The Benefits of a Growth Mindset

3 Feb

Why do some people seem to improve at tasks whilst other people stay still? How do some people, teams, and entire organisations seem to bounce back from unexpected events whilst others seemingly never recover? And what provides some people with an accurate sense of “what is going to happen next?”

Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner (2015) recently revealed the results of their multi-year forecasting tournament. The aim of the tournament was to identify people who could forecast world and local events accurately. Once these people were identified, the task was to assess what behaviours and methods produced this accuracy.

Despite the strong current of research which illustrates the shortcomings of forecasting (see Taleb, 2012, and Kahneman, 2011), Tetlock et al identified a group of “super forecasters” who were able to make highly accurate short term predictions on local and global events. The super forecasters were people who had volunteered for the forecasting tournament, and so came from a variety of professional backgrounds. They had no special equipment, just an internet connection and the daily newspapers.

The super forecasters, despite their diverse backgrounds, shared similar approaches to developing their predictions. According to Tetlock et al (2015) the most significant of these shared approaches was a growth mind-set. In fact a growth mind-set was so significant, and so instrumental, in producing accurate forecasts, that without it, a person is highly unlikely to become a super forecaster. This has potentially profound implications for strategic thinking, decision making and recruitment. So what is a growth mind-set?

Tetlock et al (2015) identify the qualities of a super forecaster’s growth mind-set as

Grit- staying power

Self- reflection- critically analysing choices, hunches and beliefs

Willingness to learn from failure- being prepared to use failure as a learning opportunity, not a personal disaster

These qualities have appeared before, to a lesser and greater degree, across previous research studies on the subjects of expertise and resilience. For example, Klein et al’s (1989) seminal study of firefighter decision making. Klein et al revealed that firefighters had accrued vast amounts of experience (grit-staying power), and were able to intuitively construct solutions to challenging fires. However, this wasn’t a case of simply applying the first thing which came into the firefighter’s head. The firefighter mentally simulated their intuitive choice to explore how it should be tweaked to each specific situation (self-reflection).  If the plan, or parts of it, didn’t work, they would adapt it frequently, not deny the plan wasn’t working (learning from failure).

Weick and Sutcliffe (2007) explored the qualities and practices which made certain high performing organisations resilient. They identified five common organisational practices across their research. The high performing organisations would

1)            Track small failures and learn from them

2)            Resist over simplification, exploring alternative meanings

3)            Remain sensitive to operations, regular feedback is in place to ensure learning

4)            Maintain capacity for resilience, they do not assume everything is going to be ok and run according to plan

5)            Recognise expertise across the organisation, in other words, vital knowledge isn’t always up the hierarchy. It could be across or down depending on the specifics of a particular situation

Again, we see the grit necessary to remain vigilant, focused and stick around long enough to collect experience. We see self-reflection in the willingness and design of feedback loops to frequently test and adapt ideas, plans and strategies. And we see learning from failure, as the feedback loops transform the errors, mistakes and flaws into information which is used to update the experience base and improve; not blame, witch hunts and denial.

Overall, the reoccurring lesson is that a growth mind set benefits strategic thinking, the team, the individual and an entire organisation. Tetlock et al, Klein et al, and Weick et al all provide descriptions of qualities which produce accurate forecasts, quality decision making, and adaptable resilient organisations. It is worthwhile for any individual, team and organisation to honestly assess how well they measure up.


Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2007). Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in and Age of Uncertainty, Second Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Tetlock, P. E. & Gardner, D. (2015). Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. New York: Crown

Klein, G. A. (1989). Recognition-primed decisions. In W. B. Rouse (Ed.), Advances in man-machine systems research (Vol. 5, pp. 47–92). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press

Taleb, N.N (2013) Anti Fragile- Things which gain from disorder. Penguin

Kahneman, D (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin

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