Want to Build a Growth Mindset?

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productSharad Sharma on how to cultivate the growth mindset instead of the fixed mindset to achieve peak performance. Edited excerpts from his keynote at the Product Leadership Institute’s first graduation ceremony in Bangalore recently.


Sharad Sharma likes to call himself an Orbit Change Catalyst. After leading Yahoo India R & D successfully, he has turned an angel investor and mentors many start-ups including the Product Leadership Institute.


Professor Carol Dweck at the Stanford University talks about how all of us have one of the two mindsets. One is the belief that our innate intelligence and abilities can be grown, they can be expanded, developed. This way of thinking is growth mindset. Half of us have the second category called the fixed mindset – I am innately smart, and therefore I am good at what I do.


The big question is – should we fix the manifestations of this mindset or should we get the mindset first? If you have a growth mindset you are investing in yourself, developing your abilities. Almost everything we think of in terms of what drives success is the mindset that drives us.


Do we need to fix this mindset? The first question that we have to ask is – I am already 30, is it even possible for me to change this mindset? Yes we can. We have examples of people who did badly in the initial years but went on to achieve huge success. Winston Churchill failed till his fifth grade. Thomas Alva Edison and Albert Einstein too were write offs in their early years. The common factor in their success is that they embraced the growth mindset. You will find that even children who have the growth mindset begin to pull ahead from those who have a fixed mindset.




We know from Carols’ research how this works. If you take two people each with growth and a fixed mindset and put them into an MRI machine you will find that the brain becomes active at different points. In the case of a fixed mindset person the brain becomes active when he is receiving information, which is giving feedback about how has the individual performed. In the case of a growth mindset person you find that that doesn’t happen. The brain activity actually peaks when they are receiving information about how to do better next time.


So there is a physiological basis for the mindsets we are talking about. That’s not how you are born but how you train yourself but there is evidence to show that people are wired differently. We know that the mind is a very malleable organ and can be rewired after the age of 30 as well.


But because you have a growth or a fixed mindset things appear very differently because you are dealing with setbacks in a very different way. What do they do? They say I had this setback, this means I am incapable, if I am incapable, and my ego tells me that I don’t want to declare myself as incapable. What you see as a motivation problem, hiding behind that is a fixed mindset.


The person with a growth mindset deals with a setback very differently. He typically says – I want to go back and fight this problem and develop my abilities even further. They cause different outcomes over time.


Can you change your mindset? There are four ways we can instill a growth mindset. They are:


Talk back to yourself.


Even if you think you have a growth mindset it’s possible that you have a fixed mindset about some things in life. You have to learn to listen to the language of the fixed mindset and when you hear it, you have to talk back to yourself and say ‘I am going to take myself out of this.’ Sometimes the talking back is very simple like I can’t do this. You just have to add the word ‘yet’ to it and that’s all the talking back you need.


Set up grounds for failure.


We have to create an environment where we can fail gracefully. In Silicon Valley even if your start up fails it’s actually safe on the outside, you will never be on the road. Because you failed in a start-up actually somebody else will take a bet on you because you had that bad experience, your chances on being picked on to do something meaningful actually goes up.


My favorite example of this is Mike Speisar. I had the privilege of working with him. He was my peer and was a good product manager. We were colleagues not by accident but by design both at VERITAS and at Yahoo!. A Harvard graduate, he had a very simple rule, he only spent his previous 13th month salary and his logic was, I should be able to walk out of the company any time. He said, he was sure in 12 months somebody would employ him and therefore he was always a risk taker in a corporate environment. He had found his own simple way of creating a safe outside. Unless you do that you don’t give yourself the chance to fail.


Deliberate practice.


You can’t become better if you don’t practice; this is easier said than done. Just repetition is not the answer, you have to push the envelope, you have to turn this into a skill and you have to focus.


Code of honor.


It is not that I walk around in my head with a code of honor; it’s not frozen in time, it will keep evolving. It should be a habit to create for you in 4-5 areas so that you can reference and live by and evolve as time goes by.


I think if you do these four things you are ready to embrace the growth mindset.


Finally, our relationship with each other that we form that will determine the opportunities that we get and what we are able to make of them.