Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset Theory – Theories Every Careers Adviser Should Know

Carol Dweck is a social psychologist researching into mindset with a particular focus on motivation and development. Her ideas around fixed and growth mindsets are very powerful and helpful ideas around development and learning and so I thought I would write a blog discussing them and seeing how her views might be applied to careers work. For a flavor of her ideas have a look at the two videos bellow.

Dweck claims that all of us can be put on a scale between what she calls a growth and a fixed mindset. For Dweck these two terms discuss where we implicitly believe intelligence and ability comes from. For people with more of a fixed mindset they are a strong prevalence to see intelligence and ability as a matter of innate ability, it is something your are born with, it is external to your actions. For people with more of a growth mindset they instead see ability and intelligence as something we develop through our effort and skill, we are responsible for it, it is the product of our actions.

Dweck then goes on to claim that these are not two equally valid approaches but that having a growth mindset is a significant advantage. People with a growth mindset are better at learning, produce better academic results and cope better with failures and set backs. From spending a bit of time with Dweck I think there are three sets of dichotomies that particularly sum up her thought.  

Results vs. Process – Someone with a fixed mindset sees results as saying something fundamental about them while for someone with a growth mindset results are jsut a check point along the way. Fixed mindsets will focus on the results while someone with a growth mindset is more interested in feedback, what worked, what didn’t, what needs to be improved on for next time.

Type vs. Development – A fixed mindset sees themselves as a fixed entity with some things they can and some things they can’t do. They will then filter experiences through this grid avoiding situations they don’t see themselves as good at. Growth mindsets by contrast believe in their innate ability to learn and develop new things and so will approach new experiences in terms of what they could learn and develop making themselves more open.

Fatalism vs. Responsibility – Fixed mindsets drift towards a form of fatalism which sees results as inevitably based on their circumstances and hard wiring. Growth mindsets see themselves as responsible for results and so take responsibility for working towards them. They also own failure, wanting to learn and develop in light of it.

Application

So what might the application be for Dweck’s mindset analysis be to the world of careers? I’ve come up with a number of key areas.

  • Professional development – As the saying goes “physician heal thyself”. If we are convinced that the others should take on a growth mindset then don’t we first need to apply it to ourselves? What areas of professional development do we put fences around saying “that’s not me”. Do we resist taking on technology, engaging in theory or further study, attending more networking events, trying out new techniques etc. because we see ourselves as not being good enough? Isn’t this just a fixed mindset we need to change?
  • Self-awareness – I think a growth mindset has interesting applications for self-awareness. We move skill analysis in particular away from fundamental abilities to current ones, what have you developed so far becomes the main questions. We should avoid pigeon holing and overly classifying our clients abilities in favor of establishing their interest and potential in growing new abilities. This opens up greater possibilities rather than narrowing too much on the basis of current aptitude.
  • Employability – The actual experience of becoming more employable and applying for work is often underpinned by a sense of aspirations. What we can or can not aspire to can often reveal a fixed mindset of our potential value. A growth mindset should encourage clients to step out of their comfort zone and develop towards new goals. Equally it will help with the skills of applying for jobs. “I’m no good at interviews” is clearly fixed, we should help people ask how they can get better at applying for work taking ownership and responsibility.

In conclusion I find Dweck’s work very interesting with strong links to practice. I feel the challenge is working it into our repertoire as guidance professionals. Any thoughts or comments?

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4 thoughts on “Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset Theory – Theories Every Careers Adviser Should Know

  1. Thanks Tom: I use Carol Dweck’s work in my teaching a lot. I get my students to undertake the mindset quiz online, and then we talk about how, with a fixed mindset, we can self-limit through wanting to hold onto our – perceived – smarts. Students usually find this learning very sticky, refer back to it often.

  2. Thanks Tom. I have read a little of Dweck’s work and it is interesting to see it applied to Careers. I find myself wondering whether it is somehow missing something in terms of understanding the restrictions placed on people due to SES or other sociological factors. Perhaps part of the growth mindset is in fact seeing that obstacles to success are indeed not always linked to innate factors but it certainly would take more than simply changing one’s mindset to challenge these obstacles.

    • Hi Valerie. I think it’s important separate learning from overall success. Dweck is talking about developing abilities. I think your point about it success is really important but I feel Dweck is mainly talking about internal learning, not about how we are recognised for this in our career progression.

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