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February 26, 2014

The Secret Sauce of Successful Entrepreneurs? It’s All in Their Head.

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This  post originally appeared on Entrepreneur.

The boom and bust nature of Silicon Valley startups often results in entrepreneurs being viewed simplistically as “successes” or “failures” based on the outcome of their startups.  However, the real key to success is ones mindset, which allows entrepreneurship to be viewed as a journey rather than a distinct outcome.

As Stanford Psychology Professor and renowned author Carol Dweck writes in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, a person’s mindset is the better predictor of success.  People with a fixed mindset see their abilities as a fixed trait, while people with a growth mindset see them as malleable.  As a result, the two mindsets react very differently to failure and success.

Fixed mindsets attribute failure to a lack of innate ability, get beaten down by it and become much more risk averse and self-conscious.  On the other hand, entrepreneurs with growth mindsets are better suited for the startup rollercoaster ride, as they learn from their experiences and don’t attribute failure to a fixed trait. This leads them to be able to analyze problems more deeply and bounce back more effectively.  In a growth mindset, there is a lot of truth in the saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It also happens to make you smarter.

Perennially innovative companies like Google, Apple, Disney and Amazon are distinguished by a learning culture that fosters curiosity, innovation and encourages risk taking.  These companies realize that learning generates its own unpredictable rewards — rewards you will miss if you aim only at specific, measurable goals and disregard the roles of effort.

As a growth-mindset entrepreneur, you see your company’s success as an incremental aggregate of many little ideas contributed by you and your team. Every new positive or negative data point should raise more questions.  Why did customers like this product so much?  Was this luck?  The growth mindset engenders continuous innovation and improvement even in the face of success.

So how do you cultivate a growth mindset?

First, don’t label yourself by what you’ve accomplished or already learned.  Rather, identify with what you are learning, want to learn and the learning process itself.  Embrace the step backward as much as the step forward. Praise yourself and your team for efforts made and lessons learned.  Don’t focus praise on just the outcomes (no matter how great they are).  Recognizing milestones is fine but emphasize and learn from the effort it took to achieve them.

Affirmations about what “you are” can actually prevent a growth mindset.  They put you in a fixed state that keeps you from striving for change.  Don’t think, “I am a success, because of x.”  Instead think “I succeeded, because…”

Think of your failures in the past tense and as ephemeral events.  This hardens and sustains your resilience — a defining characteristic of the successful entrepreneur.

The growth mindset acknowledges luck’s role in past successes and highlights the role of hard work and resilience.  Success and failure are both by-products of the learning journey and both teach valuable lessons.

Fixed-mindset entrepreneurs are rigidly self-defined by their results and accomplishments.  Growth-mindset entrepreneurs are never self-defining. Instead, they embrace the journey and trust results will follow. Growth mindset entrepreneurs will undoubtedly show long-term resilience, repeated innovation and the necessary drive for future enduring success.