The Growth Mindset of Arts Entrepreneurs: An Essential Element in Creating Success

With summer behind us and everyone back in the saddle at work or at school, this is a great opportunity to start off the new year with a new mindset.

Whether I am teaching conservatory music students, working with arts leaders or coaching individual clients, my project is the same: how can I help you to create authentic success and fulfillment in your professional, personal and creative lives?

The baseline for all of these people is a wealth of talent and intelligence. And according to recent research by Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University, your perception of what to do with that talent and intelligence is a key factor in determining how successful you will be.

As Dr. Dweck describes and documents in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, successful people adopt a “growth” mindset whereby they dig in, work hard and do whatever it takes to create success and do not simply rely on “talent”.  The growth mindset inspires risk-taking, experimentation, the willingness to stumble, and even “fail” and to persist in order to create success. This is in contrast to the “fixed” mindset where people hold onto their talent for dear life as the proof of whether they can be successful.

Growth Mindset
The growth mindset stems from a belief that you can cultivate your talent and intelligence through hard work, experimentation and growth. Your talent and intelligence may be the starting point, but success comes as a result of effort, learning, and persistence. Those with a growth mindset are more resilient, work harder, embrace collaboration with others and as a result achieve greater success than those with a fixed mindset because they are motivated by the desire to grow and learn.
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Fixed Mindset
Those with a fixed mindset believe that you are either born with talent and intelligence or you are not which means you cannot change how talented or smart you are. The consequence is that you do not want to rock the boat and you are afraid to take risks and make mistakes because then it means you really are not talented.

And the fascinating conclusion that Dr. Dweck’s research confirms is that those with a fixed mindset are less “successful” than those with a growth mindset.

Here’s why:
As Dr. Dweck explained in a recent interview, the growth mindset is essential for creating success in today’s world because “you cannot keep up with all the changes that are happening if you are not committed to growing.” You need a mindset that is curious and open to learning and believes that you can improve throughout your life. It’s about working hard and putting in the effort and practicing and achieving mastery as opposed to believing that you are talented and that talent will get you places.

In my experience, I observed this mindset in action:

Successful Music Entrepreneurs
Successful musicians in today’s tumultuous environment including some outstanding alumni of the Yale School of Music who display the mindset of success and work tirelessly, persistently and passionately to create their unique place in the music field. A few examples of recent YSM alumni who are creating success in numerous arenas, include:

  • So Percussion, the talented percussion ensemble that is a model of entrepreneurial success;
  • Composer Missy Mazzoli, who writes for and performs with a dedicated ensemble and whose music is widely performed throughout the world;
  • Guitarist James Moorewho performs on a wide-variety of instruments with his own ensemble and with other artists and composers;
  • Owen Dalby, co-founder and  artistic director of De Coda, New York’s trailblazing society of chamber musicians who perform, teach and do community outreach;
  • Ashley Bathgate, the cellist of Bang on a Can, who peforms with a wide variety of ensembles and commissions new music
  • Tina Hadari, founder of community-based Music Haven that provides tuition-free lessons and performances opportunities for the underserved,

Class Projects
In my music entrepreneurship class at Yale, my students take on a semester project where they do something they have never done before and go outside of their comfort zones. The goal is to feel free to experiment, focusing on the learning experience and not on achieving “perfect” results.

Students report that being liberated from the need to be perfect freed them up to try things out and keep on going until they achieved success. Projects included:

  • Self-produced concerts in a variety of venues for new audiences
  • Launching new ensembles
  • Creating new businesses
  • Generating an on-line teaching website
  • Commissioning new work
  • Raising funds through Kickstarter to commision work for unusual instrumentation

Arts Leadership
Most recently, I shared the growth mindset concept with the 2014 Opera America Leadership Intensive participants and invited them to do experiments with the various leadership concepts that we learned to see how willing they were to go out of their comfort zone and test their new leadership skills:

Among the results of these experiments were the following:

  • I now embrace challenges rather than defaulting to the “low hanging fruit”
  • I assert my ideas more confidently and do not depend on others for guidance
  • I embrace my passion and am not ashamed to show it to others
  • I am now committed to personal creative experimentation as a way of recharging
  • I actively cultivate opportunities to be in Flow more often
  • I use my strengths for leadership and am able to appreciate the strengths of others, rather than being intimidated that I lack certain strengths
  • I stand up for my values and use them in my life

So take a page from these success-oriented arts entrepreneurs and open yourself a mindset of growth.  Next time, we will explore how to do this.

*Photo Credits: flickr/johnjack; 123RF/photobuay