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3 Tools to Shift from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset

Blog · Katie Frank


When I was 22, I was engaged to be married.  My fiancé called the wedding off two months before ‘the big day’… invitations were printed and more.  When lamenting to my therapist, I’ve never failed at anything in my life!, he astutely pointed out, If you get what you need out of this relationship, how could that be considered a failure? He had a good point.  The break-up provided me a great opportunity to reflect on how I contributed to the relationship demise and what I would like in a relationship going forward. Over time, I crafted a list of qualities I sought in a partner in my next relationship – a vision of sorts. 

Looking back, I had “failed” at plenty of things in my life to that point. Sports – specifically basketball – had afforded me many opportunities to deal with missed shots, losses, and interpersonal team challenges. Life continues to provide opportunities and chances to practice taking a loss or failure and assessing what lessons I can glean from them so I may continuously improve.  This is the heart of the growth mindset.

Taken from Carol Dweck’s fabulous book, Mindset, she shares,

“The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.  Although people may differ in every which way – in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments – everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”  The flip-side or fixed mindset is, “believing that your qualities are carved in stone and creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.”  

In mid-March when COVID-19 was ramping up and our business was winding down (read: screeching to a dramatic halt – a 95% decrease in sales), my co-managing partner, Maggie Bayless, and I were trying to rescue our business.  We had furloughed our team of 11 for at least five weeks to preserve cash. We wouldn’t be doing any training during that time, and we were unsure of what was next.

We were a 26-year-old, mature and stable business – until we weren’t.  Conducting in-person training in our training facility in Ann Arbor and traveling to work with clients across the country was not going to be happening for the foreseeable future.  We needed to shift into scrappy, start-up mode and work quickly to make our training 100% virtual.  If we were (and still are) going to survive the shifts in consumer behavior, we needed to be in the growth mindset and start with “yes.”

Here are 3 tools have been invaluable growth mindset pillars during this chaotic time:

1. Belief/Action Cycle
2. Visioning
3. Customer Feedback

1. The Belief/Action Cycle

Our beliefs have a big impact on our respective outcomes.  Bob and Judith Wright from The Wright Institute in Chicago shared this visual model with Ari, and we have continued to share it with our clients with their permission.  

The Belief-Action Cycle,
c/o Bob and Judith Wright from the Wright Institute

Here’s how the belief action cycle works: When you have a belief, it often informs some sort of associated action you take. Your actions impact the beliefs others have about you, which informs their actions.  This, in turn, reinforces your original belief. 

Here’s a fixed mindset example:

My fixed mindset belief about COVID-19 could be that it’s terrible for our in-person training business. 

My action is that I stay frustrated and mired in my grief about our current reality, and am frozen with inaction because who would buy training right now, anyway?!  My inaction impacts the ZingTrain team when we get into our weekly Huddle, and I share pessimistic views of what’s to come. After all, up to this point, we’ve only ever done in-person training!

This informs our team’s beliefs about our business prospects. 

The team starts feeling defeated and the action they take is to squander their time because it isn’t likely that people will want training and our sales remain stagnant.  Our stagnant sales reinforce my initial belief that COVID-19 is terrible for business. 

Alternatively, here’s a growth mindset example:

My growth mindset belief is that this time during COVID-19 offers us new opportunities that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.  We’ve wanted to get e-learning courses created for some time, but in pre-COVID time, our plates were full (overflowing, even) with offering seminars and delivering private training to clients.  We were hopeful that Maggie Bayless could help us create virtual offerings as soon as she stepped out of her managing partner role at the end of July 2020. 

Some action we took, once we received the PPP small business loan, was bringing a core subset of our team back to work. We talked with the team about creating virtual training workshops and e-courses that would generate revenue while we’re not training in-person. 

This belief and action informed the staff belief that we had the opportunity to create new, virtual products and that we can all work together on stabilizing our business and generate revenue. 

Our incredible team took action and as of publication of this blog, we have created and hosted 13 1-hour virtual workshops and 11 2.5-hour virtual workshops since May 7th, 2020.  On June 25th, 2020, we hosted our 3rd-annual ZingPosium in a new Live, virtual format and 100 people attended.  (Our in-person capacity for the in-person ZingPosium limits attendance to 50 people, and we are thrilled to be reaching more people in this new format!)  The progress we’ve made on creating and delivering virtual and e-learning offerings reinforces my belief that this time offers us new opportunities to expand our customer reach. We’re now able to offer training to people we wouldn’t have been able to train with otherwise (when we were training in-person exclusively), due to travel or monetary constraints. We’re also rapidly creating new offerings, and we’re able to make them available for purchase a whole year earlier than projected, pre-COVID-19.    

2. Visioning

As an organization and personally, we refer to the visioning tool when needing some stability and a sense of what is next – something to look forward to.  Here’s how we define a vision: a picture of what success looks like at a particular point in time in the future, described with enough richness of detail that we’ll know when we’ve arrived. 

We use visioning for small things, like a price change, as well as large things, like what we want the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses to look like in the year 2030. 

We learned about the visioning tool from Stas’ Kazmierski, who learned the concept of ‘Preferred Futuring’ from Ron Lippitt at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.  Ron studied problem-solving in groups, and Preferred Futuring (or visioning, as we call it) was offered as an antidote to traditional problem-solving models of being stuck in the current status quo with problems that have persisted over time. 

Visioning asks us to write in prose about what things look like when we’ve been successful.  Putting ourselves in a frame of mind where we have already been successful (vs. being stuck in our current predicament) is a game-changer.  

In our experience, a fixed mindset would be to continue to lament not being able to conduct in-person training.  A growth mindset allows us to imagine what success looks like when we have shifted gears and reimagined our 26-year-old business, and visioning is the perfect vehicle to get out of our heads what is possible.  

A passage kept coming up for me in March, as I was reflecting on our reality at ZingTrain and feeling anxious … it was part of our Zingermans-wide draft vision for 2030, in a section penned by one of our Staff Partners and long-time Zingerman’s Mail Order managers, Betty Gratopp, back in 2018.

It read:

“We deliberately practice starting at yes. Until principles tell us otherwise start at yes.  Until thoroughly investigated; start at yes.  Until numbers tell us otherwise; start at yes.  When your mind screams no, start at yes. If it makes us uncomfortable; especially start at yes. Something wonderful may be about to happen! We believe if we start at yes our creative canvas is blank and lends to more creative open-minded conversations. We believe by saying yes, our creativeness, innovation levels will increase and once momentum begins it’s easier to keep momentum than gain momentum. Yes becomes a tool to practice being open to ideas.”  

Thanks to Betty’s inspiration, starting with yes has continued to guide ZingTrain’s thoughts about what is possible, and what our preferred future looks like.  When our team came back together in late April, one of the first things we did together was draft an 8-week vision, since the PPP loan initially covered labor costs for 8 weeks.  The vision did what we’ve always known to be true – it aligned our hearts and minds about what we could get done in this short time frame, when everything felt out of control.  It was hugely gratifying to read the vision towards the end of the 8-week window and see all that we had accomplished!  Now it’s time for us to come up with our next short-term vision!

Visioning, starting with yes, and being open to what’s possible are all hallmarks of the growth mindset because they all start with the premise that we do not have all of the answers, and the work is in uncovering what is next with intention.

3. Customer Feedback

In Mindset, Carol Dweck shares,

“When assessing performance and abilities – If you’re oriented towards learning, the growth mindset, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively.  However, if everything is good news or bad news about your precious traits, the fixed mindset, distortion almost inevitably enters the picture.  People with a fixed mindset do not admit and correct their deficiencies.”

Referring back to my basketball background, I’m used to receiving performance feedback frequently and very directly.  Our team would watch game film after every game.  We received feedback every single day about our performance, and if we wanted to improve, we put that feedback into action.  I have carried that mindset into my professional life.  I want to hear from our customers good, bad, or indifferent.  We know we do not provide a perfect Zingerman’s experience with each of our customers and when we fall short, I want to know about it so we can work on not making that mistake in the future. And, importantly, get to the root of what caused the mistake in the first place.  

Within the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, we have been capturing customer feedback officially on forms for over 20 years; we call them code red and code green forms.  We want the feedback so we can get better! 

Gathering feedback and responding to our customers has allowed us to remain nimble, and this has never been more important than right now.  We’re offering training in a virtual format for the first time, and keeping a laser focus on both the learning experience of our customers and how our training content is being delivered in this new training format are critical points of feedback collected on these forms. The key indicator for how we’re doing on delivering on our mission in this new format is to regularly review our customer feedback.  

We also ask the Net Promoter questions once we wrap up our training:

1. Based on your most recent experience with ZingTrain, how likely are you to recommend ZingTrain to a friend or colleague, on a scale of 0-10, where 0 is ‘not a chance’ and 10 is ‘in a heartbeat.’  

2. What could we have done to improve your experience? 

By asking your customers for their feedback, you are asserting that you want to continue to learn and grow (trusting you do something with the feedback, of course!).  And we can track our Net Promoter score over time to take both the quantifiable and qualitative data from this survey to make improvements.


To close, I will assert that one of the best and most lasting gifts Zingerman’s Founding Partners, Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw, have given to ZingTrain (and the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses as a whole) is that of instilling a growth mindset.  Ari and Paul have long said, “We don’t have it all figured out…we are imperfect…and we hired you to help us improve.”  This frees everyone up in the organization so we don’t have to put on armor to act like we have it all figured out.  One of Zingerman’s Guiding Principles is that we’re ‘a place to learn.’  One key responsibility of an effective Servant Leader in our organization is to learn and teach.  Putting these things together in my mind, it’s become clearer to me why our staff at ZingTrain may be poised and ready to step up to meet this moment….we’ve been practicing since before the pandemic arrived.  We haven’t figured it all out and we continue to learn and grow every day.   

When training our staff, we let them know that we do not expect anyone to have all of the answers…but we do expect that they will ask for help.  From the get-go, we are communicating with our staff that learning, training, and growing are all parts of our work experience.  This is especially critical as we navigate reopening, remaking, and reimagining our businesses. This time calls for us all to be open to what is possible and not stay stuck on how things used to be.  We’re not going back to the way things were.  We are excited to make a new preferred future imperfectly together….collectively growing along the way.

I find leading in this time ripe with opportunity and I look for the gifts….especially when it’s hard.  The growth mindset allows us to shift from overwhelm into what is possible. 

Good luck on developing your growth mindset journey and feel free to share some of your learnings with us!  


Next steps:

>> Consider how your own beliefs are encouraging or stifling what is possible in work and life.

>> Consider how starting with yes and drafting a vision may help as you cultivate the growth mindset in yourself, your team and/or co-workers.

>> Consider how customer feedback allows you to be nimble and learn from your successes and ‘failures’ as you and your team continue to improve.

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