The “Tortoise and the Hare” is a great example of growth mindset vs. fixed mindset. The hare runs super fast, and he never has to work for his speed; he just has it. The tortoise, however, is slow. He has to work hard to keep going, overcoming obstacles, not least of which is ridicule from bystanders.
When it comes down to it, the hare doesn’t know how to focus, concentrate, and win the race. Whereas the tortoise, who has always struggled in life because he is slow, ends up winning in the end.
That’s what a growth mindset is: staying present in your difficulties and persevering through them. A fixed mindset believes that people have what they have, and that’s it.
In this article, I’ll take you through the definitions of a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset, then look at how those different approaches play out in business. I’ll also provide some strategies for practicing a growth mindset which—spoiler alert—is the better option.
What is a growth mindset?
A growth mindset is defined by seeing the world and yourself as constantly evolving. Meaning that when you don’t get something on the first try, or you do your best, but it doesn’t work out, it just means there’s another way you haven’t tried yet.
Think about Thomas Edison, who said, “I haven’t failed. I just found another way that didn’t work.” Each failed attempt leads you closer to your goal in a growth mindset.
What is a fixed mindset?
A fixed mindset is defined by seeing the world and yourself as fixed. Whatever skills and capabilities you have right now are all you’re going to get.
Think about the person who tries out a new sport and isn’t amazing at it on the first attempt. What if she just gave up right away because she wasn’t good at it? That’s a fixed mindset.
How does growth mindset vs. fixed mindset affect business?
When running a business, the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. Virtually everything is new, and if you’re operating as an entrepreneur or small team, then you’ll end up filling so many roles in areas where you’re not a natural expert.
With a growth mindset, the areas where you’re not naturally talented are seen as opportunities to learn and grow. For example, if an initial idea wasn’t successful, that just means your first avenue didn’t work; there are other avenues to try.
With a fixed mindset, every time you face a new challenge and fail, you see that as a mark on your abilities. You move on to something else rather than try to figure out the problem. Over time, you limit your possibilities until you’ve trapped yourself in a small box with no growth potential.
Below is a vastly oversimplified drawing of how this often plays out. It may look ridiculous to you at first, but be real with yourself. I’ve been around founders for over a decade now, and we all know how easy it is to slip into these thought patterns.
By no means am I advocating for burning yourself out or continuing to pour into a business if it’s negatively affecting the rest of your life. In most cases, though, where it’s just a matter of trying something different, there’s no reason not to take the mentality of Edison and see your failed attempts as options that didn’t work.
Why is a fixed mindset so common in business?
If we recognize the true power of living in a growth mindset, why do we so often default back to thinking we can’t grow?
Fixed mindset is reinforced from an early age for many people. Think about what you’ve heard your whole life: “You’re good at this!” “You’re so talented/smart/funny!” And with no ill intent, we form perceptions about ourselves and how we excel.
The flip side is that we also form opinions about what we’re not good at. Whether we struggle in classes or receive harsh criticism at a young age, we begin to internalize what we’re not good at and avoid those areas.
Just like lactose intolerance, the more we avoid the areas we struggle in, the bigger the problem areas become (running with the theory that the reason some people become lactose intolerant is because they stop drinking milk).
In other words, when we avoid doing things because we think we’re not good at them, we never give ourselves the chance to practice these things and improve. Over time, we naturally lose even more skill in these areas.
At first, it feels better to avoid the negative feelings of being “bad” at something, and we might gravitate toward what we are “naturally” good at. That is, until we start businesses and suddenly have to take on all sorts of responsibilities that we’ve avoided our whole lives.
How to make friends with your fixed mindset
I say “make friends” because the fixed mindset won’t disappear. In fact, if you try to suppress it, it will only grow. The more you focus on not having a fixed mindset, the stronger your fixed mindset will be.
Instead, befriend your fixed mindset. Let it ride in the car with you, but don’t let it drive. It can ride in the passenger seat, and when it tries to take the wheel, have a conversation with it.
There’s a similar story in Into the Silent Land, a meditation practice book. In the story, a man living in a monastery had a conflict with someone else living there, and so he tried to avoid him. But with only 50 people living in the monastery coupled with the fact that they never leave the premises, they were bound to be in contact. Avoiding the conflict became exhausting. A coach recommended that he give his fear of the conflict a name. And so, he named the fear “Francis,” and then befriended Francis in his mind. Over time, Francis became less scary, and before long, the person was able to make good. The conflict ended—mainly because he let the fear in, and it began to diminish. When he avoided the fear, it worsened, and his anxiety grew.
Practical Step: Notice when your fixed mindset starts to show up. As it arrives in your mind, make space for it to exist, listen to what it’s telling you, and then categorize it into an appropriate place.
How to practice living a growth mindset in business
What can I improve for next time vs. why am I incompetent?
Our business coach at Interact is always pushing us toward this one because the first thing many people—especially high achievers—do when something doesn’t go right is doubt themselves.
Maybe I’m not as smart as I thought. Maybe I’m not going to figure this problem out.
Self-talk begins to creep in as soon as anything strays from our greatest expectations.
But the reality is the only way forward is figuring out what doesn’t work. We can only uncover the open road if we first try the closed ones. Of course, sometimes we get it right on the first try, which is great, but it can also give a false positive and be detrimental to long-term growth.
A great story around this is from Yes Theory (yestheory.com). The founders tried meditating every day and immediately felt its positive impact. But that made it more challenging to keep going when things inevitably got harder later on.
Practical Step: When something doesn’t go the way you want, take a breath and put on your analysis hat. What didn’t work? Why didn’t it work? What were the strategies you employed? Is there enough data to say those strategies weren’t the right ones? Do you just need to adjust your angle?
Simply looking back on a failed attempt and seeing it as an assistant for future endeavors will change your mindset when approaching projects. If you know you can look forward to a positive outcome where you’re learning and growing, even if the initial result isn’t what you wanted, then the idea of trying new approaches won’t feel so hard.
Growth mindset is super similar to the scientific method. You are putting your projects into a framework, which pulls some of the emotion out and infuses logic. Now, I’m not saying emotion-driven ideas don’t work—because from my observations, they sometimes do work—but you can still use a logical and systematic approach when trying out your ideas.
By doing so, it won’t feel like everything is on the line. You won’t feel incompetent or stupid when an idea doesn’t pan out. It just means you’re setting up another experiment and hoping to learn from the entire experience. At the end of the day, the dream is to learn and grow, not to coast through projects, getting the outcomes you think you want.
Often, the best ideas come when we’re trying one thing, but, through observations we make along the way, a whole other world opens up.
We’ve covered comparison vs. purpose in-depth before. The general idea is that comparison leads to focusing on people you think are more successful than you, which then leads to negative self-image and lower outcomes. Purpose acknowledges that you have ideas, products, services, or knowledge—whatever it is you do that you want to get out in the world—and you believe people will benefit from what you create. No matter what other people are doing or have achieved.
Aligning to your purpose makes you more resilient to your business’s ups and downs, which— and you know if you’ve been doing this for a while—is just part of the game. So, rather than looking around at what you haven’t yet achieved or who is ahead of you, focus instead on what you have to offer.
Conclusion: a growth mindset will build your business in the long run
A growth mindset says, “I’ve failed in my attempt, but that just means I’m on the right track.”
A fixed mindset says, “I’ve failed in my attempt, and that means I’m not capable.”
In the long run, in business, there will be countless setbacks. Heck, we’re ten years in running Interact, and we’re still encountering new challenges, where there just seems to be a wall in front of us.
That never changes. Even if you make it “big” and build a billion-dollar company or you have so much money, you can retire and never work again. There will always be struggles you can’t overcome naturally, and having a growth mindset is the path to get through.