With the light click of a key, I open the door to my brand-new dental start-up. As I walk inside, I travel across brand-new carpet. The smell of fresh paint still lingers in the hallways . . .
As I begin my day, these things remind me of what it took to get here. The hunt for this practice was real—a marathon and a sprint combined. For more than a year, I looked for a practice to purchase without luck. I then decided that if my dream practice didn’t exist, I would build it.
I found a building space that needed some TLC and I renovated it. Within six weeks after signing the lease, my practice opened its doors. And now, standing in a beautiful space just weeks after our opening day, the fear of failure is real. But what I’ve learned is this: this fear can stop my business in its tracks, or it can be the very thing that fuels the rocket ship.
In a TED Talk entitled The Power of Believing That You Can Improve, Carol Dweck discusses a school in Chicago that has a unique approach to grading its students. For students who do not pass a course, they are given a grade of “Not yet.”1 Dweck talks about how this simple mindset change transformed the school’s graduation statistics for the better. Dweck has devoted her life to researching motivation and something called a growth mindset. The basic principle is this: People with a growth mindset use failure as a jumping off point to learn and improve. They are taught to value trying over succeeding. People with a growth mindset are different than those with a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset internalize their failures. When they fail, they believe it is due to an internal cause: an unchangeable lack of talent.
As a new dentist-owner, teaching and implementing a growth mindset in my practice is imperative. I believe it is important for all new dentists too. But it is harder than it seems. A growth mindset is not binary—it is not something you either have or you don’t.2 It is something that you develop over time. You have to constantly remind yourself that failing is actually a mechanism for learning. In fact, you learn not to cope with failure, but to relish it. This is the foundation for a growth mindset.
Companies like Microsoft have implemented plans to foster growth mindsets in their teams. To do this, they have changed language,3 roles,4 and expectations.5 You can do the same in your practice by doing the following:
Invest in your team—Believing in a growth mindset is believing that talent can be developed. So, it is our job as leaders to develop it. Take your team to continuing education experiences that will help them thrive in their roles. You can even encourage them to learn about duties beyond their current job descriptions.
Redefine failure—If your team equates failure with punishment, they will be discouraged to try new things. But if they are shown that failure by way of effort is a normal and expected stop on the path to success, they will push against boundaries to create growth. If their efforts do not yield success in their first go-round, fostering the idea of pivoting and “failing forward” can help bring about positive growth for your practice.
Start at the top—The most important part of creating a growth mindset in your practice is to ensure that the leadership also practices what it preaches. So, the next time a marketing technique does not work or a system is implemented incorrectly, add the words “not yet” to the end of your sentence. Train yourself to fail forward too.
Successfully developing a culture that has a growth mindset can change the course of a business. Research shows that in companies that intentionally adopt a growth mindset, managers see more leadership potential in their employees.6 In addition, talent is developed across the board with better results.6 A growth mindset culture creates a psychologically safe environment for your team to try new things and push the business forward. It encourages employees to approach leadership to pivot proactively when things do not go as planned. The alternative is a practice in which team members cannot come to the doctor with failures or move past those failures. Even worse, it could be a situation where no one tries hard enough to fail in the first place.
Adapting a growth mindset is neither easy nor an instantaneous event, but the path to embracing this way of thinking has the potential to revolutionize your business and your role as a leader.
1. Dweck C. The power of believing that you can improve. TED website. https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en. Published November 2018. Accessed September 17, 2018.
2. Grant H, Slaughter M, Derler A. 5 Mistakes Companies Make About Growth Mindsets. Harvard Business Review website. https://hbr.org/2018/07/5-mistakes-companies-make-about-growth-mindsets?utm_medium=email. Published July 23, 2018. Accessed June 25, 2018.
3. Dweck C. Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset.’ Education Week website. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html. Published September 22, 2015. Accessed June 25, 2018.
4. Hogan K, Dweck C. How Microsoft Uses a Growth Mindset to Develop Leaders. Harvard Business Review website. https://hbr.org/2016/10/how-microsoft-uses-a-growth-mindset-to-develop-leaders. Published April 21, 2017. Accessed June 25, 2018.
5. Krakovsky M. The Effort Effect. Stanford Alumni website. https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=32124. Published March/April 2017. Accessed June 25, 2018.
6. Gross-Loh C. How Praise Became a Consolation Prize. The Atlantic website. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/12/how-praise-became-a-consolation-prize/510845/. Published December 16, 2016. Accessed June 25, 2018.
Amisha Singh, DDS, serves on the Colorado Dental Association house of delegates, on the American Dental Association dental wellbeing advisory committee, and on the Metro Denver Dental Society and CDA membership councils. She is the CDA new dentist committee chair-elect for Colorado. She is also a blogger and professional speaker who works with IgniteDDS to inspire other dental professionals and provide them with resources to be the best clinicians possible. Dr. Singh practices in Parker, Colorado, at Smile Always Dental.