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Growth Mindset: A must for our students to prepare for an unpredictable future – Prof. Rashmi Jha

12th March 2024

                                           If you never fail, you’ll never learn to succeed.

Our Iceberg Is Melting, a fantastic book by John Kotter about “managing successful change,” managed to catch my attention at a developmental program intended for senior leaders in my former company. For many years, Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School, has written on the subjects of leadership and “successful change.”

The story of an Antarctican colony of Emperor Penguins is told in Our Iceberg Is Melting. The colony has lived on the same iceberg for many generations, so it makes sense that they would consider it to be their permanent home. Then, one day, Fred, a naturally inquisitive penguin, discovers with dismay that their iceberg is melting, putting the life of the entire colony in jeopardy.

The story that follows tells the story of how the penguins handle the approaching catastrophe and the forced shift. It’s a tale of triumph over adversity, bravery, fear, resistance to change, and denial. It also involves penguin politics. Our Iceberg Is Melting is a tale that, while it was initially written with the business community firmly in mind, can also be easily adapted to dealing with change and transition on a more personal level. Not just a tool for the corporate world’s alchemists, the “Management Consultants,” to take use of!

The Penguins’ Ensemble
The following is the penguin protagonists’ major cast:

The first person to discover that an iceberg is melting is Fred, the inquisitive, perceptive, and inventive bird.

One of the ten leaders of the Penguin Leadership Council is Alice. a hardy and pragmatic bird that has a reputation for finishing tasks, yet it can also be easily agitated and impatient.
Louis, the Head Penguin of the colony, is an experienced, patient man. head of the council of penguins.
Buddy is a popular, dependable, and well-liked member of the colony. A kind-hearted penguin with a boyish appearance.

Jordan, also known as The Professor. A well-read, critical, and thoughtful penguin. Extremely knowledgeable, but his rational, scientific tirades had a way of annoying the other penguins.

NoNo-There are no rewards for figuring out this penguin’s most important quality! a pessimistic, resistant to change, and hostile penguin who tries to thwart other penguins’ attempts to question the status quo.

The story ends with the following eight distinct, broadly applicable “lessons” for effectively managing and implementing change: Create a Sense of Urgency, Establish a Guiding Team, Develop a Change Vision, Communicate the Vision, Empower Others to Act, Short-Term Wins, Maintain Momentum, and Embed the New Culture. These are the various trials and tribulations faced by the penguin colony.

Apart from the eight essential lessons encapsulated in the penguin story, Kotter’s scholarly investigation over time has also uncovered multiple other significant revelations via this narrative. However, the most significant and intriguing aspect that resonates with me is the “Tool for Self-Analysis,” which invites us to contemplate our own lives and subsequently employs these questions to guide our own journeys towards transformation and individual growth:
Do I inhabit an iceberg that is melting?
In my life, where are the icebergs?
In my life, who are the Freds, Alices, Buddys, and NoNos?
Which penguin am I?

And thus, Kotter’s penguin story transcends its initial lessons. He proposes it as a valuable self-analysis tool. Through key questions like “Which penguin am I?”, individuals can assess their roles within a team, identify potential roadblocks (“icebergs”), and ultimately guide their own growth and transformation. Overall, Kotter’s analysis highlights the rich potential of the penguin story beyond its surface lessons. It becomes a tool for self-discovery and a catalyst for growth for individuals and organizations alike.
Self-reflection is key to growth! By reflecting on experiences, we can understand ourselves better, strengths & weaknesses. This self-awareness fuels a growth mindset, helping students learn more and develop empathy for others.

Wanting approval can trap you in a “stuck” mindset. Fear of failure keeps you from trying. A growth mindset flips this – trying is essential, even if you don’t succeed. “I could have been” becomes a motivator to push forward, not an excuse. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, who developed the growth mindset theory, “The worst fear within the fixed mindset is the idea of trying and still failing — of leaving yourself without excuses.” You can always say, “I could have been,” without really trying. But you can’t say that anymore after you try. This kind of thinking is problematic because it keeps you from making a sincere effort to succeed. However, it is “nearly inconceivable to want something badly, to think you have a chance to achieve it, and then do nothing about it” in the growth mindset community. The “I could have been” is devastating rather than consoling when it occurs (Dweck 43–44).

In The New Psychology of Success: Mindset “Mindsets are beliefs—beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities,” according to Dweck. She goes on to say, “Changing one’s mindset is more than just grabbing a few tips here and there.” It’s about gaining fresh perspective on things. People shift from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn one when they adopt a growth mindset. This includes couples, coaches and athletes, managers and workers, parents and children, instructors, academicians and students. Their goal is to expand, and that requires a lot of time, energy, and support from one another. Dweck (2007), page 238

Fixed mindset = memorize, avoid challenges, blame failure on lack of ability. Growth mindset = understand, embrace challenges, learn from mistakes, seek help to improve. This leads to better grades for students.

Growth mindset examples

It is worthwhile to illustrate some instances of the two opposing viewpoints in order to gain a deeper understanding of what a growth mindset entails.

SituationFixed mindset approachGrowth mindset approach
You get a very high grade on an examGreat! I must be really intelligent in this areaGreat! I must have worked hard and learned a lot
You’re starting a new assignment or projectI hope this will be easy for meI hope this will be interesting!
You get negative feedback on your workOh no! This proves I’m no good at thisOkay, I need to get back to work and learn more

[Source :  open step from the University of Groningen]

According to psychologist Carol Dweck of Stanford University, individuals with a “growth mindset”—a belief in the capacity of the brain to learn and adapt—are more likely to persevere through difficulties, look for opportunities for improvement, and be resilient in the face of failures. Businesses, organizations, and athletes have embraced the idea and are working to inculcate a development mindset in their spheres of expertise.

We’ll examine the research in this section, as well as the distinctions between growth and fixed mindsets and the opinions of others.

Source : Tanaka Juuyoh / Flickr

Growth mindset builds on neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change. The more you practice something (like presentations!), the stronger the brain connections, making it easier over time. Stop practicing, and those connections weaken. Use it or lose it!

Today’s scientific and technical advancements were not foreseen in many cases. Boundaries are continually being blurred and the way the world functions is continuously changing. As educators, our goal should be to create learners who are holistic and ready for life in the twenty-first century and beyond, whatever that may entail. Having a growth mindset is one way to get ready for such an uncertain future.

Source: Francesca Affleck, 2018

Growth mindset needs curiosity, critical thinking, risk-taking, communication, and teamwork to thrive. Academic community need to work together to build this kind of learning environment.

How to Inculcate a Growth Mindset

Dweck offers a few easy action steps that help adopt a different style of thinking.

Step 1. Listen to yourself.  For example, can you hear yourself questioning whether you have the skills or talent for a project? Do you worry that you’ll fail and that people will look down on you? When you think about taking on a new challenge, do you resist for fear of failing? These are all signs you might have a fixed mindset: doubting your skills, fearing failure/judgment, and resisting challenges.

Step 2. Recognize that you have a choice. Setbacks = roadblocks (fixed mindset) or learning opportunities (growth mindset). Choose growth for success!

Step 3. Challenge your fixed mindset.  For example, if you’re facing a challenge and you think, “I’m not sure I can do this. I don’t think I’m smart enough,” then challenge this fixed mindset by responding with, “I’m not sure if I can do it and I may not get it right the first time, but I can learn with practice.”

Step 4. Take action. Think of it like practicing the violin or your hoop shot: nobody does it perfectly the first time. When you make a mistake, try to see it as a chance to learn.

Final thoughts

Switching to a growth mindset is tough, but necessary. Teachers especially need to embrace learning new things (like tech!) to keep up with students and effectively guide them in a digital world. Reflecting on my teaching, I see technology keeps me engaged in learning. But to truly adapt, both teachers and students need a growth mindset. Studies show this boosts motivation and a belief in our ability to learn and grow. For instance, Burgoyne et al. (2018) discovered a strong correlation between locus of control and mentality. They proposed that training in a growth mindset could improve self-determination, challenge-approach motivation, and internal locus of control.


Affleck, F., 2018. Enabling Innovation Through Mindset: Private Schools in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Burgoyne, A.P., Hambrick, D.Z., Moser, J.S. and Burt, S.A., 2018. Analysis of a mindset intervention. Journal of Research in Personality77, pp.21-30.

Dweck, C.S., 2007. The perils and promises of praise (Vol. 65, No. 2, pp. 34-39). Ascd.

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