Attribution theory is a popular psychological theory. It views each person as a “pseudo-scientist” who tries to explain his/her own behavior and those of others. For instance, when we succeed or fail at something, we explain why that happened based on our abilities, our efforts, the difficult of the task, or forces external to us, such as luck. Which cause we choose, based on the facts and our emotions (such as ego needs to protect ourselves) can have a profound effect on our future successes and failures. It affects how we related to our staff, customers, family members and community.
Carol Dweck is a psychologist who has dedicated her career to understanding people’s mindsets (how they view their worlds) when faced with issues such as: will I succeed or fail, will I look smart or dumb? will I be accepted or rejected? and will I feel like a winner or loser? What she’s discovered is that as early as pre-school, people adopt a fixed or growth mindset:
- A fixed mindset is one that protects you in a world where you’re constantly feeling you have to prove yourself. If you have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, a certain moral character, etc., then everything you do is based on what you have. For instance, people who believe that IQ scores tell how smart you’ll be for life, feel safe doing work within the range that’s acceptable to that level. Similarly, a teacher with that belief, will have low expectations for someone whose score is low. A supervisor with this mindset will promote people based on what they’ve done in the past.
- A growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through your efforts. Regardless of your initial talents, attitudes, interests or temperaments, you can change and grow through application and experience.
In her book, Mindset: the New Psychology of Success, Dr. Dweck discuses the findings and implications of her research of over 20 years with students, parents, business people, relationships. etc. For instance, people generally want to feel smart. Those with a fixed mindset want to be flawless so they can prove they are smart at what they do; and they choose to operate only within their comfort zone. People with a growth mindset accept errors and failures as the price of learning, and by constantly learning they consider themselves smart. The former’s worldview focuses on the immediate transaction; the latter doesn’t care about immediate perfection; confronting challenges and making progress is the goal. (I recommend reading the book to see the many examples, including people you probably know!)
From a management perspective, there are three important implications
- What’s the mindset you want from your workers? Ideally, you want a mix. If you have a deadline that must be achieved, giving it to a person with a fixed mindset, capable of delivery is important; if you’re an entrepreneur and/or inventor (e.g., Edison), a growth mindset is key. Indeed, the work that I’ve been doing with creativity and innovation workshops, and, most recently exponential growth, clearly demonstrates the value of having a team with growth mindsets.
- What’s your mindset? Knowing ourselves is key to how we will perform. If you’re focused on doing things perfectively, you may be limit the range of services/products of your company to what you’ve already done… and avoid new product development. Or you may hire people with fixed mindsets –at the cost of “deviants” who stretch and learning through mistakes on the way to innovation.
- Do you want to change? Her research shows that people can change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. If you’re working with a coach or are part of a Vistage group, explore this issue and see how you can develop your growth mindset.