The Bridge Between Mindsets and Project Success


December 4, 2023

A growing body of research suggests that the mindsets we hold toward tasks can predict success or lack thereof (Dweck, 2016). A growth mindset is rooted in the belief that personal attributes, such as intelligence, ability, and talent, can be cultivated and enhanced through effort. Conversely, a fixed mindset is the belief that these attributes are unchangeable. Surprisingly, many of us unknowingly operate under this perspective, shaping our actions and decisions.

In our Coffee Break Webinar, Change Your Mind, Change Your Project: Adopting a Growth Mindset for Annual Reporting, we delve into the pivotal role your mindset plays in the triumph of grant initiatives, particularly during the critical phase of annual reporting. This blog serves as a distilled resource, synthesizing the insights shared during the webinar. Here, we dissect the fundamental traits distinguishing fixed from  growth mindsets, illuminate their far-reaching implications in the realm of grant work, and offer actionable tips for nurturing and embracing a growth mindset.

Proving Vs. Improving: The Lens Underscoring Our Mindset

In our Now What? How to Use Findings for Continuous Improvement webinar, we introduced the concept of proving vs. improving within the context of grant-funded work. This innovative perspective originates with Bill Walsh, the renowned former coach of the San Fransisco 49ners , who, through his book, The Score Takes Care of Itself (Walsh et al., 2010), urges us to shift our focus in order to obtain our goals. Instead of fixating on the mere score (the proof), Walsh advocates concentrating on the essential elements that contribute to the proof of success (improving). By emphasizing the process of improvement, the outcomes naturally fall into place.

What makes this approach even more potent is its synergy with the principles of a growth mindset as illuminated in contemporary literature. In her 2016 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, a leading researcher of growth mindset, addresses growth mindset by stating “…I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves – in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships…why waste time proving over and over how great you are when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?”

So What? Why Does Your Mindset Really Matter?

Another concept that emerged through the webinar is the profound influence of mindsets in creating meaningful systems. According to Dweck, “...some beliefs are not isolated ideas but rather can serve an organizing function” (Dweck, 2019). Another notable researcher in growth mindsets, Ryan Gottfredson, aptly characterizes mindsets as, “…a lens we use to interpret the world”(Gottfredson, 2020). Just as mindsets influence our worldview, they significantly impact our work too. More than just abstract ideas, mindsets carry tangible behavioral consequences that reverberate throughout our projects and initiatives. Understanding the pivotal role of mindsets is akin to wielding a transformative tool that empowers us to navigate challenges and shape the success of our endeavors as researchers and visionaries.

Fixed Mindset in the Face of Annual Reporting: What Are the Challenges?

We’ve seen the challenges and dread that project teams often face during the annual reporting process. Through our close collaboration with a plethora of teams, we’ve noticed specific behaviors that occur throughout the project year that exacerbate the complexities of this crucial process. Unsurprisingly, these behaviors are stark indicators of a fixed mindset, and recognizing these patterns is pivotal in transforming the annual reporting experience from a daunting task into a platform for growth and success.

  1. Avoiding Challenges: If you've been down the grant-funded project road before, you're well aware of the inevitable hurdles: partnerships don’t always materialize as planned, bureaucracy can be overwhelming, and plans are subject to frequent shifts. In the face of these challenges, those with a fixed mindset tend to struggle. They hesitate to embrace these emergent issues and as a consequence, these challenges can snowball into far more complex and problematic situations. It's the flexibility and resilience fostered by a growth mindset that allows for swift adaptation and proactive problem-solving, preventing these challenges from escalating into major setbacks.
  2. Ghosting Team Members: It's entirely natural to hesitate when things deviate from the plan, and you might find yourself reluctant to burden your team with what seems like bad or repetitive news. However, in these moments, silence can be detrimental. When you refrain from reaching out, neglect follow-ups, or avoid communication, you inadvertently miss crucial opportunities to problem-solve and miss hidden opportunities. Effective communication (especially with your evaluator ) even when the news is challenging, is the key to unlocking solutions and discovering potential avenues for growth and improvement.
  3. Minimizing the Continuous Learning Process: Too often, we've seen project teams missing two fundamental points: 1) the significance of consistently absorbing information and 2) the recognition that data collection should be an ongoing, iterative process, not an isolated event. By disregarding this practice, valuable insights might be overlooked, and essential data that could illuminate potential solutions might be inadvertently neglected. Embracing a continuous learning approach, where data collection is persistent and valued, ensures that no information is pushed aside.
  4. Magnifying Positives: Essentially, this means lacking an accurate assessment of your current situation. When you exaggerate successes and downplay challenges, you create a skewed perception. Consequently, this makes it difficult to grasp the reality of your circumstances. Without a clear understanding of your status, determining the next steps becomes ambiguous, making it hard to discern what additional resources might be necessary to pull into the project.

The culmination of these behaviors often results in angst, especially during the annual reporting process, where you suddenly find yourself facing the daunting task of explaining the events and outcomes of the grant and painting a clear, honest picture of the grant's journey.

5 Tips for Adopting a Growth Mindset

Transitioning from a fixed to a growth mindset is undoubtedly a gradual process, but it's entirely achievable. Here are five actionable tips to help you embrace a growth mindset:

  1. Understand Your Fixed Mindset Triggers: Acknowledge the situations or thoughts that trigger your fixed mindset tendencies. Being aware of these triggers is the first step to change.  
  2. Sit With Challenges Even if Remedies Remain Unclear: Resist the urge to rush into finding answers, rather stay in the “problem space.” Taking time to understand the challenge thoroughly can lead to more thoughtful and innovative solutions later on.
  3. Build a Team with Diverse Perspectives: Embracing diverse perspectives enhances the idea-generation process. Different outlooks can provide unique insights, fueling creativity and problem-solving.
  4. Establish Project-Level Structure: Create a structured framework for your projects, including regular team meetings and feedback sessions. Having this organizational structure alleviates the pressure of producing monumental updates. It encourages continuous dialogue and incremental progress, fostering a sense of collective growth.
  5. Identify Individuals with Whom You Feel Safe to Share Your Struggles: Having a supportive network allows you to openly discuss challenges, seek advice, and receive encouragement. A safe space nurtures vulnerability, which is essential for personal and collective growth.

By implementing these strategies, you can gradually shift your mindset, embracing a more open, adaptive, and growth-oriented perspective.

Additional Resources

Webinar: Get A Grip! Tips to Ease Annual Report Anxiety

Webinar: Optimizing Success: Strategies to Leverage Program Evaluation for Project Implementation

Webinar: Don’t Tell Me I Have to Write That: 4 Tips to Reduce the Grant Proposal Frenzy


Dweck, C.S. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Random House.

Dweck, C.S., & Yeager, D.S. (2019). Mindsets: A View from Two Eras. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(3), 481-496.

Gottfredson, R. (2020). Success Mindsets: Your Kets to Unlocking Greater Success in Your Life, Work, & Leadership. New York, NY: Morgan James Publishing.

Walsh, B., Jamison, S., & Walsh, C. (2010). The score takes care of itself: My philosophy of leadership. Portfolio.