People with a ‘growth mindset’ are better problem-solving – here are 4 ways to develop one, according to experts

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A growth mindset is when you have an evolving arsenal of interests and passions. Martin Steinthaler/Getty Images
  • People with healthy growth mindsets are often more curious and motivated to learn new things.
  • Researchers from Yale-National University of Singapore say this mindset can be developed with practice.
  • Instead of expecting to simply ‘find’ your passions, make an intentional effort to nurture and develop them.
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If the pandemic taught us one thing, it’s that problem solving is a severely underrated skill. However, it’s often not something we’re actively taught in school or encouraged to learn through trial and error. Still, research from Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) suggests that we can improve problem solving skills with something called a “growth mindset.”

What are growth mindsets?

People with growth mindsets see interest or a spark of curiosity as something that can be developed, explains Paul O’Keefe, assistant professor of psychology at Yale-NUS.

“By understanding interest is [a] thing that develops over time, maybe with interaction with getting involved with commitment, [growth mindsets] build over time and grow and become interests,” said O’Keefe.

O’Keefe’s team’s 2021 study builds on earlier work. Their research thus far suggests that the benefits of cultivating growth mindsets are plentiful, including adaptability, innovative thinking, and problem solving.

How to develop a growth mindset

If you went to a liberal arts school, you may already be further along than you think, since liberal arts education focuses on broadening students’ knowledge with a foundation in a variety of disciplines. This supports the growth theory of interest from an educational standpoint.

In contrast, O’Keefe’s research indicates that students who believe their interests lie in limited areas are “not as inclined to see how outside areas of knowledge can be connected and integrated with their existing interests.”

1. Feed your curiosity

People with growth mindsets are often more curious and motivated to learn. When you don’t know something and absolutely have to know it, chances are you Google it. In The Science of Interest, O’Keefe and Harackiewicz say “interest” can be sparked by a desire to fill gaps in our knowledge.

Whether you’re looking up why clouds are shaped a certain way or watching YouTube tutorials on how to play the harmonica, you’re doing it because you don’t know and you want to know.

2. Rethink “finding your passion”

Have you ever noticed how influential figures talk about “finding your calling”? Well, it turns out the idea that your passion is just there, waiting for you to find it if you look hard enough, is simply not true.

O’Keefe’s research calls this idea (of a passion waiting to be found) a “fixed mindset of interests.” People with fixed mindsets of interest believe that their interests are already there, inherent within them, they just need to be revealed.

Erik Weisz didn’t wake up and realize he was a magician overnight; he spent years practicing and developing tricks before he became Harry Houdini. In reality, instead of finding our passions, we need to take the time and effort to nurture them.

3. Become a ‘t-shaped’ person

Although great things can come from developing one expertise, O’Keefe stresses that the potential for innovation when you color outside the lines is tremendous.

“Once we start to expand our focus outside of our silo of say, interests, we start to understand the value of other information,” said O’Keefe. “And we begin to see connections between what we know already from our own interests, and connecting it to new interests.”

“One of the things they do at their organization is that they hire people who they call ‘T-shaped’ people.” T-shaped people have a singular pillar of expertise or interest with broader interests. “They might not be experts in another area, but they certainly have some basic knowledge, some interests that are far-reaching.”

4. Look at your work environment

At an organizational level, growth mindsets can be underestimated. Think of the old-school finance giant that hired the best of the best in marketing, sales, finance, etc. Those hires went on to compose tighter groups of highly specialized professionals.

But when you hire diverse teams, “you don’t get people who are all just thinking from one discipline,” explained O’Keefe. “You’re getting people who have been exposed to different ideas.”

What’s more, you can’t be the “logical” person of the team who looks down on the “artsy” person in the group. People with growth mindsets value being around people they can learn from. So, the next time you’re at a conference or networking event, rather than seek out the people you’d have the most in common with, branch out and talk to the person you’d never ordinarily cross paths with. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.