Behind the scene: Our brain and fixed vs. innovative mindset

Our brain is like a muscle – it changes and gets stronger as you learn. The brain forms new connections and ‘grows’ whenever you practice and learn new things. The more you challenge your brain, the more your brain cells grow. As a result, things that we used to consider hard or impossible – like learning programming or a new language, seems to become easy. The result is a stronger more capable brain (3, 7).


Everyone can develop one’s mind by challenging it the right way. As children we all have extreme urge to learn. We are not discouraged by mistakes or humiliation. We stand, we fall, get up and try to walk again till we succeed. When our development reaches the point when we start to evaluate ourselves and compare with others that is the point when our mindset may shift from the discovery oriented to fixed one – to the mindset of fear (3, 11).

Fixed mindset may generate the belief that any mistake may expose that we are not smart or talented. If we associate the challenges with a test that will determine our intelligence or talent, we will limit the choice of challenges to those that we consider easy, that we are convinced we will succeed in. Fixed mindset makes us believe that our intelligence and qualities are already determined and we need to constantly prove their level. Within the mindset, effort, as much as a failure means that you are not smart or talented. Hence, it is better to avoid challenges or learning experiences to avoid exposing any weaknesses (3).

Imagine that you just received a result of important test in a subject you are not comfortable with – physics/literature/sport. Unfortunately, your result was unsatisfactory. What would be your first conclusion?

1/ I am hopeless in … physics/literature interpretation/sport

2/ I am a total failure

3/ I failed that test. I need to find a way to do better next time.

The first two reactions are typical responses of a fixed mindset. Negative performance leads automatically to negative labels. Furthermore, it will lead to 1/ avoidance of challenges in that area to protect your confidence, and/or 2/ seeing all future failures in the area through the lens of that belief, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I failed because I’m hopeless in …., I didn’t succeed because I’m a total failure. Those may lead to highly unproductive and/or often unethical behaviours to cover the lack of confidence caused by the self-label; trying to earn external positive recognition to compensate for the self-belief that you have no potential to reach the positive result on your own – i.e. cheating, discrediting achievements of your colleagues etc.

The attitude is common, both in a workplace and in private life. We tend to hide our shortcomings and lack of knowledge to avoid negative judgement, labels or loose of status. Meanwhile, meaningful contributions to innovation are born from curiosity, long term learning and deep understanding. That’s the base of innovative mindset.

In the innovative mindset people believe that:

  • Intelligence and qualities can be cultivated and that innate qualities are just the starting point for development. It is your efforts, strategies and support of others that will decide if you reach your true potential which is unknown at the beginning,
  • Mistakes and setbacks are learning opportunities, a source of information and innovation. They are bumps on the road or wake up calls that give a chance to re-evaluate previous strategies, make adjustments or define and obtain help/resources needed to solve the problem,
  • Passion to stretching themselves and sticking to it even, or especially, when things don’t go well is crucial for reaching important goals,
  • Change is a fuel, not an obstacle,
  • We all have the power to create change and impact on those around us,
  • Success is in doing your best, learning and improving,
  • We don’t need full information to begin.

In opposition to the fixed mindset, innovators treat failure as a chance to improve and every challenge as a chance to learn. They don’t see value in performing easy tasks, which won’t bring anything new. They constantly strive to improve, make positive impact and solve current and future problems. For innovative mindset failing a test is just failing a test. It is a wakeup call that you need to study or practice more or that the way you have studied was not the correct one. You can even see it as a highly positive situation. Well, it’s just a test at the beginning of the year…now I know what I need to improve to crush it at the final exam! People with innovative mindset cultivate their natural tendency to learn. They are still not afraid to fall, get up, try different strategy and fall again. They understand that it takes time and effort for potential to thrive.

It really doesn’t mean they do not get upset when things go wrong or that they do not get depressed. For everyone failure can be a painful experience. The key to innovative mindset is to make sure you do understand it does not define you. That the problem has to be faced, taken care of and learned from (3).