Growth Mindset For Positive Change

While every social enterprise needs skilled and capable people, possibly the last thing a social enterprise needs are people willing to rest upon their laurels or who think that the solutions existing today will be fit for an uncertain future.

By understanding fixed and growth mindsets and using good strategies (such as simple language tools), you will notice a real change in your behavior and attitudes. This, in turn, will aid your learning. You'll enjoy a more positive attitude, renewed energy, and the momentum that comes with it as you continue to face and overcome the challenges ahead of you.

A growth mindset also helps people to remain optimistic and fly in the face of challenges and drives engagement. As your mindset evolves, so too will you want to seek out others with a similar mindset, creating a positive feedback loop that strengthens and accelerates organizations looking to create positive change.

There is no shortage of resources online approaching Growth Mindset as an academic or scientific concept. Particularly as applied to early childhood education. But is it just for kids? Or does it equally apply to our adult lives?

Failure and Growth Mindset

Through our experience of working with corporate partners and training, we’ve learned that a growth mindset plays a key role in overcoming the challenges facing changemakers, setting the stage for individuals and teams to feel they have permission to take risks in an environment of open communication that fosters mutual learning. Indeed, failure forms an important milestone on the path to learning, whilst reducing the stigma associated with failure.

Think you have failed a few times? Try failing for three years straight. Publicly. And (incredibly) expensively.

“How not to land a rocket booster” from SpaceX. Check out three years of... well, how not to land a rocket booster. As one comment under the video suggests, this must surely be the most expensive video ever shared on YouTube.

This is not an embarrassing instance of leaked footage. They shared their footage loud and proud. A shining example of a growth mindset.

While going to Mars may not be everybody’s cup of tea, we have seen how a growth mindset acts as a multiplying factor, pivoting behavior to unlock the potential to create positive change in the world. Want to know how? Read on.

Growth Mindset's relevance for people who are interested in positive change

With climate change, cuts to local services, refugee and homeless crises, and many other issues to solve in our modern-day there is a pressing need to act. We need to move faster. We need to be more effective in finding innovative solutions. Just as external factors such as technology, improved data, and the rise of the social entrepreneur bring changes to the sector itself, so too are the requirements of tomorrow’s social entrepreneurs changing.

And change demands adaptation. We enable adaptation through a set of assumptions and attitudes we hold about ourselves. Otherwise known as mindset. And adaptation infers learning.

It’s Growth Mindset that removes the self-imposed limits to your capacity to learn and engage in this constantly changing landscape.

We can defined growth mindset as the belief that genetics do not determine your intelligence. That intelligence is a liquid capacity – one that, like the muscles in your body, can and are strengthened as a result of work. Like your physical prowess, your intelligence is not set in stone! Derek Sivers arrived at this rhyme (paraphrased here with apologies) that sums up growth mindset beautifully:

No pain? No gain. And so it is with the brain.

In contrast, a fixed mindset is one that has a deterministic view of intelligence, identified as one of many fixed traits. Adopting the belief that “You get your lot in life at birth and the rest is fate.”

Awareness of Growth Mindset

At its core, understanding growth mindset liberates us by resetting our belief of what we are capable of. As we learn and grow throughout our lifetime, growth mindset defines your intelligence as fluid, and directly impacted by the effort applied in wanting to further develop your capacity to learn.

It means that through increased awareness of your response, and the adoption of simple and deliberate pivots in those responses, capability for you to learn can be radically altered. It’s not the latest feel-good fad, this is indeed mind-hacking. But not the bad type! You have absolute control here.

Take a deeper dive into the groundbreaking work done by Carol Dweck and her team of researchers and academics who sent waves through the existing understanding of mental models, with her 2012 book, ‘Mindset’.

While Dweck’s work has been instrumental in evolving early childhood education and communication, this HBR article helpfully unpacks the concepts for application by adults and organizations.

Further simplifying the concept, James Clear has created a helpful graph in a blog exploring the layers of behavior change. Critically, he sums up that long-lasting change comes from placing focus on fundamental behaviors, and not on results. This is how we acquire skills. This is how a growth mindset enables and empowers people to achieve incredible personal growth and mastery.

So how important is growth mindset for people wanting to make positive change?


Anybody wishing to innovate and bring new means of solving problems at scale must engage with growth mindset. Just as nobody is born a brilliant musician, a sharp accountant, or a swift lawyer, nobody is born with the skills and behaviors that they need to navigate the changing world of social enterprise and innovation. The traits of successful leaders and changemakers we admire don't come easy. Rather they are learned and hard-won. They are not gifted.

In the Social Business Trust’s (@SBT_UK) guide posted in 2017 called ‘Unlocking Growth’, the topic of mindset is explored. It is no secret that mindset (both in oneself and in the people that a social innovator surrounds themselves with) plays a critical part in bracing those who are seeking to make positive change for the challenges that will inevitably exist on the road to scaling ideas for impact.

Growth Mindset Flowers
Photo by Ashley Davis on Unsplash

Asking for help

Bringing any idea to life, let alone one aiming to create positive social change in equal measure to financial return, will require learning. Quoted in the SBT_UK ‘Unlocking Growth’ guide, the CEO of Shakespeare Schools Foundation, Ruth Brock talks about asking for help within a team:

“It’s the adage about having the confidence to recruit people who are better than you and that’s when you’ll do better. But having the confidence to say ‘help’ to someone in your team can still be a really difficult thing to do.”

This is where growth mindset plays a critical role. We can all relate to the comment above, asking for help can equate in our minds as admitting defeat, or a sign of failure, but growth mindset allows us to equate asking for help as a sign of strength.

Reid Wilson (@wayfaringpath) contrasts the associated thought patterns for growth and fixed mindsets. Feeling uncomfortable when asking for help can be a sign of a fixed mindset, particularly if a sense of discomfort is accompanied by the following fears or thought patterns:

“If I fail, it actually means that I’m no good”

“The outcomes I expect in life are determined by my abilities”

“I’m either good at things, or I’m simply not – I don’t have the talent”

Applying growth mindset tells us to approach this situation differently. Our beliefs shape our attitudes which dictate our response to what happens in the world around us. By choosing to think differently, you will notice that your response to your environment also changes.

Practising Growth Mindset

In practice, the task of asking for help, as reframed by a growth mindset, evolves to embrace the following thought patterns:

“If I fail, it actually means that I’m no good.”

Evolves to  - “Failure will happen. So when it does, I will learn. Fast.”

“The outcomes I expect in life are determined by my abilities.”

Evolves to - “The outcomes I can expect in life are the direct result of my attitude and the effort I put in.

“I’m either good at things, or I’m simply not – I don’t have the talent.”

Evolves to – “With sufficient time and focus I can learn anything I want to.”

The power of this simple pivot in approach cannot be overstated. As the thought patterns above are applied, the possibilities of what can be achieved by one person become vast, and by a team, limitless.

The challenges that you will face as you set about making a positive change in the world are going to range from minor irritation to the seemingly insurmountable. Growth mindset is the cheapest, simplest, and most fundamental tool to empower you to realize your vision. Start by identifying fixed mindset thought patterns and pivoting them with the growth mindset perspective. You have complete control over responses – once you get used to halting fixed thoughts to substitute for those that enable growth, the results will quickly follow.

Ok, so I get it. Growth mindset is for me! And what about my team?

You are looking to play a role in realizing potential solutions to problems you witness. Your ideas and the ideas of those you support get not only brought to life through teams of people prepared to commit time and energy. But critically also through those prepared to learn and adapt.

For people who want to foster a culture of growth mindset in their organizations, the change begins and ends with their own behavior. By owning mistakes and leveraging the opportunity to double down on open communication, mistakes become valuable moments of shared learning and help to reduce risk in the future from similar mistakes being made by others in the team. This is critical for leaders to understand, as workplace culture is defined not by what a leader says, but how they behave and respond.

Improving Engagement in the Sea of Ambiguity

In today’s environment of constant and rapid change, it’s understandable for the future to feel highly ambiguous. Yet dealing with ambiguity is a key behavior that anybody wishing to lead change must exhibit. By embracing growth mindset culture, ambiguity becomes repositioned as an indicator of the great opportunity ahead, rather than the looming threat.

Enabling teams to embrace ambiguity and face challenges is a key lever for driving engagement. Ambiguity means that nobody knows what is going to happen. In a Darwinian sense, it is those who embrace the opportunity to learn and develop further skills that will not only survive, but thrive. But what does it feel like to take the risks and possibly make inevitable mistakes that will happen when the future is unclear?

Lack of engagement (also known as presenteeism) can be the result of a fear to step outside of one’s comfort zone, a fear of making mistakes and of being exposed, and of failure itself. In demonstrating open communication with a growth mindset, leadership pave the way for teams to engage without this often crippling fear of failure.

A fixed mindset dictates failure as reinforcing a narrow and pre-existing set of skills or traits that one should stick to; if we make mistakes, they should get swept under the carpet. Risks should not get attempted again. And you must make a hasty return to ‘tested and true’ fields of activity. Growth mindset teaches us that mistakes are a key opportunity for learning, and when coupled with open communication, becomes a key opportunity for organizational learning.

Organisational Impact

A 2016 Dutch research paper aimed to understand the relationship between transformational leadership, employee proactivity, and growth mindset. The findings supported the notion that transformational leaders had a negative effect on employee engagement in cases where the employee demonstrated fixed mindset. I.e. those believing in the predisposition of intelligence or abilities

As such, leaders who set out to empower employees to achieve results beyond their own expectations were somewhat wasting their time (and possibly making things worse) if the employees had a fixed mindset. Accordingly, growth mindset is identified as a key factor for driving employee engagement1; it’s the ‘source code’ for driving performance.

To see this in action, Trevor Ragan (The Mindset Playbook) has explored the impact of growth mindset at an organizational level. In a video published on his youtube channel, he interviews senior sporting leadership who share their experience of bringing growth mindset into their personal and professional lives, and the results of ensuring that all of their athletes and support staff are actively developing growth mindset.

  • The video identifies keys to fostering a change at an organisational level. This includes:
  • Modelling the right behaviour with considered language and language tools
  • Bringing a horizontal approach, not so much to hierarchy but to learning
  • Creating the opportunity to grow by empowering everybody to learn
  • Investing time into one-to-one conversations rather than broadcasting

By setting out a level learning playing field through initial and ongoing conversations, organizations can communicate that the interest in team members is less about their past achievements and more about the direction they are headed.

That sounds like a great place to be.

Growth Mindset Powers Positivity

“Well, it’s a high risk project, but I thought if I don’t try there’s zero chance for this to happen”

Boyan Slat, reflecting on his decision to drop out of Aerospace Engineering studies at the University of Delft. Deciding to focus on ridding the oceans of plastic pollution.

Growth Mindset Positive Change
Photo by (PR & Marketing) on Unsplash

Boyan Slat’s The Ocean Cleanup project had humble beginnings. Founded in 2013, he consumed his entire budget (three hundred Euros of pocket money he had saved) by paying the foundation registration fee. Having written to hundreds of companies seeking sponsorship, the rejection seemed to be as large as the great Pacific garbage patch itself; Boyan acknowledges that he had little understanding of the task at hand. But passion and determination fueled him. As did an infectious positivity and a desire to learn (growth mindset!). These qualities kept him on the right path.

Today, The Ocean Cleanup has over 80 staff and has raised over $30 million in funding, mostly from donations. Many will know this project as one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns in history. Many of you will not know that the original technical designs were so flawed that the project nearly derailed.

His journey and that of the project have been marked by a series of failures followed by pivots. Failure followed by pivot. Failure followed by pivot; the mark of a growth mindset.

The last word (go for growth mindset!)

And who knows what the future will reveal to those empowered to go out and create it?

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1Mind the mindset! The interaction of proactive personality, transformational leadership and growth mindset for engagement at work Marjolein C.J. Caniëls, Judith H. Semeijn, Irma H.M. Renders, (2018) "Mind the mindset! The interaction of proactive personality, transformational leadership and growth mindset for engagement at work", Career Development International, Vol. 23 Issue: 1, pp.48-66,
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