Growth mindset: an entrepreneur’s best friend

What is a growth mindset?

Psychologist Professor Carol Dweck coined the term 'growth mindset' when she researched how people's underlying beliefs about themselves and their abilities can affect their lives.

People with a growth mindset believe that if they’re not as good as they’d like to be at something, they can work at it and improve. Set-backs are re-framed as new challenges to overcome, and failure can be used as a springboard to bigger and better things. Whereas people with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities are fixed, something that you are either born with or without.

A growth mindset is the belief that your skills and abilities are not set in stone. Just as mighty oaks grow from tiny acorns, our talents might start small, but they have the potential to grow huge.

The opposite of this is the fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe that their ability and intelligence can’t be changed; that they're either good at something or not. They’re usually easily discouraged and might avoid taking risks or trying new things because they’re fearful of failure.

For example, imagine you’re learning to play an instrument. By the end of your first lesson you can play a few notes, but you’re no Mozart. If you have a fixed mindset you might think “I’m no good at this, so why bother?” and give up straight away. You’ll stop taking lessons and – surprise, surprise – you’ll never get any better.

If you have a growth mindset, you’ll still recognise that you’re no virtuoso (it’s not about being in denial) but instead of giving up you’ll recognise that with more lessons, practice and effort, you’ll improve. And, guess what? You will!

So how does this apply to business?

It can be tempting to think of successful entrepreneurs as god-like figures: untouchable, unfailing, perfect business owners with a magical ability to recognise the ‘next big thing’ and seal the deal before the rest of us have even had breakfast! But that isn’t the case.

Many super-star entrepreneurs started off as novices in their industry and have had to overcome failure in order to a reach the heady heights of success that they enjoy today.

  • Take Walt Disney. He opened his first film studio called Laugh-O-Gram in 1922. By 1923 he was in debt, facing bankruptcy and had to close it down. Undeterred, he then set up The Disney Brothers studio with his big bro and the rest is history.

  • Then there's Deborah Meaden of Dragon's Den fame. She started out exporting glass and ceramics but was forced to walk away from her first company. She moved on to other pursuits and is now a multi-millionaire, able to invest in a whole host of start-ups.

  • And who could forget Bill Gates? His first computer business was called Traf-O-Data. It failed, but he went on to apply his knowledge to a new start-up called Microsoft. Ever heard of it?

None of these business owners would have been successful if they’d just rolled over in the face of adversity. It takes a growth mindset to bounce back and try again.

Three ways to build your growth mindset

Changing the way you think isn’t as easy as flipping a switch... it takes time.

Here are three ways to get started.

1. Flip your thinking

It all starts with you and the way you think. Are your thoughts limiting you or helping you to grow?

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, famously said:

"Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right."

Being more conscious of how you speak to yourself when you’re feeling challenged, will help you to build a growth mindset. It will take time, but eventually it will become second-nature to flip your thinking.

Like this:

Fixed mindsetGrowth mindset
I’m not very good at this.I’m finding it hard, but I’m trying and if I practise I’ll get better.
I failed.What can I learn from my mistake and what will I do differently next time?
I can’t do that.I’ll give it a go.

2. Embrace the power of ‘yet’

‘Yet’ is a very powerful word. It acknowledges that you’re not quite there, but that getting ‘there’ will happen. You’re on a journey.

You might not have a thriving company yet; you might not have developed the next big product yet; you might not be shaking up the business world yet; you’ve not failed, you just haven’t achieved it yet

3. Love your mistakes

Emma Watson said: "I don’t want the fear of failure to stop me doing what I really care about."

There’s no room for being timid, hiding away or feeling sorry for yourself in business – especially when there’s big money at stake. If you try something and it doesn’t work, you need to know why and how to avoid that happening next time. Don’t fear failure, just put your ego aside and learn from it.

From drop-out to billionaire

Richard Branson’s journey to becoming a multi-billionaire is worth remembering when you set out on your first entrepreneurial adventure. He left school at 16 after setting up a youth-culture magazine, used his profits to set up a record shop and then a recording studio, which eventually grew into Virgin Records.

He has invested in successful ventures, as well as ones that have plummeted (remember Virgin Cola anyone?), but he’s always bounced back with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm. His secret? Keep learning.

You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.

And if that isn’t motivation to pick yourself up, try again and get cultivating your growth mindset, we don’t know what is!

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