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Want to Encourage Innovation? Try a Growth Mindset Intervention  

By Sarah Steimer

For some time, it seemed as though Microsoft’s star had begun to dim, especially as competitors like Google and Apple were lapping its innovations. That was until Satya Nadella became CEO and helped change the organization’s culture. Now, even Fast Company is claiming that Microsoft is winning Big Tech’s AI war.

Nadella has long been a proponent of having a growth mindset, a concept credited to psychologist Carol Dweck that means you believe intelligence, abilities, and talents are learnable, and you can improve through effort. Yet aside from the example set forth by Microsoft, most scholarly research around a growth mindset has focused on education. But a new study published in Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal has, for the first time, shown how a growth mindset can benefit the business world.

Researchers led by Shad Morris of Brigham Young University — along with Chad Carlos of Brigham Young University, Geoffrey M. Kistruck of York University, Robert B. Lount Jr of Ohio State University, and Tumsifu Elly Thomas of the University of Dar es Salaam — found that growth mindset interventions enhance entrepreneurship training programs and improve their effectiveness by translating knowledge into action.

“It’s not just teaching confidence,” Morris says. “Part of the problem is we just tell people, ‘You’re great, you can do anything you want.’ But when they can’t, they quit. A growth mindset is something different. A growth mindset is a belief that your mind can actually grow and change.”

The team focused its research on a training program for necessity entrepreneurs in Tanzania, which was designed by the United Nations International Labor Organization. Taking a cue from educational research, the researchers added a half-day growth mindset intervention to the training for half of participants, which consisted of three modules:

  1. Learning about the science of neuroplasticity.
  2. Case studies of local individuals who had demonstrated a growth mindset when they failed but tried again.
  3. An activity where participants experienced using a growth mindset in a simple setting.

Study participants kept a journal of their entrepreneurial progress for a month. Upon review, the researchers found those who received the growth mindset training saw a 50% increase in entrepreneurial actions that involved taking risks, innovating, or otherwise doing new things for their business to improve its chances of success.

The growth mindset training helped individuals overcome their fixed or scarcity mindsets, which are particularly common among those in at-risk or poverty situations. When people deal with a constantly scarce environment, they commonly stick to what has worked in the past or believe that they would be rich “if it were meant to be.” Moving past this mindset and intro entrepreneurial success has less to do with gaining skills or funding, but more to do with psychology. And one of the most encouraging parts of the study, Morris says, is that existing training programs needn’t be massively revamped. Instead, they can just tack on this additional component — which doesn’t even require a full day — for growth mindset benefits that can last at least a year.

The Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, published by the Strategic Management Society, attracts the most influential managerially oriented entrepreneurship research in the world. 

Based upon: 

Morris, S., Carlos, C., Kistruck, G.M., Lount, R.B. Jr., Thomas, T.E. The impact of growth mindset training on entrepreneurial action among necessity entrepreneurs: Evidence from a randomized control trial. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal.