A culture, as I have written previously, is foundationally the beliefs, values, and artifacts of its people. A learning culture is an organizational culture in which beliefs, values, and artifacts support employee learning, In terms of beliefs, research is showing us that what people believe about the potential of themselves and others has a profound impact on organizations. Whether people have a fixed mind-set or a growth mind-set seems to make an important difference in their learning behavior.

In a July 8, 2008 blog post titled Fixed Mind-Set vs. Growth Mind-Set, I wrote:

Which would you rather have on your team: a high achiever who believes that people either have talent or they don’t, or a person who has a passion for learning and is willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from his/her mistakes? According to a July 7, 2008 article by Janet Rae-Dupree in NY Times, if you want to foster teamwork and creativity, you should choose the latter. The article describes the implications of the research of Stanford University Psychology Professor Carol Dweck.

In a post by Maria Popova titled, Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives, the work of Dweck, as reported in her new book, is described. Popova writes:

At the heart of what makes the “growth mindset” so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a Dweck book passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning.

Employees with a growth mindset define success as getting smarter, while employees with a fixed mindset define success as showing how smart they are. Popova goes on to say:

What it all comes down to is that a mindset is an interpretative process that tells us what is going on around us. In the fixed mindset, that process is scored by an internal monologue of constant judging and evaluation, using every piece of information as evidence either for or against such assessments as whether you’re a good person, whether your partner is selfish, or whether you are better than the person next to you. In a growth mindset, on the other hand, the internal monologue is not one of judgment but one of voracious appetite for learning, constantly seeking out the kind of input that you can metabolize into learning and constructive action.

Organizational leaders can talk about training, learning, and performance improvement all they want but unless they confront the underlying beliefs that are a barrier to learning, all of that activity will have little impact. Those with a fixed mindset do not develop themselves and do not support the development of others. They do not value training and other types of less formal learning opportunities because they don’t believe people can learn and change. They do not create and encourage learning experiences because they believe it’s a waste of time and resources.

Organizational leaders who believe that employees can learn and develop their abilities support training and other learning interventions. They provide opportunities for employees to learn and improve themselves. These growth-oriented leaders support the risk-taking, experimentation, and stretch assignments that result in more successful employees and successful organizations.