That’s Brandon Chin’s mantra. For Brandon, fassforward's creative director, it’s a belief. “Be better” is a half-joking chide used with his team to make sure their work is at its best. It’s an outcome the creative team strives toward. And it's simple.
Those two words capture the essence of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset.
Carol Dweck is an author and professor of psychology at Stanford University. Dweck argues that our thinking falls into two camps. A fixed mindset: where people believe their intelligence and talents are innate, and a growth mindset.
You hear evidence of a fixed mindset in our language.
“She’s a born leader.”
“I’m not good at public speaking; it’s just not my thing.”
“He has natural charisma.”
This is rigid thinking, to believe that our intelligence and talents are static and permanent—that little can be done to change our abilities.
The opposite of a fixed mindset is a growth mindset, to believe that you can “be better.”
A growth mindset contains expansive thinking, where we are curious. Where we believe our talents can be developed through application and persistence.
Again, you hear it. You just don’t hear it as much.
“She’s grown into her leadership role.”
“I’m working on my storytelling skills.”
“Charisma takes practice.”
A growth mindset is about learning and can be learned. That learning takes positive reinforcement and practice. That’s what’s behind Brandon’s belief.
Do you have a fixed mindset? Take this quick test.
Developing a growth mindset requires setting your mind to “be better.”
To make that abstract more concrete, here are six practices you can build into your working routine: Fuel change through challenges, view setbacks as comebacks, value effort over ease, learn from criticism and others' success, harness the power of 'yet,' and relish the process more than the result.
View each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Work with your team to clarify the outcomes you’re working toward. That allows you to pick and set clear goals.
If you don’t know already, learn what kind of challenge people enjoy. Encourage your team to take on new projects or tasks that push their abilities.
For yourself, step to the edge of your comfort zone, not outside it. Outside your comfort zone is a place of paralysis. At the edge is where you learn and grow. Encourage your team to do the same.
Treat setbacks as temporary obstacles, not insurmountable failures.
Establish a routine of post-mortems or after-action reviews. The name doesn’t matter. Get into the collective habit of reviewing how work was done and how it could be improved.
People make mistakes. If you’re going to criticize something, critique a lack of effort instead of a mistake. Foster a team culture that views mistakes as learning opportunities, not failures.
Share stories of success—especially those people who experienced setbacks and used them as an opportunity to learn.
Hard work and persistence are more valuable than innate talent.
You see this over and over again with sports teams. The fairy-tale success stories come from hard work and perseverance rather than a team built around an all-star.
When you bring the team together, talk about and reward effort in the workplace, regardless of the results.
Great leaders teach. Encourage curiosity, continuous learning, and development within your team.
Be transparent about your personal development goals and share your progress with your team to set an example.
See constructive criticism as a source of feedback. View others' success as an inspiration, not a threat.
One of the rituals that Brandon practices with his team is the “Why it’s good” meeting. Picking a topic—web design, copywriting, PowerPoint slides, or games—the group brings outside examples of what they think is “good." Each team member will, in turn, introduce work and talk about “why it’s good.” Others in the team then build on that. This upbeat, constructive criticism reveals patterns of work that everyone can learn from.
These meetings foster a culture of constructive criticism within your team, where everyone feels safe to give and receive feedback. But don’t just seek feedback; filter it.
What’s more important than seeking feedback? How you listen to it.
Remember Henry Ford, when building the first mass-produced cars, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” There is some debate as to whether Ford said that, but the point stands—feedback is useful—to a point.
Use it to “be better.”
Don't say, "I can't do it." Say instead, "I can't do it yet."
This is the stubbornness of a growth mindset. It’s the recognition that what you do is learned, and you can learn from anywhere.
“Yet” is the ability to think differently, to look for and recognize patterns.
“Yet” is building those patterns into your work. It could be a better way of running a meeting, or making a decision, or navigating the internal politics around a project. It could be the way you produce a report or a PowerPoint.
Then, make those patterns habitual to the team. Make it a collective habit, the way you do things. It’s part of getting faster and battling bureaucracy.
Strive for the outcome, but enjoy the process.
This is, perhaps, the ultimate expression of a growth mindset. It’s building a rhythm the team can sustain—one of constant improvement.
This is where we get to what I will call The Sean Doctrine. It’s similar to The Art Doctrine in that it’s a piece of advice learned from a client. They are the best ones. It’s a smart, simple way to be better.
Sean Barry is the Vice President of Talent Acquisition at Allstate. He does something profoundly simple at his weekly team meeting. He asks a question.
“What’s better this week than last week?”
Those seven words capture Dweck’s work on a growth mindset. They are a gateway to “be better.” As the team answers, the language of the question and the answer communicates continuous improvement. It allows autonomy. Sean is not saying how to be better. His team has the agency to figure that out.
It’s a constant rhythm.
Knowing that question comes up every week means the team can celebrate small wins and progress, not just the final result. It encourages learning and reflection, not just execution.
Like all good questions, it has a follow-up.
“Who is happier, as a result?”
This is a focus on the client or customer. It’s a nod to leadership as a service. It’s knowing that your team—whatever it does—is part of a greater whole.
How do you get to be better?