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I break Startups down into their component parts and show you how to build for success.  

growth mindset

Apologies to anyone who’s had a coaching session with me this week and is subsequently sick of thinking about growth versus fixed mindsets. I can’t stop talking about them. 

I finally got around to reading Dr Carol S Dweck’s incredible ‘Mindset’ and I feel like a new human. After 7 years as a serial startup COO, I’ve become pretty good at figuring shit out and bouncing back from challenges, but after reading ‘Mindset’ I’m on a whole new resilience kick - courtesy of my attempts to adopt more of a growth mindset. 

growth mindset carol dweck

It’s also got me thinking a lot about the advice I give to Founders who are writing their first Strategy and why I can get better at conveying the points I’m aiming to make. 

When working through my 6-Point Strategy Framework with a new client, I often say of the Objectives that it’s highly unlikely that a company is going to meet the first goals it sets. To me, this seems perfectly normal, it’s fine to not hit 100% of an outcome as long as you’re putting in 100% of your effort into trying to get there. 

An early stage company setting goals is going to have to employ some guesswork initially because there’s no precedent to build on. Take your revenue Objective - sure, as a Founder or Leadership team, you’ve (hopefully) spent a good amount of time mapping your Target Market, but determining what percentage of it you can acquire in your first year is much more art than science. If you’re launching a new product to a new market, you’ll hopefully have some idea of the existing appetite in the locale, but no hard figures for sales until you start. 

You have to set goals that seem big but not too big and do your absolute best to hit them. If you’re thinking about doing that in your own business, how does the idea of hitting a goal and not achieving it make you feel?

How do you define success?

Do you define success as reaching your goals, or as a multiple of what you learned whilst trying? Is it a soul-crushing ‘failure’ when you don’t hit your goals, or was it just a necessary evil, just part of growing a business?

In ‘Mindset’ Dr Dweck separates people out into two mindsets: ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’.

In a ‘fixed’ mindset, an individual believes that their capacity, intelligence, and personality are ‘fixed’. Conversely, in a ‘growth’ mindset, an individual holds the belief that their capacity, intelligence, and personality are flexible - always in ‘growth’. 

growth mindset

When you adopt a fixed mindset, success too becomes fixed - you either have or haven’t hit a goal, you’ve either won or lost. In a growth mindset, success is the knowledge and experience that you gained along the way and a ‘failure’ is just a data point to build on. 

Are you in a growth mindset?

fixed versus growth mindset

I was cursed with the ‘gifted child’ label from about age 7 and let me tell you how real the pipeline from gifted child to burned-out adult is.

When you’re told, early on, that your defining characteristic, the thing that gives you value, makes you stand out, is the quantitative measure of your intelligence, it becomes hard to see yourself as anything else. Sure, I found early school classes mind-numbingly easy, but when you’re praised for getting results without trying, then it becomes a ‘failure’ if you have to try. And classes, as they should, only ever get harder and the need to put effort in to figure things out only ever gets more important. 

I started to fear tests and exams - more quantitative measures to determine if I was winning or losing at delivering the value that was expected of me. If putting effort in means failing, then the only sure path towards not failing was to never try. 

I spent years avoiding opportunities to learn because of this. Which, when you think about it, is just nuts - what a waste. I’m now, if I’m lucky, halfway through my life and having to relearn something that seems so basic: what it means to ‘try’ and what it means to ‘fail’.

I see the same actions playing out in startups every day. You take a Founder who’s been labelled a ‘visionary’ and reward them for their ‘vision’ with a bunch of cash and then watch their business crash and burn because actually working hard to implement the plan that’s going to get them to the next round of funding feels too much like failure. Hard work is for other people, not for our visionary. 

How can I be a better leader by shedding my fixed mindset?

Firstly, don’t take my word for it. Read Dr Dweck’s book. She’s been working on mindset since 1988. In 1988, I was working on learning to walk. 

I know the algorithms have decimated our attention spans and anything more than a TikTok in length feels like a marathon, but, please, if running a successful company is your biggest dream, you can spare a few hours to read or listen to a book this important. 

Secondly, as the book will teach you, you need to start putting the emphasis on the effort, not on the outcomes. In the performance management framework I use with my clients, we break measurement of success into ‘inputs’, ‘outputs’, and ‘outcomes’ and we place equal emphasis on each part. 

We ask:

  1. Did I (or did the team) complete all the Tasks that I said I would (the inputs)? 

  2. Next, did I complete the projects that I predicted would get me to my goals (the outputs)?

  3. And only then do we ask: did I hit the goals I set (the outcomes)?

By emphasising the journey (inputs and outputs) to your goals (outcomes) you can start to define ‘success’ as doing the things you said you would and ‘failure’ simply becomes ‘not trying’. 

If you’re struggling to get shit done in your company and you want to try adopting a different approach, feel free to book a free Discovery Call via the link below and I can see how I can help. 


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