Career expert: build a ‘growth mindset’ with these five simple steps

If you’re following an international career path, what are the key ingredients in your recipe for success? Not so long ago, it would have been all about your qualifications and past experience.

Career expert: build a 'growth mindset' with these five simple steps
Linda Höglund of fintech company Zimpler. Photo: Zimpler

But if you still believe that, it could mean you have a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset. That’s bad news if you want a dynamic career in the 2020s at an exciting startup – or any forward-thinking international company. 

The Local has partnered with fintech company Zimpler to examine just how you can cultivate a growth mindset to help you reach your full potential in the years ahead. 

Growing versus getting stuck

Psychologist Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford University defined and explored the idea of growth mindsets and fixed mindsets in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She showed that how we think about our abilities can influence our success in work, sports, the arts, and other areas – and how those beliefs influence our behaviour.

Essentially, people with a fixed mindset believe abilities are carved in stone. Those with a growth mindset believe abilities can be developed – opening up countless new ways to flourish. Finding people with a growth mindset is crucial to the success of today’s most exciting, forward-thinking companies, says Linda Höglund, Chief People Officer at Zimpler.

“What’s interesting in scaleups or startups is that if we don’t have these people with a growth mindset, we won’t be able to progress as we want to,” she says. “We hire people who we believe have the right values. That means that if we find a great candidate with those values but we don’t have a position for them, we create one.”

To help you find your dream job, here are five steps you can follow to develop a growth mindset.

1. Proactively look for problems

Nobody likes problems. Or do they? The fact is we can’t avoid them in work or in life. Trying to avoid them, rather than confronting them, may just make things worse.

You’ve probably heard how Kodak invented the digital camera only to bury its own idea out of fear (and later went bankrupt). If you have a fixed mindset, you probably see taking on new challenges as risky – you could fail and your cherished abilities may be called into question.

Contrast this with the problem-solving attitude of Elon Musk: YouTube is full of videos where he describes staying overnight and sleeping on the Tesla factory floor or in a conference room to help find solutions when the company was at risk of failure. Research has found that leaders who take businesses to great success tend to ask questions and actively look for failures or weaknesses. Scared to even raise that perplexing work problem? Get out of your fixed mindset! 

A problem-solver for payments: Zimpler is an international payments solution, simplifying transactions between businesses and people

2. Know that power lies in improving things

Identifying problems is only the first step, of course. You’re only looking for problems because you want to make progress by being a problem-solver!

In the right culture, power lies not in claiming all the credit or undermining other people to feel strong, but in a relentless focus on improving all that you can (including yourself!). How do you identify such stars in the making? In addition to being growth-minded, Höglund says the key ingredients to look for in a new hire are energy, ideas and personality, rather than putting experience first.

“A problem-solver with a fresh background will help us look at a challenge in a new way and through that our chances of innovation vastly increase,” she adds.

Photo: Getty Images

3. Think beyond your job description

In a world where entrepreneurs and startups can go from unknowns to industry powerhouses at dizzying speed, change is a given. If you want a dynamic career, you may also need to embrace uncertainty in your day-to-day role. The way in which you can provide the most value today might change tomorrow.

“Working in a startup or fintech company where things move quickly requires a certain way of thinking and expecting change,” says Zimpler’s Höglund. “In our world, you must want to challenge yourself, so you must have a growth mindset. If you want to stick with a routine of ‘one, two, three, four, five’ because that’s your job description, it just won’t work.”

4. Remember, skills are learnable

People with fixed mindsets are very sure about who they are and what they’re good at. Too sure, in fact. Eventually, they’ll find that time and their industry moved on but they didn’t. To avoid this trap, ask yourself what you can learn from other team members. How could you give and receive feedback in a way that promotes joint learning?

It’s also worth knowing that Professor Dweck says entire organisations can also exhibit either growth or fixed mindsets. More and more companies are interested in lifelong learning. To retain the best talent, they must enable employees to learn new skills rather than remain static. And at companies where learning is in the DNA, the hunger for lifelong learning starts with managers and permeates the working culture.

5. Don’t limit your own potential!

According to Dweck, a person’s true potential is “unknowable” since it’s impossible to foresee “what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil and training”. Forward-looking employers today are shaking up how they find – and retain – employees to help people maximise their potential. Tired talk of recruitment is being replaced with ‘talent acquisition’, and some companies have introduced radical approaches to interviewing. 

At Zimpler, which is rapidly gaining new talent as it expands internationally, ambassadors carry out ‘values’ interviews with candidates before they can move forward to a more conventional interview. “By digging into their values, we learn what they’re passionate about,” says Höglund. “It can turn up things that people wouldn’t be brave enough to say in a more traditional interview.”

Some candidates – with great ideas, personality and potential – end up having a job created especially for them. By the end of 2021, Zimpler aims to have open applications on LinkedIn, so anyone can submit their CV and the company can choose how to match them with job openings.

“We feel it’s important to let the perfect candidate tell us what they can do, meaning it’s up to us to then create the job that suits just that,” says Höglund. While people living abroad sometimes feel they “can’t be too picky” about jobs, believe in your ability to shine in the right environment, she adds. “It’s about self-reflection and being brave enough to try new things and put yourself out there. That’s the key to everything in life.”

Learn more about Zimpler – a fast-growing  international fintech company owned by its employees and on a mission to simplify transactions between businesses and people

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My Swedish Career: ‘You need to win the hearts of the Swedish people to be able to succeed’

After moving from Nigeria to Sweden, Arinze Prosper Emegoakor struggled with adapting to life in Sweden while staying true to his cultural roots. Now he's starting a business with the aim of telling stories about his African culture and identity - through socks.

My Swedish Career: 'You need to win the hearts of the Swedish people to be able to succeed'
Photo: Maria Stenström

Arinze had tried living in Sweden before returning in 2011, but it was only on his second stint in the country that he felt able to settle down.

“When I was 20 years old, I travelled to the Netherlands and met my ex-wife there who is Swedish”, he recalls. “I lived in Sweden for a short period, but I couldn't stay. It was too difficult for me to adapt to the environment. But I came back, and since 2011 I have been living here in Malmö.”

After joining a kickboxing-gym in the southern city and going out every night to build a social life, Arinze joined the Pan African Movement for Justice. The organization aims for equality for people of African descent in Sweden, and it was here that he found a purpose in his adopted country.

“I got involved in the Pan African Movement for Justice and became a board member of that organization. That provided me with a strong network of people that motivated and educated me. These people are doing something positive in society. That started my journey in Sweden,” he says.

After moving, Arinze remembers struggling with his identity and finding a balance between staying connected to his roots and adapting to his new environment.

“Being raised in Africa and having lived most of my life in the western world, there was a constant struggle about what I believed in and who I was”, he notes.

“The environment in which I was raised and the Swedish norms are very different in terms of how people express [themselves] and how they see things. I want to be a contributor to this society. I don't want to sit and observe. How do I do that and still keep to my core values? How do I adapt and not attract any unnecessary attention? Being an African man while also being a member of Swedish society was hard at first.”

It was all about finding a comfortable balance, something he now thinks he's achieved: “What I did was accept who I am and who I have become. Through my journeys and my stay in Sweden, I've become a hybrid of culture and identity.”

“I cannot completely behave or act like I was in Africa because of the culture and norms in Sweden. But I still have my original values. I mixed my values with the norms of Swedish society. That is the balance.”

During his childhood in Nigeria, Arinze spent a lot of time with his grandmother, who he credits with introducing him to the power of storytelling.

“I found that the people don't usually say 'do not steal' or 'do not lie', but people tell you stories”, he says. “In this story, the thief will get what he deserves. There's a powerful message there. Through storytelling, you take up these values automatically.”

His roots in the Nigerian Igbo culture inspired Arinze to start his own sustainable bamboo sock company called Akụko. And he has put the power of storytelling at the core of the company.

Through the colourful collection of socks, he hopes to start conversations and tell the story of his culture.

“Through storytelling, movement and style esthetics, we make people curious to find out more”, he says. “The design of my first collection is inspired by a musical instrument called ogene, which is a kind of gong. In my village, it is used to call for meetings. When people want to call for a meeting they tell the town crier, and he will go around to play the ogene to gather people.”

Akụko isn't the first business Arinze has started. He learned valuable lessons after starting up an entertainment company for Afrobeat music in 2014.

“We had shows in Malmö and Stockholm. It was fun, but we failed financially”, he says. “I started to wonder: why did we fail? I found that the Swedish people aren't easily impressed, especially when you're an outsider. You have to be humble and connect to them. Win the heart of the people, connect with the society and community around your brand. Go for value and the money will come.”

Arinze hopes that his work on his second business, and its roots in his native culture, will inspire more people of African descent to follow their goals and dreams. “

If they want to start their own business they should go for it”, he says.

“They need to see more people who are like them doing positive things. We can inspire the next generation to do so, be role models. I have documented the blueprint of my journey, and I'm ready to share it with anyone that needs tips about how to crowdfund or how to start up a business. People can always contact me for support on how to realize your their goals in Sweden.”