Why Startups Want Their Employees To Have A Growth Mindset

It’s all in the mind.

“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
– Carol Dweck, author of Mindset

There are so many unknown variables that you have to deal with when you work for a startup. What if your investor pulls out their funding after a verbal agreement? Or when the press writes a trash piece about your company like how Gawker ripped Helena apart. How do you react when you’re literally running out of money and only have 3 weeks left for your company to survive?

It’s not easy to navigate the waters as an entrepreneur. It's even more difficult when you’re responsible for a team depending on you to make things right. You know you can handle the tough journey you signed up for, always using your skills and talent to get over roadblocks. But how can you transfer the same mindset over to your employees who might be worried sick about job security? Or working extra long hours to make it over the hump?

This is why small startups and large companies alike are teaching their employees the difference between the fixed and growth mindset.

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, differentiates the two mindsets:

“In a fixed mindset people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without effort.”

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”



This mindset is crucial for all employees to internalize because when things do go wrong, your team will be prepared. This mindset turns any obstacle into an opportunity, regardless of their intelligence or talent.

You need your employees to not get caught up in their specific responsibilities or limitations so they can tackle complex problems head strong, regardless of their job description.



Say you just hired an experienced editor-in-chief to join your media company who already had massive success. They’ve gotten millions of views on their articles. They have thousands of followers on Twitter. People see them as a thought leader within their space.

But because of their success, they may have fallen into a fixed mindset of the idea that they are just naturally skilled. So now, they might be afraid of making mistakes or ruining their image, which reduces the creative risks that could positively help your company. As an entrepreneur, you want to encourage creative destruction and innovation. But if your employees don’t want to stretch their comfort zone, this dream hire becomes a problem.

What if instead of hiring an experienced veteran, you hire a young writer who is quickly rising up in their field? This writer has no image to keep up or any societal expectations. This makes them fearless to take risks, fail, and or embarrass themselves in hopes to learn and grow. With the naive young writer, they give the company fresh eyes to try things that may have never been done before.

If you were the CEO, who would you hire?


There are pros and cons to both candidates but in the long run, the one with more developed skills and the growth mindset would be the better candidate nine times out of ten. HR teams are now adding in behaviorial questions to test whether future candidates internalize this way of thinking.



This fixed and growth mindset is exactly why child prodigies are usually never the ones to create breakthrough ideas. They become fantastic doctors or lawyers, but because they had an image to keep up as a child, they never wanted to ruin their reputation by taking risks. They’re deathly afraid of failure. These child prodigies played it safe to earn the approval of their parents and teachers which holds them back to doing what they really want to do. It’s disappointing because these child prodigies could have massive breakthroughs in science, technology, art, or any subject if they had the humility to deal their own ego.

With the growth mindset, your employees will embrace humility, and not be afraid to pitch a bad idea or suggest a creative solution.



The successful teams who teach the growth mindset are focused on the process, not the outcome. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Carol Dweck explained the reason perfectly,

“We’ve done a lot of work now showing that praising someone’s talent puts them into a fixed mindset. The whole self-esteem movement taught us erroneously that praising intelligence, talent, abilities would foster self-confidence, self-esteem, and everything great would follow. But we’ve found it backfires. People who are praised for talent now worry about doing the next thing, about taking on the hard task, and not looking talented, tarnishing that reputation for brilliance. So instead, they’ll stick to their comfort zone and get really defensive when they hit setbacks.
So what should we praise? The effort, the strategies, the doggedness and persistence, the grit people show, the resilience that they show in the face of obstacles, that bouncing back when things go wrong and knowing what to try next. So I think a huge part of promoting a growth mindset in the workplace is to convey those values of process, to give feedback, to reward people engaging in the process, and not just a successful outcome.”



So how do startups change the mindset of their employees to have a growth mindset? CEOs need to make this mindset a priority and live the values so they can drive the change from the top down.

Dweck shares an example of GE’s CEO Jack Welch who refused to hire based on pedigree, choosing Big 10 graduates and military veterans over Ivy Leaguers, and also spending thousands of hours and dollars coaching his employees on his executive team.


“Focusing on pedigree…is not as effective as looking for people who love challenges, who want to grow, and who want to collaborate,” Dweck says. Google appears to be making such a shift, she notes; the company has recently begun hiring more people who lack college degrees but have proved that they are capable independent learners.



Having a growth mindset can set you apart and will benefit any startup looking to solve big problems. Once the whole startup team internalizes this growth mindset, they can do their best work with humility, reaching the company's biggest goals.