Do you see your startup's success as an ongoing journey or as a destination? The answer to that question can make all the difference in how well you execute your vision.
The belief that always growing and learning is necessary for success is what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a "growth mindset," as opposed to a "fixed mindset," which worships talent over hard work. "Not only are people with this [growth] mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don't actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning," says Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Here are four tips for incorporating this way of thinking into how your startup operates:
1. Investigate Whether You Truly Have a Growth Mindset
Ellen Choi, co-founder of CareerLark, an HR tech startup, says it's easy for people to initially assume they have a growth mindset simply because they believe in the idea of learning and development.
“When I dove into the nuances of what a growth mindset meant, there were fixed mindset assumptions I held that I didn't even realize," Choi admits.
Choi believes that the first step in fostering a growth mindset in a startup is getting everyone on the same page. At CareerLark, every new employee receives a copy of Dweck's Mindset book, so that everyone starts with a common understanding of the concept and how it can contribute to the success of the startup.
2. Stimulate Experimentation Through Learning Opportunities
Startups need to be very focused on shipping products and iterating quickly, but operating in full "heads down" mode can lead to tunnel vision. Employees at startups that offer regular learning opportunities, including one-on-one coaching sessions, are more likely to remember the importance of incorporating new ideas and concepts when needed.
To truly foster a growth mindset, teams can attend classes, seminars, workshops and conferences as a team.
General Assembly provides in-person classes in locations across the globe, from San Francisco to London. Remote teams can take advantage of massive open online courses (MOOCs) through universities or for-profit providers that provide virtual learning opportunities. Coursera and Udacity both offer great courses.
3. Request and Act on Feedback
Asking for constructive feedback is certainly an effective way to move toward a growth mindset. However, the hard part is in accepting and then taking action upon feedback from your team members and peers.
“Being self-aware of your reactions and feelings to getting this type of feedback is a big first step. If it makes you defensive and uncomfortable, that's okay, as long as you learn from it and move towards a state of receiving this feedback as a gift," Choi says.
To facilitate a culture of growth mindset, model the behavior — show, rather than tell. "We've seen people respond really well to leaders who show that they are open to constructive feedback without any defensiveness," Choi explains.
4. Use Data to Drive Decisions
In Mindset, Dweck notes that she found in her research that “some students were caught up in trying to prove their ability, while others could just let go and learn." In a tough, competitive environment, employees too can be overly focused on proving they're right.
One way to shift employees' mindset from proving their worth to problem-solving and learning is to let decisions be guided by data, not by emotions.
Alexander Garcia-Tobar, CEO and co-founder of ValiMail, a startup with a cloud service for authenticating email, says that a data-driven approach allows his team to more easily adjust their approach.
“We worked with a partner, we sold to a big company, and we sold to a small company. We tried the three basic ways, and let the data tell us what works," Garcia-Tobar explains. "You try a bunch of things and see what sticks. Then you have to be steady and fight against outside sources — but don't confuse that passion with 'I'm right.' You have to listen, you can't just say 'No.'"
Although a growth mindset emphasizes continuous learning — and, inevitably, making mistakes — it doesn't have to translate to “fail fast, fail hard." Taking the time to listen with an open mind not only makes your team more nimble, but might in fact help you avoid unnecessary and costly failures that can sink your startup.