The 3 rules of mindsets
Last week at a conference, I had the good fortune of hearing a lecture by Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, whose research on intelligence and mindsets has been revelatory for me in all aspects of my life.
Dweck’s broad argument is that what people believe shapes what they achieve — mostly irrespective of their innate talent. Some people, she says, have a fixed view of intelligence: They believe that intelligence is an entity, that we’re each endowed with a particular finite supply. Others have a growth view of intelligence: They believe that intelligence can expand through practice and effort.
Your starting assumption about intelligence — your mindset, as she calls it in a popular book — heavily determines what you’re able to accomplish. And people with growth mindsets generally accomplish more and learn more deeply.
In the lecture, Dweck set out three rules that nicely summarize the differences between the two mindsets along with quotations from students that demonstrate the rules.
Fixed mindset: Look clever at all costs. (“The main thing I want when I do my school work is to show how good I am at it.”)
Growth mindset: Learn, learn, learn. (“It is much more important for me to learn things in my classes than it is to get the best grades.”)
Fixed mindset: It should come naturally. (“To tell you the truth, when I work hard at my school work it makes me fee like I’m not very smart.”)
Growth mindset: Work hard, effort is key. (“The harder you work at something, the better you’ll be at it.”)
Fixed mindset: Hide your mistakes and conceal your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d spend less time on this subject from now on. I’d try not to take this subject ever again, and I would try to cheat on the next test.”)
Growth mindset: Capitalize on your mistakes and confront your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d work harder in this class and spend more time studying for the tests.”)
If you have children, manage others, or are at all interested in improving what you do and how you do it, you need to understand Dweck’s research and its implications. For more info, here is the transcript of a speech from last year in which Dweck covered ground somewhat similar to what I heard last week. Stanford Magazine had a good profile of Dweck a few years ago that included an excellent infographic explaining the differences between the two mindsets. And be sure to check out her books — either Mindset or the more academic Self-theories.