When you are faced with a new and uncertain business opportunity, which of the following questions would you more likely ask,
“But what if we fail?” or
“But what if we succeed?”
Anecdotally, we have found more people in Singapore asking the first question than the second. That is a result of the fixed mindset.
Of fixed and growth mindsets
According to Prof Carol Dweck of Stanford University, there are two types of people, those with the fixed mindset, and those with the growth mindset. People with the fixed mindset do not like variability and they will not take risks if they don’t have information to mitigate those risks. In fact, they shun failure, because they have been brought up thinking that life is a test, and they must do well. If they are unsure of doing well, they will not take up the opportunity.
Those with the growth mindset are opposite; they are the ones who are comfortable with uncertainty, and they see that failure is the route to learning. They understand that all opportunities are fraught with risk, and hence they have to embrace it, planning to “fail fast and fail cheap”. The can operate on the edge of uncertainty, taking up seemingly reckless positions. Yet, the fact of the matter is that those who embrace the fixed mindset are more risky than those who adopt the growth mindset.
How is that so?
The growth mindset is less risky
Because they understand that it takes many tries to be successful, and the more they are unsuccessful, the more they learn, and the higher their chances of future success, growth mindset people take many small calculated risks as a means to achieve that success. They are not devastated if one idea leads to failure because several more are being tested. They realize that success is a numbers game, and the more opportunities they have out there, the better their batting average. And they succeed more often.
Fixed mindset people, by contrast, are afraid of failure, and they will not take risk until they have lined all their ducks in a row. They will analyse and use excel spreadsheets to test the outcome of their decision, often tweaking the probability scores in their favour. This usually restricts the number of projects that they undertake, and therefore, will only go for those that will yield the best results. Since they need good returns, they normally go for big projects, thereby increasing the cost of failure. Hence, they will never kill a project even if they have to, since that would conclude that they are failures, something they are designed to avoid. And so the project lingers, throwing more good money for bad.
The growth mindset is therefore less risky because it costs a lot less, and it is pulled quickly if it does not yield results.
How to embrace the growth mindset
It is not easy to embrace the growth mindset because many of us in Singapore are not used to failing. From the start of Primary One, all of us are taught that we must score 90 to 100 points for each of our subjects. If we didn’t know the answer, we should remain quiet. We don’t venture when we are unsure. These are all sure-fire techniques to build the fixed mindset. In order to move to the growth mindset, we must first be comfortable with losing, we must allow ourselves to be wrong, we must be able to fail and walk away feeling that we have learnt something, instead of having to justify, and lay blame to, why we made the mistake. The more one can embrace uncertainty, can embrace failure, can stake their reputation on being wrong, can the person develop the growth mindset.
Can we do it? Yes, with a lot of conscious effort.