fixed mindset culture they developed a preference for candidates who presented intelligence-related qualities; in a growth mindset culture, they developed a preference for candidates who presented motivation-related qualities.

In brief: organizational mindset influences the way people think and act. The fact that they find a fixed mindset culture less attractive does not prevent them from joining this culture and propagating it themselves.

Field research: Strong Effects of Organizational Mindsets

Subsequently, Dweck and her colleagues (see here and here) in large companies asked employees to respond to four statements such as the following: “When it comes to being successful, this company seems to believe that people have a certain amount of talent and they can't do much to change that. ” They then conducted surveys to gain insight into how organizational mindset influenced issues such as employee satisfaction, perception of the organizational culture, degree of collaboration, innovation, ethical behavior and the way managers perceive employees.

The findings of this study were that there was a lot of consensus within the companies about the organizational mindset. Employees felt that in fixed mindset cultures only “star workers” were valued. In fixed mindset cultures there was also less engagement in the organization and employees felt less covered by the organization. They were more concerned about making mistakes and were less innovative. They also cheated more to get up in the organization. In growth mindset organizations, there was more collaboration, commitment, innovation, and satisfaction, and managers thought more positively about employees.

Further studies

Researchers Canning et al. (2019) also studied the effects of mindset cultures within organizations. They investigated how the dominant mindset within an organization predicts employee trust and engagement.

In their first study, they analyzed the mission statement of Fortune 500 companies. They mapped to what extent the language use in these mission statements corresponded with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. They compared this data with data from another dataset. This showed that employees experienced a more negative culture in a fixed mindset culture than in a growth mindset culture.

The second study was an experiment. They had test subjects read and assess company mission statements. These subjects judged that fixed mindset cultures have more negative norms. And the study participants predicted that employees of these companies would be less confident and engaged.

These findings were confirmed in Study 3 involving 500 employees of Fortune 500 companies. Employees who experienced their company culture as a fixed mindset culture experienced less collaboration, innovation and integrity in their organizations. They also reported less trust and commitment to their company.


How we think about the malleability of capacities has consequences not only for how we develop ourselves. The common ideas about malleability can also nestle in our organizational cultures. The effects of this can be significant. An organizational mindset can influence how safe and engaged we feel within the organization. It also influences how we perform and how the organization functions as a whole. Growth mindset cultures clearly seem to work better.

It is reasonable to assume that the findings described above are more widely applicable than in the organizational context. Collective mindsets can also exist within families and schools. These shared ideas can have a strong influence on how the individuals think and act within such systems. Investing in a growth mindset culture seems advisable. Are you now part of a system in which a fixed mindset culture prevails and do you not feel comfortable with that? Maybe it's worth starting the conversation and trying to shift the culture towards a growth mindset.