Think Smarter With A Growth Mindset


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Washington — How we respond to setbacks and challenges can make or break our careers, and it all comes down to mindset. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck coined the term “growth mindset,” after researching how children respond to failure in the 1970s. She observed that those who were energized rather than broken down by setbacks were more likely to learn and grow.

To have a growth mindset means to view challenges as opportunities and setbacks as learning experiences. In Dweck’s words: “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more . . . because they worry less about looking smart and put more energy into learning.” What a powerful concept!

Practical applications of growth mindset can be found in many aspects of business. For instance, customer service representatives know that all feedback, positive and negative, is valued, and we would benefit from taking a page out of their book.

If we personally responded to negative feedback like our customer service team does here at Smarties, we would start with “Thank you.” These two little words can have an outsized impact through welcoming dialogue in the spirit of a commitment to continuous improvement and customer satisfaction.

But could we actually be grateful for all feedback, including the negative? If we look through a growth mindset lens, it is possible. Why? Because the complainer may have just given us a gift, identifying an opportunity for improvement. I realize that for some, this is eyeroll inducing, but transforming criticism into opportunities for improvement is one hallmark of a growth mindset that can turn us into life-long learners.

Perhaps I am so drawn to the idea of growth mindset because learning is core to the Smarties brand. Our company founder, 2024 Candy Hall of Fame inductee Edward Dee, named his candy “Smarties” to encourage us to never stop our pursuit of knowledge.

I saw firsthand how he seized every day as an opportunity to learn and grow. He regularly walked the candy factory floor well into his 95th year, observing workflow and engaging with machine operators and mechanics. He listened closely to what team members had to say, engaging with them to root out insights into how equipment and processes could be improved.

He sought out production bottlenecks and onerous activities to improve efficiency and protect his team. This led to investments in equipment, technology, new processes, and training. His success with Smarties was borne from constant applied learning, and this is a legacy I determinedly carry on, far preferring to be smart, rather than look smart.

In 2019, we updated our iconic Smarties brand and packaging and the logo changes generated some surprisingly negative feedback. The new silhouette, color, and font changes were not the instant hit we had anticipated. In short, we went too far. Something needed to be done, but there was a lot of resistance to making another big change. We had already spent so much time, energy, and money on the project. But within a few months, we were convinced that a course correction was in order. So, we updated the logo colors to be more reminiscent of the original iconic logo and, thankfully, saw an uptick in positive feedback and increased sales.

With a growth mindset, we can feel empowered in the recognition that yesterday’s achievements mark today’s starting line. And as daunting as it can be to change an iconic logo twice, that means yesterday’s new logo could be today’s old one.

Dweck observes: “Organizations that embody a growth mindset encourage appropriate risk-taking, knowing that some risks won’t work out. They reward employees for important lessons learned, even if a project doesn’t meet its original goals.”

This is about more than being optimistic and encouraging. It is a highly practical perspective that takes advantage of setbacks to learn, grow, and improve, and it might not come naturally.

Organizational success with a growth mindset begins with the belief that each person contains untapped potential that could result in boundless possibility. It is to remain committed to progress by investing time and money in development while allowing for trial and error.

Employers empower their teams when they encourage them to swing for the rafters. And if it’s a swing and a miss, they support their employees to regroup and learn from the experience so they may confidently step back up to the plate.

Having a growth mindset is not always easy, but it can be enormously rewarding. It doesn’t guarantee that we will never receive a complaint. But if we’re learning from our mistakes, we may avoid receiving the same complaint twice.

Adopting a growth mindset can transform our lives into enlivening, never-ending journeys of continuous improvement, sparking adventure and achievement. I can’t think of a more rewarding or gratifying way to work, or to live.