Imagine all the neural pathways in your brain to be just that – pathways. You have a thought, it traverses down a known pathway and you arrive at your conclusion.
Perhaps your paths are meandering routes through bright green paddocks dotted with bleating sheep. There’s dew glistening on the grass, the sound of gravel crunching lightly under your feet, and the crisp, fresh smell of open plains.
The more you travel along your main route, the clearer and more distinct it becomes. The longer you choose this path, your favourite and perhaps most convenient passage to arrive at your conclusion, the wider it gets.
Eventually, it begins to transform from a path, to a road, to soon a highway – no longer a picturesque path through the countryside, but now a fast-moving, efficient road polluted with the sounds of horns blaring and vehicles spewing smoke out their puttering exhaust pipes.
In the meantime, the side paths – the smaller, less established tracks you used to sometimes take – have become overgrown. The gravel track, whose only obstacles was once a few muddy patches, a rock to clamber over or the occasional a ditch to leap, has become unrecognizable. Tree roots, gnarled and twisted, have broken through the dirt; branches lean forward onto the road; brambles obscure the track and fog begins to obscure the paddock views.
Eventually, you will no longer be able to recognize and traverse these obscure roads – you will only be able to take that main highway to arrive at your conclusion.
Your brain works in a similar way. Using the same words, thought processes, and experiences to form a conclusion, the same neural pathways are strengthened. It’s like how water will flow in the same direction that the first lot of water has run, creating ravines and rivers.
When learning a new word, however, new connections among neurons are formed to comprehend the sound and spelling of the word, along with the semantics – what it means and how it fits with your experiences and knowledge.
This analogy is similar psychologist Carol Dweck’s theory of fixed versus growth mindsets, which determines a person’s outlook on development and effort.
Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that people are born with fixed abilities – they are either smart, or not; brave or not; or good at something, or not.
Individuals with a fixed mindset often repeat tasks they know they are capable of. They have a tendency to avoid challenges, and often see the possibility of failure as a threat to avoid.
It’s important to note that individuals with high IQ and high self-esteem can have fixed mindsets – they believe that they’re born smart, or good-looking, and will stay that way.
People with fixed mindsets will use the same neural highway of their brain over and over. After all, it’s been tried and tested – so why reach for the unknown?
Individuals with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and talent can be developed and improved. Understanding that the brain is like a muscle which needs to be exercises to grow, people with a growth mindset embrace challenges. They are open to and learn from criticism and failure, and they believe that effort and process is more important than the outcome.
Growth mindsets have many benefits. It’s been found that
People with growth mindsets travel the lesser known paths. Striving for information and insight, they use the main highway – it’s efficient, after all – but will make a point of traversing through those winding, lesser-used routes every now and again.
The mindset that you have, and the mindset embraced by your company, can nurture or stunt a company’s growth.
By encouraging and cultivating a growth mindset, new and diverse pathways can be traversed, resulting in unique perspectives, innovation, and opportunities to explore new and undiscovered pathways of your brain.