A growth mindset – the freedom to choose

Article published on July 1, 2022.

Consider this: it only took 66 years for humans to go from the Wright brothers’ first 12-second flight to Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon. The first email was sent 50 years ago and now we’re in a world of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Change has always been present as a catalyst for innovation. While the scale and impact might ebb and flow, humanity has had to adapt on a pretty much constant basis. 

The manner in which we adapt isn’t carved in stone. Yes, most of us have a default setting when faced with change and some of us embrace challenge more readily than others. But everyone can learn to see challenge and change as positive catalysts to drive opportunity, growth and personal happiness.

We call this a growth mindset, and it’s an essential piece of self-awareness for leaders at every level in an organisation.

Everyone will have worked with people who appear to have a natural talent for finding success, no matter what life or their job throws at them.

You can call it luck, but in our experience it goes deeper than good fortune. Growth mindset is that ability to not only adapt to your environment, but to see the opportunity in the most testing of circumstances, approaching that change of direction with positivity, and taking responsibility for making it happen. Ownership is critical.

There’s incredible power in owning the things you can influence. When you’re comfortable with that, it’s much easier to acknowledge and then accept there are many things over which you have no control.

Viktor Frankl must be one of the most inspiring examples of growth mindset to be found. A Jewish psychiatrist from Austria, he was one of only two members of his family who survived a three-year journey through Nazi concentration camps beginning in Theresienstadt and ending in Auschwitz. His renowned book, Man’s Search For Meaning, contains many profound lessons, but perhaps its most famous is this:

His use of the word ‘choose’ is the keystone of his argument. Frankl’s choice to lead a positive and successful life after the war, having experienced humanity’s darkest hour, is a stunning showcase of mindset.

Frankel’s work was highlighted to us by Stephen Cornes of PCA’s faculty, and acts as a potent reminder of how each of us, with the right support, can channel adversity and even trauma into something which ultimately enriches our lives. What it demonstrates is that, even in the most testing of times, it’s possible – not necessarily easy – to find a way to manage the change you face. What it requires is the belief it is possible and the will to do so; the acknowledgement that how you respond, and how you behave, is ultimately your choice.

For professionals, who usually have a strong and well-developed technical expertise, this can be an anathema to how they’ve been conditioned to think. In corporate environments in particular, the road less travelled is often seen as too risky, too uncertain and too dangerous. It’s more reassuring to favour action which shuts down risk rather than pursuing initiatives which might not work. In fact, in many professions, actively avoiding risk and uncertainty is the foundation on which careers and financial rewards are built. No surprise, then, that so many professionals feel uncomfortable with the unknown.

The reality, of course, is that during our professional lives, almost everyone will experience some level of stress, disappointment, failure, fear, self-doubt. These are powerful emotions and the easy, even natural, thing to do is to react emotionally.

At PCA, we help people create opportunities to use a growth mindset to tackle business situations. It can be as simple as starting a project meeting by saying you’re going to try something different and want to get everyone’s input before agreeing on a possible solution to a given challenge.

Our sessions often involve immersive experiences, which many people find uncomfortable at first. But it’s extraordinary to watch realisation dawn when, even when the conscious brain knows it’s in a simulated environment, this more open approach yields solutions previously thought impossible.

For some organisations, this is a radical departure from the standard top-down, hierarchical model of “the boss is right and everyone else needs to listen.” Growth mindset often requires leaders – at all levels – to be comfortable in not knowing the answer, being willing to create solutions as a team, and in understanding that sometimes it won’t work. Far from revealing a weakness, the strength present in a growth mindset is being open to challenge, with the humility to receive feedback and the confidence to embrace vulnerability. Or to put it another way – no-one is perfect and no-one gets everything right.

Take professional athletes. Whether the sport is football, tennis, golf or motor racing, there are always one or two standout performers in each field. None of them have a perfect win streak. All of them have lost; some of them disastrously so.

But the ones who come back stronger and pull off a showstopping win after one or more losses – those are the champions who know that adversity can be consigned to history, and all that matters is how they respond. How often do you hear that an athlete has been working with a psychology coach, or has tried some other way of overcoming a dip in performance? That’s a growth mindset in action, and the good news is that it’s open to everyone.

The book mentioned in this article:

Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search For Meaning

To find out more about growth mindset and speak to one of our experts, please contact us:

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