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The growth mindset: all innovations start off in the head

The pressure to innovate in the age of digitalization requires a different attitude among employees.
By Falk Hedemann September 8, 2018
The growth mindset: all innovations start off in the head

When considering the digital transformation, we quickly think in technical dimensions: Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Blockchain, Industrial IoT, Cloud Computing. This is correct, of course, because these key technologies are what make digitalization possible in the first place. Nevertheless, technology is only the prerequisite for a digital transformation that will trigger ever greater change for many years to come. These changes not only have an impact on all the employees of a company, but they are even expected to actively initiate and implement the changes themselves.

For some people, simply being faced with ongoing changes can be exhausting or even overwhelming. They are stressed and often feel like they can no longer keep up with the dynamics that occur. Other people, on the other hand, actively seek out such challenges. They feel like things can never go fast enough and see every change as an opportunity. It bothers them more when things stay the same.

These differences even occur when both groups of people have the same starting point, i.e. similar knowledge and training. The cause must therefore lie outside the acquired skills. This is exactly the issue that American psychologist Carol S. Dweck has been researching for many years now. In her research, she found that the different success of equally talented people results from opposing ways of thinking.

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

In one of her experiments, Dweck gave students an unsolvable task and observed their reactions. While some of the students were frustrated and saw it as a personal failure that they could not solve the task, others reacted completely to the contrary: these students found the challenge exciting and instructive, although they too could not solve the task at hand. Dweck deduced from this that there are two different mindsets that became visible in the experiment.

The Fixed Mindset basically consists of the belief that skills and intelligence are “fixed” and thus hardly changeable. Either you’re good at something by nature or you’re not. People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, believe that skills and intelligence can be learned and developed. What you can’t yet do, you just haven’t learned yet, but it is basically possible.

Why the Growth Mindset is so important

Digitalization not only presents companies but also their employees with ever new challenges. Not all tasks can be solved immediately and easily, so that employees also require a certain resilience so they don’t feel permanently overwhelmed. A Growth Mindset is very helpful for this, because with this attitude the numerous challenges are perceived and approached as personal opportunities. Actively encouraging this attitude can help companies in major change processes. A good example of this is Microsoft.

When Satya Nadella became the new CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he assumed responsibility for a tech heavyweight that had fallen behind innovative companies like Apple, Google or Amazon. In order to become a pioneer again, he had to establish a new strategy and above all a new corporate culture. Nadella was inspired by Carol S. Dweck and her Growth Mindset theory, which soon became the new mantra. Lifelong learning has been Microsoft’s top priority ever since. Nadella himself actively lives it and publishes a video for his employees every month about his own learning progress.

The change at the top and the new corporate culture has already paid off for the Microsoft brand. New business areas such as cloud services and AI stand for successful restructuring and new ways of thinking in Redmond

The Growth Mindset can be specifically promoted, for example, using a feedback culture: instead of giving performance assessments in a critical review in a traditional annual meeting, a continuous feedback process promotes adaptive thinking patterns. The same applies to how mistakes are dealt with. In this case, feedback should not be about finding the culprit, but about possible learning effects.

The bottom line:

If you want to actively initiate digital transformation, you have to start with the corporate culture. It must set the framework for innovative thinking and exemplify the Growth Mindset from the top. Technology alone will not bring about change – it is the people we must look after.

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