In her bestselling book, Mindset[1], Stanford University professor Carol Dweck suggests that people fall loosely into two categories – and these two categories are very starkly contrasted when it comes to learning, failure and self-efficacy. The two mindsets are a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Her premise is that intelligence and talent are not set in concrete. Rather, we can become smarter and more talented depending on how we view the learning experience. It is a spin on Abraham Maslow’s premise that ‘in any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.’


Our abilities are not fixed.

Fixed mindset people believe that success is the result of natural, raw talent. If you have to work too hard at something, then it means you are not naturally gifted in that area. So someone who is trying to protect their identity of being considered smart and talented prefers to undertake activities that they know they will succeed at. To do otherwise risks failure – which might expose deficiencies. They believe that if you are not born with a natural talent in an area you could never master it. They are easy to spot in a workplace. You will frequently hear them saying things like, ‘We tried that before and it didn’t work. Don’t waste your energy.’ ‘We don’t have time to try anything new. We’re too busy.’ ‘This is how we’ve always done things around here.’

Growth mindset people believe that their potential is unknown and that with effort and passion they will constantly improve. They view qualities such as intelligence and talent rather like muscles that can be strengthened with exercise. They see learning as a lifelong process.

Differences between Growth and Fixed Mindsets:

The different thinking paradigms are distilled in the following table.

I recently had a participant from one of my intrapreneurialism workshops call me up the following day to tell me she had had a huge AHA moment when we dealt with this topic. She said that she had been feeling frustrated in her career development for quite a while and couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t moving forward. As we discussed the distinction between the two mindsets and unpacked the characteristics of each she realised that what was holding her back was that she had a fixed mindset. What an epiphany! That’s a huge breakthrough! Now she can address that and consciously and deliberately learn to adopt a growth mindset.


The more we learn the smarter we get.

The point is that no one can ever use the excuse of ‘I don’t have what it takes to do this’. In their recent book, Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise[2], Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool present the compelling research evidence to show that we get smarter and more talented in areas that we focus on using an approach that they call Deliberate Practice, which is a particular methodology of learning. This entails finding new ways of systematically experimenting with things that are just beyond our comfort zone, focusing on and concentrating hard on particular aspects of skill development and becoming highly tuned to our performance.

These findings challenge traditional notions that talent and IQ are immutable, innate properties. Now we know that we can actually grow our talent, IQ and ‘smarts’ in any field if we channel energy and effort into it. Our amazing brains rise to the challenges and help us on the road to peak performance.

It all starts with a growth mindset.

Until next time.



[1] Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

[2] Ericsson, A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


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