Author: Stav Ziv
Source: The Muse
Carol Dweck preaches “the power of yet.”
If students don’t pass a test, it’s not because they’re inherently stupid, but because they don’t understand the material well enough—yet. If employees didn’t negotiate the best deal, it doesn’t mean all future deals are doomed. It means they haven’t honed their negotiating skills enough—yet.
Dweck, a psychology professor now at Stanford University, is known for decades of work on “mindsets,” or people’s beliefs about human qualities such as intelligence and talent, both their own and others’. She developed terms you might’ve heard before: the “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset.”
“My research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life,” Dweck writes in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, the 2006 book that pulls together years of psychology research for the general reader. “It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”
Well, that sounds serious. Here’s what you need to know. Well, at least the basics.
The Ultimate Takeaway
People have drastically different ways of thinking about their own abilities, intelligence, and talent. Those with a fixed mindset believe those traits are, well, fixed. “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone… creates an urgency to prove them over and over,” Dweck writes in her book, and to perform rather than develop them. People with a fixed mindset “believe that talent alone creates success—without effort,” Dweck’s Mindset site says. But “they’re wrong.”
The alternative, a growth mindset, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others,” Dweck explains in her book. And that means you can work hard and develop your intelligence, talent, and more. Dweck believes “this view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
There are two other crucial and related points Dweck emphasizes repeatedly. The first is that she frequently speaks about people as though they belong to one of two distinct groups, for the sake of clarity. But we all have some mix of these mindsets in various areas of our lives.
The second is that people’s mindsets can change. You can learn a growth mindset. In fact, Dweck says she spent much of her early life with a fixed mindset, and still sometimes catches herself thinking that way, but her research has helped her strive toward a growth mindset.
Like Dale Carnegie in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People (shameless plug—it was our first pick for The Recap Shelf), Dweck makes the research about mindsets come to life with a slew of anecdotes.
She shares stories from her own life and work and marriage as well as stories about teachers working in inner-city classrooms and children she and her colleagues have met in the course of their research. She looks at the mindsets of famous people in various industries, including John McEnroe, Michael Jordan, Hillary Clinton, Charles Darwin, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and revisits infamous moments in history like the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and the Enron scandal to consider how mindsets played a part.
The Mindsets in the Workplace
As you can imagine, mindsets are hugely influential in every facet of work—from leadership to management to culture to the performance and trajectories of individual employees.
Dweck describes a study in which teams of business school students were given fixed or growth mindsets and then assigned a difficult management task. The groups with the growth mindset “looked directly at their mistakes, used the feedback, and altered their strategies accordingly,” Dweck writes. “They became better and better at understanding how to deploy and motivate their workers,” ending up way more productive than their fixed-mindset counterparts.
She gives examples of CEOs whose fixed mindsets harmed their companies in the long run (despite short-term successes), such as Lee Iacocca of Chrysler, Steve Case of AOL and Jerry Levin of Time Warner at the time of the merge of those two companies, and, of course, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling of Enron.
Many fixed-mindset leaders are also cruel bosses who “were outright contemptuous of those beneath them on the corporate ladder,” always wanting to feel superior (because if talent is fixed, anyone below who does well threatens their own sense of self).