Growth Mindset: Eliminating fear of failure

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Growth Mindset: Eliminating fear of failure

Growth Mindset: Eliminating fear of failure
why innovation!
5 min
19 May. 2022

In our previous article, we discussed what having a Growth Mindset means versus having a Fixed Mindset. We also explored some of its origins and discussed why it's important to have a Growth Mindset, especially in business. In this second part, we continue to discuss how cultivating a Growth Mindset can remove the fear of failure and encourage employees to experiment and ownership of their tasks.

We often hear or are told to expect to fail, and that failure is an important part of success. This is true. However, the reality is we can also expect to be punished for that failure in order to instill a fear-driven desire to succeed. It’s like being shocked every time you made a mistake or forced to run laps in the army when you fail to perform a command. 

For a long time, we have operated on the assumption that punishment is a good motivator, but is it? 

Fear of failure, like the waterfall process, are traditional things. It's been done so long and so often that people take it to be ubiquitous in its application.

These days, we know better. 

There’s a fine line between instilling discipline through toughening acts and a fear of failure by punishing infractions. Unfortunately, most people can attest that this line has been blurred and that the notion of failure, while common, is often viewed not just as a negative but something to be ashamed of. In some cultures around the world, it is treated as an extremely terrible thing.

Children are taught to not just fear failure, but actively avoid it. In the process, it creates people who are risk-averse or have no idea how to handle failure.

Therefore, developing a growth and innovative mindset free of that fear would require a lot of work, some of which might even be deeply psychological.

However, it is not out of an organisation's ability or their interests, to make a positive impact. 

How do we cultivate a growth mindset? 

Like in agile transformation, it is difficult to implement a growth mindset if the entire company isn’t committed to it. The organisation’s culture is especially important as it is the benchmark each employee, regardless of their title and seniority, will measure themselves against.  

At the risk of sounding cliché, the growth mindset at the company does start at the top.

Management has to set an example, not just in the approach but also in fostering an open environment of innovation and collaboration, where failure is viewed as a stepping stone. There are organisations that actively encourage their employees to experiment, whether this means creating one failed prototype after prototype or something entirely different.  

Spending a lot of money on failed experiments is probably not feasible for most companies who are not Google but that shouldn’t stop organisations from creating a rule that invites experimentation, albeit within certain limits.  

People aren’t averse to having limitations; they just want to know if they company will support these experiments if they keep within respectable means.  

Likely, for the company that is advocating their staff to adopt a growth mindset, fundamental, top-down changes need to be made with regards to way of working and culture.

Breeding positivity in the company is not always an easy task but it is a crucial one. People spend 1/3 of their daily lives at work (some spend more). Creating an environment that makes them happy which in turn encourages creativity, ownership and a drive to improve is a worthwhile endeavor. If people go to work, afraid or stressed at the thought of performing their task, then something is terribly wrong.  

A proper blend of agile process and mindset can make employees very happy over working in the traditional way. Agile also is far better suited to encouraging and rewarding employees for developing a growth mindset. In fact, it’s not a stretch to suggest that a growth mindset can flourish in the fertile soil that is agile.  

But the most important thing to realise is that a growth mindset does not happen overnight and in a bubble, much like an agile transformation. It will take time to make meaningful and sometimes difficult changes.  

But while developing a growth mindset is entirely possible, it is not an infallible, state of mind like nirvana that you need only achieve once. It is requires work to achieve, then more work to maintain. 

It is also important to understand that having a growth mindset doesn’t preclude an individual from regressing into a fixed mindset when faced with constant pressure or resistance from the team.  

On the other hand, someone of a fixed mindset might find that through the open and experimentative culture of the company, they can spread their wings and try things they couldn’t previously.  

Since mindset is influenced by culture and the environment, when that changes to be more accommodating, the results are often surprising.  

What is even more likely is that organisations will find that their staff will bounce from one mindset to another, depending on intrinsic and extrinsic factors.  

This means that having a growth mindset isn’t an absolute statement. It’s not even about being in a total state of one or the other. 

It’s about welcoming change and adopting a positive approach toward improvement, with the empathy to understand that sometimes, people might alternate between mindsets depending on various factors. It also explains why the importance of cultivating growth mindset really begins at the top and must be interwoven into the culture of the organisation. 

The challenge, therefore, is to inculcate a growth mindset into the bedrock of the organisation that encourages employees and gives them the courage to take risks for the betterment of all. 

If you’d like to learn how to cultivate a growth mindset in your team or organisation, talk to us.

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