Article , Blog / Policy Innovation
Published: 25.04.2023

“The only people who never fail are those who never try.”

The above sentence is what we often hear. Accepting failures seems to be a normal part of life, it implies that we have attempted to do something. It means we have learned so that we can move on and do better next time. But the reality is not so when we live in a culture where failure is frowned upon. Oftentimes we are punished, and we punish ourselves when we have done something less than perfect. 

This is why a ‘growth mindset’ is the essence of life

A growth mindset is an attitude that we can always learn and grow; talent is not something purely inborn but something you can cultivate. In contrast, having a fixed mindset means believing that potential is something innate and cannot be learnt. Someone with a growth mindset is ready to learn, but someone with a fixed mindset is afraid to try.

Carol Dweck, an American psychologist from Stanford University who coined the term ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindset, shared a case study about a high school in Chicago. Instead of using the grading system, the school uses the grade ‘Not Yet’ when the student has not passed the exam. With the ‘Not Yet’ grading system, students do not attach their self-value to grades and do not see academic performance as something innate. The word ‘Not Yet’ means having the chance to do better in the future. Students are more enthusiastic to learn, and with this growth mindset, they perform better academically as a result. 

How do growth and fixed mindsets differ and what entails? Ask yourself, what would you do in the following situation:

Q: You are the boss and you have to make a decision on a project that falls outside your expertise, what are you going to do?

A1) Order the team members to follow your instructions without soliciting their opinions.

A2) Share with the team members that this project falls outside your expertise so you would need the advice and opinions of others to make the best decisions.

In the above situation, the boss who picks A1 and the boss who picks A2 have different mindsets and leadership styles. We can say that the A1 boss is someone with a fixed mindset, they see themselves as always capable and talented. When facing a challenge, they struggle to admit that they do not always know what is best, they are afraid to not be seen as the ‘strong and powerful leader.’ On the other hand, the A2 boss is someone with a growth mindset, they think everyone has to always learn something new so they are not afraid to admit that they lack expertise in certain areas and need collaboration. Such an attitude facilitates a better workflow – the boss does not pretend to know it all and makes a bad decision all on their own.

Embrace the pain and let it grow

But why do some people have a growth mindset and some do not? What is a determinant between the two? In the book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead Casandra Brené Brown, an academic known for her research on shame, vulnerability and leadership, wrote that  

“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness but it is also the birthplace of joy and creativity, of belonging, and of love.” 

A foundational root of a growth mindset is learning to embrace ‘vulnerabilities.’ Only when we accept failures, one of the most emotional parts of our being, do we learn to grow. Accepting vulnerabilities means letting go of the idea that we must always be the best, know it all, and always do it right. What matters is the fact that we learn from past mistakes, embrace the pain of not knowing, grow, and set out again. 

Be a vulnerable and courageous policymaker

Having a growth mindset is integral to everyone who aspires to grow, especially policymakers. Often than not, policymakers, researchers, or experts are all human beings who do not always have the best answer nor possess a magical solution. However, this is the gap where a growth mindset should be cultivated – when we accept the fact that we do not know it all, we become more sensitive to our surroundings, and we “dare” to not know. This may result in us policymakers trying to approach diverse stakeholders and opening a platform for the people to co-design policies. Only with this kind of mindset that we grow together as a society, only with the vulnerable growth mindset that we are able to design a human-centred policy. 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.” – Brené Brown 



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