Is it bad to have a fixed mindset?
Ian Dyason. As published in LinkedIn on 19 June 2023
You see a lot of these lately, people trying to dumb down a complex subject like leadership into a binary concept like manager versus leader, transactional versus transformational, or, performance-focus versus vision-focus. In the area of mindset, we see the same binary thinking; fixed versus growth.
Why do we love these abstractions of one versus another? Why do we take a complex, intertwined topic like leadership or mindset and whittle it down to two extremes? Given that there are many different binary relationships for leadership point to the fact that leadership cannot be distilled to a simple yes-no, good-bad model.
Yet it persists.
Rather than diving deep to uncover the richness of these concepts, we skim the top of it and dumb it down to a simple binary concept all to gain greater traction in today’s noisy world. And like all simple binary concepts, there seems to be a fight for supremacy. One is normally viewed as better than the other. The classic David and Goliath, good versus bad syndrome.
Take the fixed and growth mindset, for example. The way the two concepts in this binary system are named suggest that one mindset is good and the other is bad. Even if you have not heard of this concept before, I am sure you know which is which. This creates an unconscious bias that fixed is bad and growth is good.
But is it?
Our research tells us that this is not the case.
The dominant logic defines the growth mindset as one what does not view one’s abilities as finite, and that one’s self concept is a constant embodiment of knowledge seeking and application. Hence, growth. In contrast, the fixed mindset is one that does not seek to expand one’s abilities, seeing them as preset, and that any effort to change that would be futile, leading to failure. They therefore opt to operate within the “safe zone” of knowledge where they KNOW they will succeed. Hence, no growth – or fixed.
However (and this has recently been recognised by Dr Carol Dweck, who first created the concepts of fixed and growth), a person with a fixed mindset can be as successful as a person with the growth mindset. This means that the fixed mindset is not necessarily bad. The converse is also true; a person with the growth mindset can be as unsuccessful as a person with the fixed mindset. Hence, fixed and growth do not predict that you would be successful. Dweck calls the growth mindset “The New Psychology of Success”, which does not say that you will be successful; except that having the growth mindset can lead you to success.
The book, however, ignored how the fixed mindset can also lead one to success. It also ignored what became very glaring in the early days of our research – that people can have BOTH fixed AND growth tendencies! This flies in the face of the binary concept!
So, how CAN we have both fixed and growth tendencies in us, and how CAN the fixed mindset lead to success?
Before we answer that, we need to break down the components of one’s mindset. To lump one’s tendencies and preferences under a large umbrella called “mindset” and proclaiming that your “mindset” is either fixed or growth is to ignore the myriad forces that cause a person to act in one way or another. In fact, our research has shown us that of the more than 50 different behaviours that impact a person’s growth tendencies, these can be guided or controlled by 5 main dimensions:
1. Learning, the tendency to acquire new knowledge and apply them in your activities; 2. Bounce Back, the tendency to recover from setbacks as you navigate new knowledge territories; 3. Risk Taking, the tendency to put your name, your brand, your past successes on the line in the search for new knowledge; 4. Forward, the tendency to move ahead with your ideas despite not knowing all the details; and 5. Pride, the tendency to use your past experience and successes to guide decisions and actions today.
Taken together, these five dimensions give you a more accurate picture of your mindset.
This model of the 5 Dimensions allows us to peer more deeply into the concept of “mindset”, allowing us to realise that a person can be growth in certain dimensions, and fixed in other dimensions. Hence, they are BOTH fixed AND growth!
Another interesting discovery we made was that the growth and fixed tendencies are not side by side along the scale of measure, meaning that there is no cut-off mark that suddenly turned one person from fixed to growth or vice versa; like a Jekyll-and-Hyde-switch. In fact, the fixed and growth zones are at two ends of a continuum, and in the middle, is what we call the Transition Zone, where one can display varying levels of fixed and growth tendencies. The lower to the fixed zone you are, the more fixed tendencies you have, and the higher to the growth zone you are, the more growth tendencies you have. These are all driven by different contexts and environments, again, something that the dominant logic failed to acknowledge.
And how does the fixed mindset help us become more successful?
By recognizing that good or bad is context-driven, we therefore need to look at the environment under which the person is operating, and define success from there. A cutting-edge deep tech startup founder would certainly have to be growth minded in Learning, Bounce Back and Forward; but not so for Risk Taking or Pride. A Chief Compliance Officer, on the other hand, can do well by having a fixed mindset in Risk Taking, Forward and Pride. In other words, having a fixed mindset may well be required for one job role, but not so in another; as is the converse.
This led us to yet another insight - that growth is not necessarily good and fixed is not necessarily bad, it all depends on the context.
So, is it bad to have a fixed mindset?
We have already shown that the answer cannot be easily answered because it depends on the context under which good and bad are defined. However, to outrightly deem the fixed mindset as bad is wrong; just as outrightly deeming the growth mindset as good is also wrong.
It all depends on your context.
And that is why our reports are broken down by different contexts – leadership, entrepreneurship and solopreneurship. If you like to know more about your mindset, go to www.5dgm.net and choose any one of the reports.
And to reward you for reading thus far, you can use this coupon 19JUNFIFTYOFF to enjoy 50% discount off any of our reports. Valid for the first 20 new users until the end of July 2023.