The issues facing today’s world are increasingly complex and dynamic. Solving big problems requires people to draw upon and integrate seemingly disparate areas of knowledge, such as the arts and the sciences. This ability to combine knowledge from diverse fields is critical for generating effective, innovative solutions to tackle local and global problems. A new study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes found that having a so-called “growth mindset of interest” can spark this type of innovation.
Previously, the researchers established people with a growth mindset of interest believe that interests can be developed and cultivated, while those with a fixed mindset of interest tend to believe that interests are inherent and simply need to be ‘found.’ People with a growth mindset are more open to areas outside of their core, pre-existing interests than people with a fixed mindset.
Building on these findings, the latest research examined how a growth mindset of interest can boost integrative thinking across the traditional disciplinary boundaries of arts and sciences.
The study found that a growth mindset of interest can in fact increase people’s ability to generate ideas that bridge their well-established area of interest (such as the arts) with one outside of it (such as the sciences). For example, in one task, research participants were instructed to create new college majors by combining two or more existing academic programs at their university. After coding and analyzing the ideas they generated, the team found that people with growth, as opposed to a fixed, mindset of interest were more likely to bridge programs across the arts and sciences to create new majors. The analysis also revealed that individuals with a growth mindset generated higher quality integrative ideas.
This research provides a useful direction for organizations whose products and services call for integrated and creative solutions. Consider smartphones, you not only need computer science and engineering knowledge, but also an understanding of psychology and visual design to create a product that is useful and resonates with the user. When organizations hire people with a growth mindset or promote it among their existing employees, those employees may be more likely to devise innovative ideas that bridge multiple areas of knowledge to achieve better solutions.
Furthermore, having a growth mindset of interest can help job seekers expand their vocational interests and become more adaptable and open to different fields, and take the initiative to learn new skills. For example, whereas some engineers may restrict themselves to purely technical roles, an engineer who develops an interest in marketing can accrue the skills and knowledge needed to gain employment in the sales team of an engineering firm.
In addition, the research supports the rationale for interdisciplinary learning to better prepare students for the unpredictable future, as well as for training them to be flexible thinkers and problem solvers. Over time, those with a growth mindset are more likely to become interdisciplinary thinkers and carry that tendency to their working life, better preparing them to succeed in an economy that increasingly values innovative, interdisciplinary solutions.
This begs the question: Can a growth mindset of interest be cultivated?
According to the researchers, people can be influenced to adopt a growth mindset of interest if they are immersed in an environment with a culture that promotes and reinforces the idea that interests can grow and develop. Organizations can provide opportunities to explore new topics and activities, through workshops, elective courses, or facilitating collaborations among people with different areas of interest and expertise.
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, January 2021, Vol. 162, “Thinking Beyond Boundaries: A Growth Theory of Interest Enhances Integrative Thinking that Bridges the Arts and Sciences,” by Paul A. O’Keefe, et al. © 2021 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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