Your mindset can be a competitive advantage in business, life

By Christopher Neck Associate Professor, Management


Author and entrepreneur Evan Carmichael wrote: “If there is something in common between the world's highly successful entrepreneurs ... it is their winning mindsets.”

But what really do we mean by this term? Mindset is defined as "an established set of attitudes held by someone," according to the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Yet, research has shown that our mindset needn’t be “set” at all. Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, proposes that there are two different types of mindset: fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

In a fixed mindset, people perceive their talents and abilities as set traits. They believe that brains and talent alone are enough for success and go through life, and their goal is to look smart all the time. They take any constructive criticism of their capabilities personally, and tend to put the success of others down to luck or some sort of unfair advantage. People with a fixed mindset will tell themselves they are no good at something to avoid challenge, failure or looking dumb.

On the other hand, in a growth mindset, people believe that their abilities can be developed through dedication, effort and hard work. They do not think brains and talent are the key to lifelong success, but merely the starting point. Unlike people with fixed mindsets, they see failure as an opportunity to improve their performance, and to learn from their mistakes. Despite setbacks, they tend to persevere rather than giving up.

Why is this important to you? The research is clear that people with growth mindsets tend to be more successful and happier than those with fixed mindsets.

The good news is that a fixed mindset can be changed. It is possible to learn a growth mindset by listening to that critical “voice” in your head — realizing that you have a choice in how you interpret the message, how you respond and how you act.

For example, say you want to start a new business but you’re a little unsure of your entrepreneurial skills:

Fixed mindset: “Why do you want to start up a business? You need entrepreneurial skills. You were always terrible at business classes in school. Are you sure you can do it?”

Growth mindset: “I might not know everything about starting a business, but I think I can learn to be good at it if I commit to it and put in the time and effort.”

Fixed mindset: “If you fail, people will laugh at you.”

Growth mindset: “Give me the name of one successful person that did not experience failure at one time or another.” Get the idea? Here is another example I share with my students. Consider a student who does poorly on one of my exams:

Fixed mindset: “Why am I being criticized for doing badly on a management exam? It’s not my fault. I’m just not cut out for management that’s all.” But the growth mindset voice says otherwise.

Growth mindset: “I can own this mistake and learn from it. I need to do more practicing and next time, I will do better.”

If you listen to the fixed mindset voice, the chances are you will not persevere, but if you pay attention to the growth mindset voice, you will probably pick yourself up and put the effort in before the next exam, next project, next venture, etc. Over time, the voice you listen to most becomes your choice. Whether or not you listen and respond to your negative voice will determine whether you are willing to take on new challenges, learn from your mistakes, accept criticism and take action.

In the movie Dead Poets Society, the late Robin Williams’ character remarked: “Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try.” He was telling his students to examine their mindsets and perhaps change them in order to be more successful. The research supports this contention.

Why don’t you try to change your mindset to be more growth oriented? It can’t hurt to try. You might find yourself more productive, successful and happy.


Christopher Neck is an associate professor of management at the W. P. Carey School of Business and author of the upcoming textbook Entrepreneurship: A Practice-Based Approach, Sage Publishers, Fall 2016.

First published in The Arizona Republic, Dec. 14, 2015.




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