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Cultures of Growth

How the New Science of Mindset Can Transform Individuals, Teams, and Organizations

Foreword by Carol Dweck

About The Book

Award-winning social psychologist Mary Murphy offers a groundbreaking reconsideration of individual and team success—showing how to create and sustain a growth mindset in any organization’s culture.

Carol Dweck’s multi-million-copy bestseller Mindset transformed our view of individual potential, coining the terms “fixed” and “growth” mindset: in a “fixed” mindset, talent and intelligence are viewed as predetermined traits, while in a “growth” mindset, talent and intelligence can be nurtured.

In Cultures of Growth, Dweck’s protégé, Mary Murphy, a social psychologist at both Stanford and Indiana University, shows that mindset transcends individuals. A growth mindset culture can transform any group, team, or classroom to reach breakthroughs while also helping each person achieve their potential.

Murphy’s original decade-long research reveals that organizations and teams more geared toward growth inspire deeper learning, spark collaboration, spur innovation, and build trust necessary for risk-taking and inclusion. They are also less likely to cheat, cut corners, or steal each other’s ideas. And they’re more likely to achieve top results. In these cultures, great ideas come from people from all backgrounds and at all levels—not just those anointed as brilliant or talented.

Discover how a culture of growth helped make outdoor retailer Patagonia a leader in its field; how Satya Nadella transformed Microsoft; how winemakers Robin McBride and Andréa McBride John are leading with a mindset to disrupt and diversify the entire wine industry; and how a New York school superintendent reversed massive inequities for children of color by reshaping the district’s mindset culture. Drawing on compelling examples from her work with Fortune 500 companies, startups, and schools, Murphy demonstrates that an organization’s mindset culture is the key to success for individuals, teams, and the entire organization, teaching you how to create and sustain a culture of growth no matter your role.

Create environments where people want to be, where everyone can thrive and achieve their potential, both individually and together. In a world where success seems reserved for a chosen few, Cultures of Growth unveils a radically different approach to creating organizations that inspire learning, growth, and success at all levels.


Chapter 1: The Mindset Continuum CHAPTER 1 The Mindset Continuum
We’ve gotten mindset all wrong. Well, not all wrong, but we’ve oversimplified it drastically, and to our detriment.

Mindset seems like an easy concept to grasp: Either you believe that intelligence and ability are largely set and can’t change much, or you think that we can grow and develop them over time. Yet when you reflect on your own personal experiences, you might sense something more complex than an either/or dichotomy.

Think of a time in the past when you were met with a challenge. How did you respond? Let’s say your boss asked you to come up with some fund-raising ideas to help address a projected shortfall. Perhaps you played it safe, suggesting only initiatives that were in line with what the organization had done in the past. Or, maybe you saw in that request an opportunity to try something new, and you stretched yourself to offer unique solutions that went beyond traditional outreach and events. Or, maybe you started by listing the usual ideas, but then decided to push yourself a little.

The reality is that no one has either a fixed or a growth mindset. Although we may favor a fixed or a growth mindset, we all have both—and shifting between them is something each one of us does. Moreover, when we shift from fixed to growth, it isn’t always like flipping a switch; sometimes it’s more like adjusting a dimmer.

Mindset exists on a continuum. And where we fall on that continuum at any given moment often has to do with the situation we’re in and the people around us.

However, the way we’ve come to think about mindset doesn’t reflect this complexity. Since Carol Dweck first introduced the concept, we’ve seen the following illustration displayed frequently in classrooms and on social media:

What’s wrong with this image? Yes, people can differ in the mindset they typically endorse, but by focusing on our brains, this image implies that mindset is located entirely in the head. And it puts it in either/or terms. It asks us to identify what kind of mindset we have, implying that it’s one or the other. Can you see the irony here? Thinking we always embody either the fixed or the growth mindset is a very fixed way of viewing mindset!

This image also shows a clear preference for one mindset over the other: Growth is good and fixed is bad. Although, as we will see, people and cultures with more of a growth mindset may have many admirable qualities, these misunderstandings have led to the moralization of mindset, especially in the American educational system and in corporations that have taken up the idea. When we view mindset as a fixed trait that resides inside an individual’s head, and when we believe that a person with one mindset is a better person than someone with the other mindset, it’s easy to use mindset to sort and label people. It also means that we put the onus of change on the individual, instead of considering the context and culture that creates and maintains mindset.

Mindset culture as it exists outside of us is an active, collaborative creation. Still, organizational leaders often focus on individual mindset, as if identifying and retaining “growth mindset” employees will create a growth-minded organization. Many school systems have asked my colleagues and me if there are assessments to rate teachers on their fixed or growth mindsets; and investment firms have requested that I help them create assessments so they can identify which entrepreneurs to invest in. Often, organizations want to use such assessments for selection and hiring. The underlying assumptions behind these inquiries are that: (a) mindset is static; (b) it’s entirely individual; and (c) such assessments will reveal the “truth” about someone’s mindset—whether they have a growth (or fixed) mindset, and therefore whether they’ll be a good employee (or not). And when we affix these beliefs on individuals, they turn around and affix them on others.

In the teacher training institute that my colleagues and I created, we see teachers who endorse this false dichotomy view of mindset labeling students who struggle with motivation or performance by saying things like, “I’m sorry, this kid just has a fixed mindset and there’s nothing much I can do about it” or “This generation of students has really fixed mindsets.” When we ask teachers what they’re doing to help students move toward their growth mindset, they sometimes say, “That’s not my job. Students just need to have a growth mindset, or their parents need to be working with them to develop one.” But labeling kids as unable to change is the definition of a fixed mindset—on the part of the teacher. And because some teachers may want learning to come easily and quickly (another fixed-minded attitude), they may short-circuit students’ struggles—and thereby their learning—by immediately offering the correct answers or reassuring them that, “It’s okay, not everyone can be a math person.”

All of this misconstrues what mindset is, as well as the factors that determine our mindset in any given moment. And it turns mindset into a blame game, which doesn’t help anyone.

Ask someone what their mindset is, and the accurate answer is: It depends. Even among those of us who study mindset, no one leans toward growth all of the time. Depending on the situation, our fixed or growth mindset can become activated.

Meet the Mindset Continuum.
Instead of simply having a fixed or growth mindset, we are nudged along a continuum either more toward our fixed or more toward our growth mindset, depending on the circumstance. But on this continuum, we also have a default set point. Perhaps you tend to hang out on the growth end of the continuum, or your initial response to challenge is more fixed. (Don’t hold too tightly to that idea either, because our set point can change over time and in different situations.)

Understanding our mindset set point can be a helpful starting point, as Carol Dweck’s classic work shows, yet none of us lives in a vacuum. In fact, one of the most surprising findings of our research is how people move along the continuum based on predictable, discernable cues around them, which is why mindset assessments aimed at targeting our “one true mindset” often miss the mark.
The culture surrounding us is one of the biggest influences on our beliefs, motivations, and behavior. This mindset culture exists at the group and organizational level.

Mindset culture is so powerful that it can actually block an individual’s growth mindset. But when leaders focus on developing individuals, they almost always overlook the impact of the mindset culture they’ve created. In many cases, they’re not even aware of it! For example, Barre3 CEO Sadie Lincoln had built a fitness business that she thought had growth mindset at its core until an anonymous company-wide survey shattered the image she’d worked hard to develop—that of the perfect leader who made it all look easy. “I really tried to play that part, even though it wasn’t always true,” says Lincoln. “I didn’t realize I had created a culture of perfection, and as a result we lost authenticity, trust, and our ability to innovate together.” Perfection is one aspect of a fixed mindset culture. In an environment that demanded seemingly effortless, flawless performance (as modeled from the top), employees felt demotivated and demoralized instead of invigorated and inspired to take on challenges. This is mindset culture at work. Even an attentive leader such as Sadie Lincoln was shocked to learn that instead of a Culture of Growth, she’d unwittingly created what I call a Culture of Genius, an organization whose policies, practices, and norms embody fixed mindset beliefs.

Lincoln knew she and her team had to overhaul their corporate culture, starting with taking ownership of her role in creating a toxic atmosphere. (We’ll look at how she did that in Chapter 11.) It wasn’t easy—and it wasn’t without consequences. “I lost team members during this trying time,” Lincoln told Marie Claire.

Some people who bought into the fixed mindset culture of effortless perfection found it unsettling to see Lincoln openly acknowledging and owning her failures. But the people who stayed helped her build their new growth mindset culture. And as Lincoln told Guy Raz in a 2020 interview on How I Built This, the lessons her team learned during that time later helped them successfully navigate the COVID-19 pandemic—when countless other fitness companies had to close their doors permanently. Within days of closing all of their locations nationwide, they re-opened as an online exercise platform.

But lockdowns were only the beginning of what they would have to grapple with. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Lincoln and her team called on experts and began to formulate a plan to address issues of structural racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion that they identified within the business. As Lincoln told Raz, “This is one of the most hard, profound, important moments of our history at Barre3…. I am a White woman in leadership with immense privilege, and [I’ve unconsciously built] a company of leaders who look a lot like me,” including franchise owners and instructors. The company has been working with their DEI partner to educate leadership and franchise owners, and to reshape their outreach and hiring practices. They’ve been sharing their plans publicly through the company’s blog, have created a set of internal metrics to measure their progress, and are working to reshape their systems to make DEI-centered policies standard practice throughout the organization.
Organizational mindset refers to the shared beliefs about intelligence, talent, and ability that are held by a group of people in an organization. This mindset is revealed through the group’s cultural artifacts: its policies, practices, procedures, behavioral norms, messages from leaders and other powerful people, important organizational materials (such as its website, mission statement, and other foundational documents), and so on.

Organizational mindsets also exist on a continuum spanning fixed to growth. Teams don’t just have a static mindset; they move between them in response to opportunities and challenges that arise and the affordances provided by the larger organization. Organizational mindset beliefs—that is, the degree to which a given group believes that intelligence, talent, and ability are fixed or are malleable—not only influence our behavior and how we present ourselves, they also guide our interactions and our expectations of others. These core beliefs shape the way people in a group think, feel, and behave. In workplace settings, mindset culture has a ripple effect that impacts everything: collaboration and innovation; who is hired, fired, and promoted; ethical (or unethical) behavior; diversity and inclusion; and bottom-line economic success. At school, the mindset culture affects students’ experiences, engagement, and performance in class, and it influences which students teachers and administrators deem worthy of challenging material and additional investment.

Fixed mindset organizations—or Cultures of Genius—believe and communicate the idea that people’s abilities are unchangeable, or fixed. People either “have it” or they don’t, and there’s little anyone can do to change this. “Star search” and “stack ranking” evaluation practices are a common outgrowth of fixed-minded Cultures of Genius. If leadership believes that some have it and some don’t, the focus naturally shifts to finding, recruiting, and promoting stars and either ignoring or firing everyone else. In Cultures of Genius, systems encourage people to compete against one another to prove themselves and to see who rises to the top (often by whatever means necessary).

Ironically, when people hear the term “Culture of Genius” without context, their eyes widen. “Ooh, I like the sound of that!” they exclaim. Our society has a cultural fascination with the idea of genius and the perception that some special people are born with innate abilities and skills that lie beyond the grasp of the rest of us. We even falsify history to retell stories that emphasize the genius or lone hero who, by virtue of innate talent, has a brilliant “aha” moment that changes the world. Paradoxically, the more our daily lives require interdependence, collaboration, and teamwork, the more we seem to cling to these genius narratives. As Harvard professor Marjorie Garber writes in The Atlantic, “The further our society gets from individual agency—the less the individual seems to have real power to change things—the more we idealize the genius, who is by this definition the opposite of the committee or the collaborative enterprise. Indeed, some of the resistance to the idea that Shakespeare wrote his plays in collaboration with other playwrights and even actors in his company comes from our residual, occasionally desperate need to retain this ideal notion of the individual genius.”

As Garber goes on to note, Joseph Addison, an eighteenth-century chronicler of the history of the genius, described two types of genius popular in the early 1700s: natural and learned. One could display brilliance from an early age, but one could also develop it through industriousness (or what I call effective effort). These days, we focus almost exclusively on the former manifestation, to the point of idolizing it. That’s why the Culture of Genius, at first blush, sounds so appealing.

When I asked Carol Dweck where she thinks our love of genius comes from, she speculated, “I think a large part of it comes from the legacy of hierarchy,” explaining that those in power, born into privilege and educated at prestigious schools, tend to look for ways to justify why they’re better. Stanford psychology professor Claude Steele echoed a similar idea: “It’s probably a root of a power-privilege sustaining ideology. Once you have it, you have it, and if you don’t have it, you’re out of luck. That guarantees a certain status to me if I’m a genius and I have high ability—it gives you a sense of exclusiveness that other people might not be able to get there and it’s just the natural order of things.” Claude added that this type of thinking “legitimizes and launders privilege. The reality is I’ve gotten good because I’ve had some pretty good scaffolding, but with the genius idea, I don’t have to think about my position that way—I can think about it in terms of ‘this is a gift that I have.’?” Consistent with these analyses, the research I’ve conducted shows that the genius mentality helps maintain the status quo. Those who most benefit from the status quo—the few who are considered stars—have an interest, consciously or unconsciously, in keeping it in place. At the same time, it takes the pressure off those who haven’t been anointed; after all, if I’m not someone who has it, people are likely to expect less of me.

Perhaps then it’s logical we’d gravitate toward building Cultures of Genius. With a genius at the helm—and as many as we can find, spread throughout the organization—we should be extremely successful, right? But that’s not what my research shows. As you’ll see in coming chapters, ironically, Cultures of Genius often produce less genius—that is, they tend to show significantly less innovation, creativity, sustained growth, consistent results, and so on. People’s drive, their willingness to take the kinds of risks that will lead to the next big idea or breakthrough, their desire to collaborate with their colleagues or folks in other sectors, may all be dampened inside the prove-and-perform culture of effortless perfection that Cultures of Genius establish.

Conversely, with its emphasis on embracing complexity, possibility, and dedicated effort, growth mindset cultures—or Cultures of Growth—can sometimes seem more demanding. In an organization where learning is continuous, there are always more ways to improve and new horizons to seek.

Yet people often misperceive the growth mindset as softer and less rigorous, and Cultures of Growth as ones where leaders provide unreserved warmth, positivity, and endless affirmations while rewarding effort more than results. But this flies in the face of my research, which shows that college students in classrooms taught by faculty who create a growth mindset culture, for example, do not experience those professors’ classes as easier or less rigorous. Instead, they describe the classes as quite demanding, and sometimes, downright annoying. When a professor is functioning in their growth mindset while leading a class, they will keep challenging students to stretch themselves to learn and grow. These teachers will not be content if even one student hits a learning plateau; they push for continuous improvement, even among students who are already doing well. From the perspective of students, this is not always pleasant. But they tend to appreciate it in the longer run because they do better and learn more.

People in Cultures of Growth believe that talent and ability can be developed with effort, persistence, good strategies, help-seeking, and support. They are often asked to reflect on their progress and development instead of just reporting whether or not they’ve accomplished their goal. They are also asked to identify what was done to create that progress (including things that failed, not just things that succeeded). Finally, they are asked to use that knowledge to improve the organization. Cultures of Growth offer tangible strategies and structures that encourage innovation and expand the abilities of their workforce. That is, the Culture of Growth’s commitment to development is demanding—requiring effort, attention, and dedication to proactively identify ways to improve—but critically, individuals are not left to do this alone; the organization provides support and resources to help folks along the way.

My research shows that an organization’s mindset culture consistently influences five common ways people work well together (or not): collaboration; innovation; risk-taking and resilience; integrity and ethical behavior; and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). These behavioral norms (defined as unwritten rules for behavior that are considered acceptable or desirable within a group) are often interlocking, such that when a team has issues with collaboration and innovation, they usually struggle with risk-taking, ethics, and DEI too. In Part Two, I’ll show how mindset culture shapes each of these norms and how you can harness them to build organizational trust, employee satisfaction and commitment, and yes, profit. That’s a whole lot, and it’s reasonable to ask how we know so much is shaped by mindset culture.
Organizational Mindset as a Meaning-Making System
An organization’s mindset may rest on a shared belief, but it has a cascade of implications for people’s other beliefs, goals, and behavior. When we encounter setbacks, when we’re called upon to channel substantial effort into our work, or when we need to master a new domain, the core mindset beliefs endorsed by an organization tell people how best to respond. In Cultures of Growth, the cues around us prompt us to frame these challenges as opportunities to expand our abilities and develop professionally, and as people. In Cultures of Genius, we’re more apt to view these situations as cause to defend and prove ourselves, even at the expense of others, if necessary. Instead of learning, we seek to elevate our status or shore up our standing.

Organizations don’t fully embody either a Culture of Genius or a Culture of Growth at all times and in all contexts; they are not monolithic. As with personal mindset, organizational mindset exists on a continuum. And while there is often a recognizable overarching mindset culture at the level of the organization (the cultural set point), within organizations there are often a variety of mindset microcultures. For instance, while the organization as a whole may largely embody more of a fixed mindset, certain divisions, departments, or teams may be more oriented toward growth.

Then we have mindset at the individual level. Through research we’ve isolated four common, predictable situations, termed mindset triggers, that lead us to embody our personal fixed or growth mindset. (You and others may have triggers not listed here, but these are the ones that, according to analyses of the literature and anecdotal experiences working with a variety of organizations, show up most reliably.) These situations are useful to understand because they provide insights about when we tend to embody our fixed mindset and how to shift ourselves toward growth. We’ll cover all of that in Part Three. (And if you’re still a little confused about how it all fits together, don’t worry—I’ll break it all down as we move forward.)

For now, let’s reconsider the illustration of the personal mindset from the start of this chapter. Instead of those two competing heads, here’s a more accurate picture of how mindset operates. This version considers the influence of both the mindset culture and mindset cues that move us along the continuum between our personal fixed and growth mindset beliefs.

Though individuals have some control over their personal mindset beliefs, external factors such as an organization’s mindset culture play a large and underappreciated role in shaping our thoughts, motivations, and behavior.

Your organization has a mindset culture—the question is: Do you know what it is and the ways it is affecting you and others within it?

About The Author

Photograph by Christine Baker

Mary C. Murphy is an endowed professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, founding director of the Summer Institute on Diversity at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and founder and CEO of the Equity Accelerator, a research and consulting organization that works with schools and companies to create more equitable learning and working environments through social and behavioral science. Murphy is the author of more than 100 publications and in 2019, was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest award bestowed on early career scholars by the US government. She is also an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, she earned her BA from the University of Texas at Austin and her PhD in social psychology from Stanford University in 2007, mentored by Claude Steele and Carol Dweck. She splits her time between Bloomington, Indiana, and Palo Alto, California.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 12, 2024)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982172749

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Raves and Reviews

"Cultures of Growth is a good reminder that abilities are not static; it’s a helpful starting point for thinking about how and when we might adopt a different mindset."

"A practical, useful guide for personal and organizational success."

“Practical advice from the preeminent authority on growth mindset and organizational culture. . . Required reading for anyone who has wondered how to create a culture that supports innovation, risk-taking, integrity, and inclusion. I simply loved this book!”
—ANGELA DUCKWORTH, New York Times bestselling author of Grit

“Growth mindset is more than a belief that we carry in our heads—it’s weaved into the cultures of our workplaces. Mary Murphy is a pioneering scholar of mindsets at work, and her book is not only engaging and informed by evidence—it’s a useful road map for building a learning organization and unlocking the potential in people.”
ADAM GRANT, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Potential and Think Again, and host of the TED podcast WorkLife

Cultures of Growth is a wildly important book about how we can work together better. I’m recommending it for everybody on our team.”
—ROBERT REFFKIN, entrepreneur and CEO of Compass, Inc.

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