Cultures of growth: the many benefits of growth mindset cultures

Mary Murphy, professor of psychology at Indiana University, has published the book Cultures of Growth. In 2006, she was a student of Carol Dweck, the founder of mindset theory. Dweck's previous work showed that people with a growth mindset are more likely to take on challenges, learn from mistakes, and achieve more in the long run than people with a fixed mindset. Murphy suggested that not only individuals but also environments embody a mindset. Nearly two decades later, Murphy and her colleagues have conducted extensive research in numerous organizations. Cultures of Growth reports on this.

The mindset continuum

The author begins by dispelling the misconception that people can either have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. She explains that mindset exists on a continuum. Where we are on this continuum can vary, and the environment we find ourselves in strongly influences our position. People don't have just one type of mindset; they can vary between a static and a growth mindset depending on the topic, the situation, and the influences from their environment.

Mindset cultures: from cultures of genius to cultures of growth

The environment, whether it is a family, a school, or an organization in which we find ourselves, strongly influences our mindset in that environment. The mindset of environments is also on a continuum. On one side are fixed mindset cultures (Cultures of Genius); on the other are growth mindset cultures (Cultures of Growth). In a culture of genius, people believe that human capabilities cannot or hardly be developed; in a culture of growth they believe that this is possible. Cultures of genius emphasize talents and results. Cultures of growth provide growth opportunities and emphasize motivation, learning, creativity, hard work, and process.

Mindset cultures influence values ​​and behavior

Mindset cultures influence values ​within organizations according to a cyclical process that Murphy calls the organizational mindset-culture cycle. In recruitment and selection, candidates with the dominant mindset are sought. Candidates must exhibit this dominant mindset in order to have a chance of getting in. When working, we demonstrate behavior that fits the dominant mindset in order to have a chance at good reviews and promotion. Step by step, we internalize the properties that belong to the dominant mindset.

The mindset culture of an organization influences the following aspects:

1. Collaboration

In cultures in which the fixed mindset is dominant, there is more internal competition, which is accompanied by stress and a decrease in psychological safety, which can undermine cooperation. The book describes companies that have transitioned to growth-oriented cultures, such as Patagonia and Atlassian, and how this approach contributes to employee satisfaction and retention and a positive corporate culture.

2. Innovation and creativity

In a growth mindset culture, we view mistakes as learning opportunities and encourage employees to explore and challenge new ideas. This stimulates innovation and creativity. In contrast, cultures with a fixed mindset lead to a more closed environment in which employees feel less free to go off the beaten path or to fail. This can lead to a more risk-averse attitude and less innovative outcomes.

3. Risk taking and persistence

A growth mindset culture fosters an environment that values ​​calculated risk-taking and learning from mistakes. This stimulates innovation and adaptive resilience. Unlike a fixed mindset culture, which is risk-averse and where failure is taken personally, a growth mindset culture encourages team members to take on challenges and see progression as a continuous learning process.

4. Integrity and ethical behavior

A growth mindset culture emphasizes ethical behavior and integrity as core components of professional conduct. This culture recognizes that mistakes can be made, but promotes responsibility and transparency. In contrast, a fixed mindset culture can lead to placing success on a pedestal, sometimes at the expense of ethical considerations, potentially protecting star performers despite unethical behavior.

5. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)

The mindset culture within an organization strongly influences how DEI initiatives are designed and implemented. A growth mindset culture recognizes and values ​​diversity as a source of learning and innovation, and strives for equity and inclusion by actively removing barriers that can exclude underrepresented groups. In contrast, a fixed mindset culture may have more limited views of who the “geniuses” are, which can lead to homogeneity and a lack of commitment to true inclusion.

Mindset microcultures

Mindset microcultures refer to smaller subcultures within an organization that may differ from the organization's dominant mindset culture. They can thrive within a department, team, or group that cultivates a growth mindset, even when the rest of the organization may exhibit a culture of genius. These microcultures are important because they provide insight into how organizational culture change can occur and provide clues as to how the dominant culture can develop and change. These microcultures can reflect both the strengths and limitations of the broader organizational culture and provide valuable insights for change and development.

Mindset triggers

Mindset triggers are specific situations that tend to move people towards their growth or fixed mindset. These triggers are based on how individuals typically respond in certain interpersonal circumstances and can have a significant impact on their motivation, behavior, and performance. The four most common mindset triggers are:

  1. Evaluative Situations: Moments when people are judged or evaluated, which can motivate them to perform or become defensive.
  2. High Effort Situations: Situations that require extra attention and energy, such as quickly learning a new skill or adapting to change, can lead to a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.
  3. Critical Feedback: Receiving negative feedback can be threatening and affect one's perception of themselves as capable or incapable, which can lead to either avoiding criticism (fixed mindset) or using it as an opportunity to learn and improve (growth mindset).
  4. Success of Others: Observing the success of others can influence one's own behavior and motivation, either through inspiration and motivation (growth mindset) or through discouragement or jealousy (fixed mindset).

Understanding these triggers not only helps individuals understand and develop their own mindset, but it is also essential for organizations to understand how they can use this knowledge to support a culture of growth and continuous development. Organizations can identify these triggers and design interventions to encourage employees to activate their growth mindset more often, which can lead to more adaptive and resilient work behaviors and better performance.

Competence and mindset are independent of each other

Competence and mindset are two independent characteristics of people. Murphy describes this through the following two-dimensional model:

Murphy advocates that leaders within a culture of growth help people develop strong capabilities and a growth mindset about capabilities. This is in contrast to the strengths-based approach that suggests people should focus on what they are already good at, but which can actually lead to a fixed mindset and stagnation.

Mindset, interests, and gender stereotypes

Murphy also discusses the misconception that everyone is born with a passion and that discovering it is the key to success. This can be harmful because it can lead to the belief that if something doesn't come immediately, it's not worth pursuing, which in turn encourages a fixed mindset.

She also discusses a related misunderstanding involving gender stereotyping and its influence on areas of interest such as computer science. Young women and girls who have adopted a fixed mindset may not expect to be naturally attracted to or passionate about a field that is a good fit for them, contributing to the gender gap in STEM fields.

Mindset and feedback

Murphy discusses several other themes, such as how mindset influences thinking about feedback. In a static feedback environment, feedback, and certainly critical feedback, is a very charged subject. After all, feedback about what could be improved or what was not good can be interpreted as evidence of a lack of capabilities. In a growth mindset, people see feedback as normal and supportive of learning. In a fixed mindset culture, people will be inclined to focus feedback on results and personal characteristics. But in a growth mindset culture, feedback is very specific. It is about behavior, choices, and processes that can influence people. In addition, feedback can focus on effort and persistence.