The Difference Between Growth and Fixed Mindset

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The Difference Between Growth and Fixed Mindset

We here at Hone are usually loathe to make assumptions. Nevertheless, we’re betting that at some point in your professional life, you’ve had to collaborate with a team of co-workers. And if you were ever paired with a “negative Nancy” (apologies – we don’t mean to slander all Nancys), she likely dragged down your project. Conversely, if your team had an “optimistic Olive” (a nickname we’re currently workshopping), her determination likely drove your project forward.

The major difference between the Nancys and the Olives? Mindset. The Nancys of the corporate world are more narrow and rigid, often having a fixed mindset. On the other hand, the Olives are flexible and open, embracing a growth mindset.

Growth Mindset

People who have a growth mindset thrive on challenges and frequently seek them out. They also believe that their abilities and intelligence can be developed. And they aren’t stymied by the idea of not being a natural at a certain task or trade. They’re confident that they’ll be able to tackle most things with time and practice.

Examples of growth mindset:

  • Thomas Edison—There’s no denying the genius of Thomas Edison. Yet as a boy, he was seen as rather average. Fortunately for all of us, that didn’t deter young Thomas. He was simply propelled by a longing to learn and a hunger for invention. In fact, he was often inspired by what he didn’t know. And he viewed failure as integral to experimentation.
  • Lou Gerstner of IBM—Even die-hard Apple fans acknowledge that Gerstner helped ignite an amazing corporate turnaround for IBM. This can partially be attributed to the fact that as CEO, he shunned ego and notions of self-importance. Instead, he created a culture that fostered and encouraged mentoring. This allowed employees and IBM as a whole to flourish.
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee—Sure, Jackie Joyner-Kersee has an innate ability to run fast. But plenty of people with innate abilities don’t become Olympians. Joyner-Kersee thrived in part because she maintained a positive outlook. As she once noted, “I don’t mind losing as long as I see improvement. Or feel I’ve done as well as I possibly could.”

Fixed Mindset

People with fixed mindsets tend to think that what they have in terms of innate strength and skill is all they are going to get. In other words, they believe that natural talents trump effort. This outlook often leads to a need for excessive control, a reluctance to attempt new challenges and the likelihood that they’ll discourage others.

Examples of fixed mindset:

  • Enron—The oil company, now infamous its for corporate corruption and fraud, once attracted the best and the brightest. They were known to hire for innate talent. And they had many managers who believed their first instinct was their best instinct. This made it more difficult to consider alternate paths. Ultimately, when things got tough, the company found it easier to lie than to try and implement new practices. And it doesn’t take an MBA to know that lying isn’t a great way to do business.
  • John McEnroe—Yes, McEnroe was a tennis champion. However, he’s known as much for his temper as he is for his topspin. This anger stemmed from a fixed mindset that deemed a person is only successful if he wins. And that served (pun intended thank you) as an impediment to learning from lost matches. It did make for some wildly entertaining on-court antics though.
  • David RockefellerHe might be lauded as a kind philanthropist but when Rockefeller led Chase Manhattan Bank, he did so with a proverbial iron fist. More despot than director, his managers lived in fear of his disapproval. This only served to stifle innovation; who wants to pitch a new idea if you’re likely to get shouted down (spoiler alert: not us)?


Are you now speculating about your own mindset? Feeling unsure as to which way you might lean? Then it’s time for a little self-reflection. Throw on some mood-appropriate music (light jazz perhaps?) and ask yourself these questions:

Do you have a bucket list? If so, does it have a learning category?

Do you use praise to foster development in both your direct reports and your peers? How so?

How do you feel when a challenge is in front of you?

Do you apply labels to your peers or employees? Does that help or hurt your team?

How do react when you fail? What does that reveal about your mindset?

How do rejection, blame or shyness affect your work relationships?

Worried that your answers reveal a fixed mindset? First things first, turn off that jazz music. Secondly, realize that there’s no need to fret. Your mindset can certainly evolve. And you can actively work to change your outlook. After all, there’s no reason to view current positions or labels as static. For example, rather than saying “I’m not a manager” declare “I’m not a manager yet.” That subtle shift in language allows you to open yourself up to possibility and positivity. And when you embrace those two ideas, you naturally begin to develop a growth mindset. In turn, this will likely lead to self-improvement and greater success – both for yourself and those around you.  

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