Sunday, March 21, 2010


Every so often I read a book that is so good that, on completing it, I re-read it straight away.  Mindset, by academic psychologist Carol Dweck is the latest.  Entertaining and highly informative, Dweck has a different take on the eternal nature vs nurture debate.  Her research centers not on the relative impact of nature and nurture, but rather on the impact of the individual's belief in nature compared to nurture on their performance and personality.  It turns out that "mere" belief in nurture leads to better performance over time, and much more besides.

With respect to any capacity, be it intelligence, sporting ability, musicality, etc. it is not too difficult to establish whether an individual takes a "fixed" mindset (the belief that, broadly speaking, you got it or you don't), or a "growth" mindset (the belief that that capacity can be developed and refined with effort).  People are not either purely "fixed" or "growth", but may adopt different mindsets with regard to different capacities, and their mindsets can change with time.

When caught in the fixed mindset people tend to be fragile, crave constant validation, and treat success or failure in some test or task as a true measure of themselves (making them a success or failure).  By contrast, those employing the growth mindset are more resilient, treating external critique as a diagnostic of where they need to improve, and tend to define themselves as successful if they are learning and improving.

Dweck's academic work, personal experience, and teaching record demonstrate how this single factor has a profound effect on performance, resilience, and attitude.  The book also has stories from education, sports, business, etc. that illustrate the impact of the two mindsets.  The people who adopt the growth mindset largely do better performance-wise overall, and make great positive role models.  (Some of the well-known people who adopt the fixed mindset make great negative role models.)

Mindset can change and it can be influenced by external factors: the growth mindset can be taught.

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I found the evidence and illustrations of Mindset convincing, and am encouraged to try to adopt the growth mindset more broadly personally, and also in my parenting and teaching to try to try to steer others to adopt it.

The idea of the growth mindset also brings to mind the chinese phrase kung fu, not originally meaning martial arts, but rather "any individual accomplishment or skill cultivated through long and hard work".  To someone trapped in the fixed mindset, this sounds like a waste of time and effort; to those cultivating a growth mindset, it's where it's at.

Adopting the growth mindset is not an end in itself, but rather a beginning.  It means that, with respect to a capacity, you are ready to start learning.  And that is the real journey.