Growth Mindset is Key to Innovation


By Yvonne Milosevic

We know Silicon Valley for its “fail fast, fail often” ethos. Yet failure still carries a crippling stigma for many people outside of tech. If you value creativity and innovation, then it’s time to shake off those shameful feelings. Embrace failure as a chance to grow and a necessary stepping stone on the path to success.

Indeed, history offers plenty of examples of innovation born from trial and error. Engineers Al Fielding and Marc Chavannes created bubble wrap in 1960. But they first tried to market it as a trendy new textured wallpaper. The lubricant WD-40 required many attempts to get the formula right. Its name stands for Water Displacement perfected on the 40th try. In the 1930s, Cleo and Noah McVicker invented Play-Doh—as a wallpaper cleaner. And that famous little blue pill? Doctors first developed it to treat hypertension. But they soon realized Viagra worked muuuch better for a completely different ailment. And the list goes on.

You see, there’s a silver lining behind most failures. The key is not giving up. Continue to put in the effort, pivot, and try again. Your perseverance will pay off.

It’s all in your mind (set)

Whether you’ll be able to let failure lead you to innovation depends on what kind of mindset you have. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck hit on the notion that people with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence, creative talents, and character are immutable traits.

People who have a growth mindset, meanwhile, believe that they can develop their core abilities through dedication and hard work. Our brains and talent are only the starting point, Dweck discovered.

“People often confuse a growth mindset with being flexible or open-minded or with having a positive outlook — qualities they believe they’ve simply always had,” Dweck wrote in Harvard Business Review. “My colleagues and I call this a false growth mindset,” she explained.

“Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience.”

Getting on board with failure

But it’s not just people who need to become more accepting of their mistakes. In this interview with Medium, professor Luis Martins of UT McCombs School of Business said companies need to walk the walk as well if innovation is the real goal.

“Most organizations celebrate the people who pick good ideas. They also reward the people who don’t make any mistakes,” Martins explained. “Unless you make it a norm, it’s a one-off. But if everybody is trying and failing, any one failure is not that spectacular — nobody is stopping to look at you.”

Dweck has also studied organizations and found that growth-minded companies often promote from within their ranks. Fixed mindset ones, meanwhile, look to outsiders. This group also places a high value on credentials and past accomplishments. In contrast, growth-mindset firms admire potential and passion for learning.

“Focusing on pedigree…is not as effective as looking for people who love challenges, who want to grow, and who want to collaborate,” Dweck said. In other words, companies that strive for innovation should start by considering their hiring criteria.

Finally, we’ll leave you with this thought from Walt Disney.

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

Oh, and he was once fired from a newspaper job for not being creative enough. Go figure.