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Growth mindset – the right attitude for a design team

Designers with a growth mindset understand they can develop by improving processes. They value learning opportunities, do not feel the need to blow their own horn and appreciate it when others contribute to their projects.

“It was one of those brisk mornings when fall leaves had already been collected off the streets. The sound of his noisy leather shoes created an intensifying beat. He was in a hurry. Although his black wool suit brought him comfort, calmness had escaped him. For his whole life, he had kept his cool, but this time he was truly scared. What if he fails again and they find out who he really is?”

Fixed vs. growth mindset

In her book, Mindset: The Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck identifies two mindsets: fixed and growth. Essentially, they deal with a person’s willingness to learn and change. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that you were born with a certain set of skills and you will always stay that way. It doesn’t matter if you think that you excel or fall behind, believing that your qualities are carved in stone means that you have a fixed mindset. On the other hand, if you have a growth mindset, you know that you can learn almost anything, or at least improve by trying.

Fixed mindset

  1. You constantly need to prove how great you are.
  2. You are afraid that people will judge you.
  3. You’ll use a lot of mental energy to hide your deficiencies.
  4. You value the end result above all. After all, it’s your possibility to shine.
  5. You are afraid of new things and challenges.
  6. “I could have been…” is your excuse and a shield protecting your brilliance. Not making an effort proves that you could have achieved it if you had tried.

Growth mindset

  1. You seek challenges in order to learn.
  2. You speak freely and learn.
  3. You accept and overcome your deficiencies.
  4. You value process over results. Learning and getting better is more important than the outcome.
  5. You enjoy difficulties and see a possibility in conquering them.
  6. You find the “I could have been…” mentality tragic. Realizing that you had an opportunity to achieve something, but did not pursue it wholeheartedly can be agonizing.

Finding the right mindset as a designer

“His last visit still haunted him. Their blunt words sliced him like a sharp knife. How had he let it happen? After all, he had been there a million times before. What on earth went wrong that time? Where was the love and who were they to say: ‘this still needs work’? The whole thing made him sad. They clearly did not realize what was best for them.”

Design projects are hard. Designers always start with a blank canvas. In that challenging setting, a fixed mindset can be devastating. In his book, Designing Together: The collaboration and conflict management handbook for creative professionals, Dan M. Brown introduces three wonderful mindsets which helps designers navigate this challenging field.

  1. Be adaptive, not rigid
    With an adaptive mindset, designers can adjust how they use the tools and processes they are familiar with. They don’t have to follow the known path rigidly, but can transform their approach so it’s most suitable for the project they are working with. A person with an adaptive mindset is open to try new approaches and can see that there are several solutions to a problem.
  2. Be collective,rather than solitary
    Good design is done in teams. With a collective mindset, designers appreciate feedback and grow their confidence when receiving feedback from the team. However, they are not dependent on other people’s opinions. Collective mindset does not require approval and individuals do not feel the need to be rescued, but find meaningful ways to involve other people in the design process.

  3. Be assertive and avoid passivity
    Designers with a growth mindset take responsibility for projects. They share their opinions actively and engage in discussion. Furthermore, a person with an assertive mindset is not afraid to express anxiety or ask for help.

Personally, I have also found out that thinking with a growth mindset helps with performance anxiety and stage fright. When you see challenging situations as opportunities to learn, your little weaknesses do not matter as much any more.

Improve your self-awareness and challenge your thinking

People don’t usually just a have fixed or a growth mindset, but they tend to alternate between the approaches, depending on the situation. They might be very adaptive, but prefer to work alone, or they are afraid to ask help for fear of revealing their shortcomings. The good news is that a growth mindset is something that can be learned.

I recommend that you start by identifying situations where you were thinking with a fixed mindset. It often comes down to the beliefs you have about yourself. You may have thoughts like:

  • “This means that I’m a bad designer.”
  • “I’m so much better than anybody else in this room.”
  • “What if people think that my question is stupid?”

Try to catch yourself in these moments and think how you can learn from the situation that triggered this kind of non-constructive thinking. Also try to think how you could help others when you see them struggle in similar situations.

You are what you think

Growth mindset boils down to how you can contribute to the world. With the right kind of thinking, designers can tackle their weaknesses. However, real improvement happens when they become more valuable team members. With a growth mindset, designers continue to learn and contribute more to the projects they are working with.

Growth mindset has changed my perspective at work. Each day, I’m eager to learn how I could do things better, and lately, it has also started to have a positive impact on my personal life. I believe you can benefit from a growth mindset in almost everything you do. Simply adjust your attitude and learn from your daily experiences.

“Pumped up from the meeting, he stepped outside to calm down. He sat down on a park bench to watch nature prepare for winter. Spending time in cool air made him calmer. Why had he worried so much? They really liked the improved idea. A falling snowflake got him thinking. From now on, I’ll just surrender to the world and learn from everything what comes my way.”