If you’re the leader of a company or the manager of a team in a competitive market you quickly realize that the market around you can change faster than a toddler running away with a snack. In the midst of such rapid change you have two options for how to respond — you can either hunker down, sit in the dirt, and throw a tantrum about how you’re stuck, or you find ways for you and your team to learn and move forward.
This is the basic idea behind a fixed versus growth mindset. If you have a growth mentality, then you believe in your ability to develop, become more intelligent, and become bigger and better than you used to be.
A growth mindset isn’t a new idea — Dr. Carol Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford, first solidified the concepts of fixed and growth mindsets over 30 years ago when studying underlying attitudes students had about failure. But as she points out, we’re still punching back big misconceptions about what a growth mindset means (nope, it’s not about being open-minded or praising/rewarding people, and it doesn’t guarantee good things will drop in your lap by default). And Dweck’s been researching since 2010 with her colleagues about how the growth vs. fixed mindset concept applies to organizations instead of individuals. She’s already found that there are specific company characteristics associated with each mindset type. As positive examples, feast your eyes on Google or Facebook. They, and dozens of other companies like them, are thriving because they’ve committed to learning across the business.
Now, if you’re thinking that you’re simply out of luck because you or your organization lean toward a fixed mindset right now, think again. You absolutely can develop a growth mindset over time. That’s the beauty of the neuroplastic or malleable brain. In fact, even IBM, a company that people called a dinosaur, is working on ways to embrace a growth mindset across the business.
The million-dollar question, of course, is how to get yourself and everybody else to accept the growth mindset idea. And the reality here is that there’s no magic bullet. It’s important you emphasize to your team that company-building happens through a process of learning, and that the team will be graded on the journey as much as the destination. And in general, it’s a lot of small things, all working together, that shift what your team does toward new habits and gets them to believe in their ability to adapt and perform better.
To get yourself and your team started on the right path, there are a few key things to consider.
First, ensure you are all aligned on the “why” of your business and the principles/values that are at its core. This provides a shared sense of purpose that can help the team gel and keep them motivated even in the face of failures along the way. It also provides some valuable boundaries to let you and the team know when you are “veering off the path.”
Second, encourage the team to think non-linearly. They should be encouraged to ask questions from left field and deeply explore answers as this may lead to growth in interesting ways. Here are a few ideas.
Try shifting your customer perspective.
For instance, if you are a B2C company, try asking yourself what you would do differently if you were a B2B company instead. Who would those customers be? What would you develop for them? How could they help your company fulfill its purpose?
Make a list of the potential partners with whom you have a shared audience. Create a real value proposition for them that aligns them to where you’re trying to go. And then get out there and test it. You may open up a faster path to sales that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tap otherwise or you may find other interesting business benefits.
I once worked at a consumer products company where we went down this exact path. We spent time exploring the partner universe. And while the B2B approach didn’t accelerate our sales growth (this kind of failure is OK, it is just part of learning), what resulted was an improvement to our margins by 5% as we found new partners willing to pay to reach the same audience but through our product. This was a huge win for a startup trying to find ways to keep its burn rate low and remain alive — and it never would’ve happened if we hadn’t shifted our perspective first.
Think about ways you can invest in your customers. How would you do that? What would you do differently?
I currently work at an online marketplace for rental properties. We enable investors to browse and buy investment properties, all online. The line of questioning above forced us to empathize with our potential customers and led us to non-obvious investments in them.
One example is our 30-day money back guarantee. This is a first-of-its-kind guarantee in real estate. If the customer buys a property and then changes their mind, they effectively have an out.
We also realized that the uncertainty associated with finding and placing a qualified tenant was a major obstacle to investing. So we leaned on our expertise in underwriting and implemented a lease-up guarantee. This guarantee assures investors a certain level of rent on their new investment. If a qualified tenant is not placed in their property within a certain number of days, our company pays the investor a stipulated amount of rent for up to 12 months.
We also learned that while there is a ton of interest in real estate investing, education is a massive barrier to adoption. Many people were learning through trial-and-error, others by poring over the advice of strangers on social networks. In talking to our users, we heard loud and clear that what people craved was a structured way to learn from battle-hardened experts who would provide information that could be trusted. From this was born our own mastery program for real estate investing. We hired experts and developed a program that includes lectures, videos, 1:1 coaching sessions, and peer networking all designed to help individuals create their own personal investing playbook. While we charge $1,250 to enroll, we give each student $2,500 to go invest in real estate. In a way, we pay them to become more informed and confident investors.
If we’d never asked ourselves how we could invest in our customers, we never would have developed these value-adds that drive so much of our success today.
Remember your core values and principles.
You will know when the growth mindset is taking hold on your team because new ideas will start to bubble up, unprompted. If you’ve done a good job setting a shared sense of purpose and establishing core values/principles, then the ideas may easily fall within acceptable guardrails. But if you find that the ideas violate any of those core values, be sure to do a quick re-study with the team so there is shared learning going on.
For example, a team member recently raised the idea to use exit pop-ups to try to get more user engagement on our platform. While there’s evidence that popups can be fairly effective, we decided to forego this tactic because it is too aggressive and doesn’t align with our company’s core values.
This idea has spawned, however, critical new thinking about how to better engage users visiting our site, adding positive pressure on the organization to change — but in a way that keeps with our core values and principles.
Commit to the process.
A growth mindset nourishes your ability to respond to customers over time even as the market shifts. And as the term implies, it can help your business grow. If your team doesn’t quite have this mentality yet, keep at it. If you commit to the process of teaching and modeling with these strategies in mind, you can ultimately become a much more nimble and progressive company.