This is Julie South and you’re listening to episode 11 of Paws Claws and Wet Noses – the kiwi veterinary podcast celebrating all creatures great and small and the fantabulous veterinary professionals who look after them all.

Over last few episodes of Paws Claws & Wet Noses you’ve heard me – and others – talk about the stress New Zealand’s veterinary professionals are under in clinics all over Godzone Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Today’s episode is about the importance of having a GROWTH MINDSET vs a FIXED MINDSET and how to use take that approach to bring about positive change in your life and veterinary clinic.  

You may have heard of the term – either you’ve got a growth mindset or you’ve got a fixed mindset.

They were coined by Carol Dwek, an American Psychologist, about 6 years ago.  Dwek earned her PhD in Social and Developmental Psychology from Yale University.

She coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs we have when it comes to learning and intelligence. 

According to Dwek, when students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.

What is the Main Difference (Growth Mindset vs. Fixed)?

The main difference between the two mindsets is the belief in the permanence of intelligence and ability

Fixed mindsetters believe that intelligence is very permanent, with little to no room for change in either direction, while growth mindsetters view it as more changeable, with opportunities for improvement (or, for that matter, regression).

These two differences in mindsets can lead to marked differences in behaviour.

For example, if you believe intelligence and ability are immutable traits, you’re unlikely to put in much effort to change your inherent intelligence or ability.  You don’t believe it’s possible so why bother.

If, however, you believe you can change, adapt and learn, you’re much more likely to be willing to put in extra time and effort to achieve more ambitious goals.

Those with growth mindsets may achieve more than others simply because they’re worrying less about seeming smart or talented so they put more of their energy into learning.

However, it takes more than simply believing you can change or improve.  According to Dwek, there are three common misconceptions:


is the attitude of “I already have it, and I always have.”   With this she warns that a growth mindset is not simply about being open-minded or optimistic or practicing flexible thinking; it’s more specific than that – effort is involved.


The second is that “A growth mindset is just about praising and rewarding effort.” Although praising and rewarding effort is generally a good idea, Dwek says it must be undertaken with an eye on outcomes as well. She warns about rewarding effort that’s unproductive – for example, giving everyone a medal just for being on the start line.  She believes that learning and progress should also be met with praise.


And the third is to “Just espouse a growth mindset, and good things will happen.” In other words, all you have to do is think positive and she’ll be right.  She says that while espousing a growth mindset is a positive step that can lead to positive outcomes, it’s not a guarantee; the mindset needs to be backed up with effort applied to worthwhile activities, and, even then, success doesn’t always happen.

Managers and leaders with a fixed mindset believe their personal success is a result of their innate talent.

Which means that, in turn, they believe low-performers are incompetent.  They’re less likely to be good mentors (after all, you either have it or you don’t). 

A leader with a super-fixed mindset can be controlling and abusive toward their colleagues and feel threatened by anyone that may threaten their innate God-given talents. 

The flip side is working with people that have growth mindsets.  These are the leaders who are always developing others because they believe ability can be developed and intelligence can be enhanced through effort.

According to Dwek’s research, there are seven things people with growth mindsets do that are different from their fixed mindset colleagues.

If you have a growth mindsets, you’ll:

  1. Believe that intelligence can be developed.
  2. Embrace challenges.
  3. Persist in the face of setbacks – that is you have resilience – we’ve talked about this before in episode 6 – it’s an inner strength important to everyone in the veterinary profession.
  4. You’ll view effort as the path to mastery.
  5. You’ll learn from constructive feedback (or criticism),
  6. You’ll find lessons and inspiration in the success of others, and you’ll
  7. Welcome challenges and view setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow.

If you’re a manager or leader who has a growth mindset, you’re more likely to cultivate and support your colleagues. 

You’ll be the one looking for and actively seeking ways things can be done better.    You’ll believe in your team – you sincerely believe that everyone can develop to their true potential, all they just need are the development opportunities. 

A growth mindset leader will help:

  • Improve collegial motivation,
  • retention,
  • loyalty,
  • collaboration,
  • innovation, and
  • creative problem solving. 

But what if, say, you work with Fixed Mindsetters?  Then what?  Are you doomed?

Fortunately, not!

Here are some of the things you can do to help fixed mindsetters to move across to the other side and start developing a growth mindset:

  1. show or help demonstrate that all experiences are important – that’s where “diversity” comes into play – the more diverse a team, the more ‘growth’ oriented it is likely to be.
  2. Encourage your colleagues to be passionate.
  3. Inspire them to act despite fear of potential consequences – and I know this is hard – especially when a consequence could be the death of a patient.  One of my favourite sayings is “but what if it does!”  By that I mean fixed mindsetters tend to think “what if it doesn’t work” – to which the response is “but what if it does!”.
  4. Encourage your colleagues to develop daily.
  5. Expect your colleagues to produce results. Expecta   tion is huge!  Let them know you expect them to succeed!  And if it doesn’t quite result in success then focus on the effort involved – not the result.
  6. Encourage your colleagues to be flexible and embrace adversity.
  7. And show them to accept all outcomes, especially when things don’t go as planned.

Michael Jordan’s thoughts on his growth mindset

How to a growth mindset in your clinic to make a difference

Right now, most veterinary clinics in Godzone Aotearoa New Zealand are severely short staffed.

And, until the borders are open, until the adoption of multidisciplinary veterinary teams becomes more ‘normal’, until Massey is able to increase its veterinary science student intake, these shortages are going to only get worse.

Rather than continue to lament about the shortages, the stresses and the trials, what if your team got together over pizza one day and threw around ideas on how you could do things differently?

What if there was no such thing as a crazy idea?  Rather than magic another hit-the-deck-running experienced veterinarian out of nowhere, what if you looked at how your clinic could be more efficient?

Centuries ago I worked in the superyacht industry.  It was a great job.  My company car was a Maserati and we built an amazing product – our cheapest boat was around $35m.  We had orders and things were looking real good.  Until some crazy people flew a couple of airplanes into a couple of tall buildings in downtown New York. 

The bottom fell out of the superyacht industry – like it fell out of lots of industries.  For a while, the world went into lockdown.

The result of that was the company I worked for needed to start saving dollars.  And fast.  The boat builders – the men and women on the front line knew where the company was inefficient.  I asked them for ideas on how to save money.

What did they see every single day that was a total waste of time and/or effort or was being done in a back to front manner that resulted in compromised productivity. 

They came up with a whole raft of inefficiencies that could the company tens of thousands of dollars and thousands and thousands of wasted manhours.

And you know what?  Management refused to consider or implement any of those changes because none of the ideas were theirs.  They came from the shop floor, not some MBA qualified head honcho in a warm office.

The company ended up going belly up.  Everyone lost their jobs.

Why am I telling you this?  Because I’d love to see your clinic sit down around pizzas one day and brainstorm how you can do things better at your place.

Carol Dwek on Leadership and the Growth Mindset

Carol Dwek at Google – a lunchtime chat

And here’s an excerpt from Carol Dweck’s talk at Google in 2017 – “Developing a Growth Mindset Culture in Organisations”  

In this short clip, Dweck talks about how people leave organisations where they’re not feeling supported.  

I think it’s more important than ever that today, right now, leaders step up and embrace the diversity of their teams, support them and ask for ideas on how they think things can be done better.   Ideas spark ideas.


And talking of asking for input – I’d like to ask you to do one thing for me and for all of Godzone’s veterinary professionals and that’s to sign the GetVets petition to help me petition our government to classify veterinarians to that of critical workers while our borders are closed because of the pandemic. 

The GetVets petition closes on the 31st of January 2021.  Your signature is 100% confidential – please visit and spread the word among your animal loving friends, rellies and whanau.  Every signature makes a difference so please help – thanks!


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