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Failing Forward: Part 2 – Fostering a Growth Mindset

7 mins read

This article is about how to foster a growth mindset so that your company can fail forward to success.

In terms of buzzwords, whenever “fail forward” is mentioned, the phrase “growth mindset” is not far behind. But how do these two relate? Failing forward is the philosophy that success comes when there is a safe environment to fail in, thereby giving people the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and create a better product. A growth mindset also adopts this pathway of thinking, where it is seen as advantageous to develop one’s skills and abilities through experimentation, as well as collaboration, regardless of potential challenges. Although both sound great in theory, it might feel overwhelming to try and implement a growth mindset in a tangible way so that your company can fail forward successfully, but it can be done!

First, it is important to understand the types of mindsets that can be found in the workplace. In a study conducted by Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, she found that individuals often reflect two different mindsets: fixed versus growth. People who have a fixed mindset “believe their talents are innate gifts,” and rely on “cheating and deception […] to gain advantage in the talent race.”1 This is in direct contrast with those who adopt a growth mindset, as they spend less time trying to look smart and more time learning, allowing them to “receive far greater organizational support.” 1

While this dichotomy seems simple enough, Dweck explains that both employers and employees usually have a combination of the two since the workplace “can be full of fixed mindset triggers.”1 For example, whenever we “face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth.”1 What is important in these situations, is to have enough self-awareness to know how to transform these moments into learning experiences that propel the company forward. A trick that has benefitted many managers and executives is learning how to recognize “their fixed-mindset ‘persona’”1 so that they can “talk back to it, persuading it to collaborate with them as they pursue challenging goals.”1

Although having a growth mindset does take a lot of internal reflection, there are ways to cultivate an environment that encourages everyone to develop their skills and abilities.

3 Ways to Foster a Growth Mindset

  1. Language: Stephen Childs, a Forbes Human Resources Council Member and Vice President-Global Human Resources/Facilities for Panasonic Automotive, argues that how managers communicate with their employees is essential to enriching the workplace. Not only does this include creating space for people to ask questions, but also noting how employees talk about challenges relating to projects. Managers should try turning statements such as “‘This is impossible…’ or ‘I am terrible at…’ or ‘I can’t…’”2 into “’It will be difficult, but…,’ ‘I struggle at…,’ and ‘I can’t…yet…’”2 to help reframe their perspective into one of growth instead of defeat.
  2. Experimentation: Just because a project may fail does not mean that the idea is inherently bad and should be completely scrapped. It is much better to learn from a failed attempt than it is to “[prove] that under the best of conditions everything [will] go right.”3 Therefore, when a team shows courage and tries something new, they should be rewarded for all the “important and useful lessons learned,” as well as be supported for “[collaborating] across organizational boundaries rather than [competing]”1 amongst themselves.
  3. Engagement: As Childs puts it, “a growth mindset environment can’t merely be a branding campaign without engagement and substance. It also needs to be part of your organization’s overall business strategy.”1 He suggests leveraging a Learning Management System (LMS) which is a software designed to help keep employees informed through a wealth of information in the form of videos, articles, and training courses. It can be updated as the business grows and expands, creating more detailed resources for all.

Buzzwords like “growth mindset” can be turned into tangible practices, through both internal and external means, to help your team fail forward to success. Every day, both employers and employees are faced with many “fixed mindset triggers” and must practice self-awareness to properly confront feelings of insecurity or defensiveness in order to pursue challenging goals. However, self-reflection alone will not cut it. Luckily, through language, experimentation, and engagement, teams can help cultivate an environment where their skills and abilities are not only supported but encouraged to develop further through collaboration.

Download this resource Failing Forward: Part 2 – Fostering a Growth Mindset.

1 Dweck, Carol. “What Having a ‘Growth Mindset’ Actually Means.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means

2 Childs, Stephen. “Why a Growth Mindset Should Be a Part of Your Overall Business.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2019/09/16/why-a-growth-mindset-should-be-a-part-of-your-overall-business-strategy/?sh=e7d605b6a8a2

3 Edmonson, Amy C. “Strategies for Learning from Failure.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2011/04/strategies-for-learning-from-failure

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