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Growth mindset and the link to high performance and learning

Published on
23 December 2019
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Growth mindset isn’t a new thing, but it’s at the forefront of the world of work due to its links with wellbeing, high performance, leadership and learning.

What is Growth Mindset?

Well, simply put it’s what we could call the power of “Yet”, in other words “I’m not good at this skill yet, but I will master it”. It’s generally seen as having the absence of fear of failure: although this may be correct to a certain extent, it’s not necessarily the absence of fear, but the change in the way we interact with failure.

The best example I can give of this is with language learning. As someone who speaks two languages (and has taught them as well), children have a small amount of fear of making a mistake when speaking a foreign language.

As adults we start to worry about making a mistake when trying to converse with others in different languages, as we don’t want to seem foolish. Most of the time this is all in our head: if you try to speak in a foreign language then more often than not, the person you’re speaking to will actually appreciate it and not even blink an eye if you make a mistake.

Why is this important then?

Well, in the case of languages, a growth mindset will mean you keep practicing and trying to speak to someone in that language. The only way to get better at the language is to keep speaking it, and that can only happen with a growth mindset and the absence of fear.

This can really be applied with any skill in life: a fear of failure will stifle our ability to keep practicing and learning. In the wider context of high performance this is critical, as a team with growth mindset will continually evolve, they will embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and get better.

Any individual or team that wants to create a high performance culture must embrace both a growth mindset and psychological safety, with the ability to embrace failure as a friend as opposed to a foe: something which is easier said than done, especially when as adults we have a different outlook on failure than children.

I encountered this issue quite often while training amateur race crews for the Clipper Round the World Race. Many of the crew arriving would never have stepped on a boat before, never mind a 70ft racing machine, and many had got to a high level of responsibility and expertise in their respective careers.

A lot of the crews would find it hard to transition from a state of high understanding to one that exposed their lack of knowledge, meaning they were often feeling vulnerable. My job as skipper, was not just to train them, but to also help them transition from a potential fixed mindset to a growth one, allowing them to make mistakes in a safe way and to learn from them; often not to give them the answers, but ask questions which allowed them to use their own life experiences to analyse what went wrong and how they could improve next time.

Because ultimately, the job of a leader or trainer is not necessarily to have all the answers or give the answers to your team, but to enable them to come up with those solutions to problems, and therefore learn as both a team and individuals.

How is this important in the context of healthcare?

Well, just as it is in the world of sailing, healthcare requires teams to work at their peak and often, in some cases, be as flexible and agile as possible. This flexibility will only come about if a leader has enabled the team to think for themselves, to speak up when needed and to have a growth mindset where everyone learns from each other and the words “I can’t do that”, turn into “I can’t do that YET!!!”.

As many teams within healthcare are unrehearsed or ad hoc teams, this will only come from leaders within the trust, hospital or departments setting an example and showing vulnerability and that they too can learn something new every day.