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According to Dr. Carol Dweck in her very influential book called Mindset she states that since the dawn of time, people have thought differently, acted differently, and fared differently. So now, I must ask you: what has been the difference? Dr. Carol Dweck says in her book Mindset that the difference has been mindset itself. A person’s mindset frames the on-going internal dialogue taking place in our heads that consist of: What is happening? What it means? What we should do about it? This never-ending internal dialogue molds our thinking, values, and behaviors into a person that either acts with a fixed-mindset or growth-mindset. A fixed-mindset is a person who feels judged, judges others, and believes in talent over effort. A growth-mindset is someone who doesn’t think others are criticizing, but rather helping with their advice, and believes in effort and learning over talent.
Malcolm Gladwell, famed author of, Outliers, says that sadly Americans like effortless achievement. Gladwell’s statement makes me wonder what happened to the ruggedness of our cowboy days here in America. What about proud heritage of a hard-working immigrant nation? The people that built this great country never tried to take the easy effortless way out, right?
Well, like it or not, according to Dr. Dweck, our most potent path to success- our effort, is being pushed aside for talent. Just look around at what big business, sports and even now schools are doing by bringing in all of these big hotshot leaders. It seems apparent now that people are picking talent over effort.
Dr. Dweck, in her book Mindset mentions Jim Collins the famed author of, Good to Great, and his message of getting the wrong people off of the bus, and the right people onto the bus. It appears that most of our society thinks this meant to recruit talent over potential. Basically, to recruit the Lee Iacocas of this world. That’s not what Jim Collins meant in his book. People that read Collins’ book closely noticed that he said the best leaders weren’t the charismatic ones oozing with self-confidence, but the self-effacing ones that asked questions.
Well, as a society that now seems to value talent and quick fixes over potential and slow sturdy lasting fixes, we have some real challenges to face. And according to Dr. Dweck, these challenges are going to be compounded by the fact that we have the “Praised Generation” now hitting the workforce who are bursting with self-esteem and unable take constructive criticism. The big question now is are we going to be fixed-mindset or growth-mindset people?
So, what does a fixed-mindset look like? Well, a fixed-mindset is someone who is bent on talent and believes that if you have to try hard it must mean you aren’t talented enough. Fixed-mindset is a life of being judged and judging others. It is a life where we are only allowed to be successful. Success has to happen immediately or we shut down and blame others. However, if the mentality of a fixed-mindset person is that you are someone when you are successful, then what are you when you are not successful? Unfortunately, a no one. And feeling like a no one really hurts. So, because fixed-mindsets now feel labeled and can see no road to success, their only option to repair their self-esteem is to blame others and make excuses. They won’t make more effort to become successful because making more effort is scary; it robs them of their excuses if they don’t succeed and exposes their inadequacies for others to judge, which they are certain that others will judge. The fixed-mindsets are easy to identify because they are the naysayers sitting around who are constantly saying, “I could have been…” They’re basically polishing their unused endowments like they were trophies. How sad, wouldn’t you agree.
Fixed-mindsets run away from problems because they believe that if they truly are as talented as they think they are, then success shouldn’t take so much effort. Believe it or not, it has actually been shown through various studies that a fixed-mindset person’s brainwaves only fire up as the answer to a problem is given. They want to know if they are right. Period. Don’t care about the rest. If they aren’t right, according to Dr. Dweck, then they aren’t interested anymore in the activity.
Fixed-mindset is a huge problem in the adolescence years because during this time of our lives we already feel awkward and judged, as well as feel that everything has all of a sudden become more difficult. Now imagine how a fixed-mindset adolescent naturally multiplies all these negatives and you can imagine a scenario that is unbearable to them, and usually results in them turning off to education. Sad. And avoidable.
It doesn’t get easier though for these fixed-mindset kids after school is over. Teens with fixed-mindsets usually grow up to be adults with fixed-mindsets. In professional sports fixed-mindsets can be identified pretty easily because they are the ones always saying, “I”, “I”, “I”. They act like they won the game all by themselves and they don’t need teammates.
Some fixed-mindsets end up as CEOs. They are the ones that develop CEO disease and are more bosses than leaders. This CEO disease tends to eliminate competition, silence critics, squash employee development programs, and put themselves up on a pedestal to be admired by all at the expense of their co-workers and even the company.
Finally, many fixed-mindsets end up as parents, teachers, coaches, or just adults who interact with kids on a daily basis. Most of the time these adults will create an atmosphere of judging, punishing, and labeling kids. And if any other adult should challenge them, or heaven forbid, if a mate were to leave them, they would be devastated, believed they have been judged, and label themselves as unlovable or unworthy, and then they would usually want some kind of revenge on the other adult.
So, what does growth-mindset look like? Well, it looks like Henry Ford, Michael Jordan, Coach John Wooden, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Thomas Edison, Jack Welch, and Winston Churchill. Let me explain. According to Dr. Dweck in Mindset, a growth-mindset is more concerned about learning than grades. Thus, growth-mindsets find new ways to create learning. Henry Ford showed this love for learning over his paycheck by constantly taking a new position at the bottom of a new job every time that he just mastered his old one. People thought he was crazy not to stay in the job that he had mastered. And they thought that he was even crazier to take a pay-cut to go back to the bottom of a new job. He did it because along with his vision, the learning was more important than the paycheck and praise.
According to Dr. Dweck, a growth-mindset never rest on their laurels as the best, but keeps making an effort to learn and to become even better. This is exactly what Michael Jordan did. He was always willing to work harder than anyone else, even at the height of his career. Former Bulls assistant coach John Bach called him, “A genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.”
In addition, Dr. Dweck shares that a growth-mindset teacher or coach doesn’t judge, but in contrast, gives equal treatment to each youth. This is exactly what Coach John Wooden did at UCLA as he equally expected each and every player to get a little bit better every day while equal concern, compassion, and consideration for each and every one of his players were always priorities of the highest order for him. Concern for his players were even more important than winning. And as you probably already know, Coach John Wooden won a lot!
A growth-mindset doesn’t make excuses, even when they have good excuses. One of Coach John Wooden’s star basketball players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, could have made lots of excuses when basketball outlawed his signature shot, the dunk. Instead, he went right to work on his other shots; perfecting them. His skyhook shot became unstoppable and carried him, his teammates, and future teams/organizations to many, many victories over the years. His growth-mindset coach did a great job teaching him a growth-mindset and countless people benefited from it.
Similar to Coach Wooden, Thomas Edison was a growth-mindset type of person who also helped others become growth-mindset. Not only did he model and live a growth-mindset, but he also mentored the previously mentioned Henry Ford and laid the way at General Electric for future CEO, Jack Welch.
Thomas Edison was once asked by a reporter what it felt like to have failed 10,000 times to create a light bulb. A fixed-mindset would have seen each one of these attempts as horrible failures and would never have been able to persevere long enough to create a better light bulb. Thomas Edison, however, didn’t look at life like this. His growth-mindset framed that constant internal conversation going on in his head of: What is happening? What does it mean? What should I do about it? Edison knew exactly what to do. He smiled at that reporter and said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison knew that with each way that wouldn’t work, he was one step closer to finding the way that would work.
Jack Welch was the most widely admired, studied, and imitated CEO of his time. And one of the things that made him great was that he surrounded himself with great people that he had selected through mindset rather than pedigree.
Welch was growth-mindset all the way through. He was constantly learning. And when he needed to know more he went directly to his front-line employees to figure out what was going on. He respected these people, and learned from them. It was always “we” not “I” with Jack Welch while he ran General Electric.
General Electric was always about growth, not self-importance under Welch. He shut down elitism. Got rid of brutal bosses. Always asked his people at all levels what they liked and didn’t like about the company. His approved way to being more productive was through mentoring, not through terror. Leaders were encouraged to share credit for their ideas and successes with their teams. In the end, Welch as well as thousands of others, benefited immensely from his growth-mindset.
Finally, there is Winston Churchill. Being a leader is stressful, especially during wartime. And as mentioned earlier, fixed-mindsets tend to eliminate their competition and silence the critics so they get only good news from their subordinates and thus continue look good, whether it’s true or not. This type of silence that only allows one voice, and sometimes even only one way of thinking comes from a dangerous phenomenon called groupthink according to Dr. Dweck. Fortunately for England, Churchill was a growth-mindset type of person that combated groupthink by setting up a special department. The job of this department was to give Churchill all the worse news. This helped keep Churchill out of a false sense of security and forced him and his team to keep learning and searching for better ways to beat Hitler.
How to Become a Growth-Mindset
There was a famous saying among the counter-culture during the 1960s that it was better to become than to be. Growth-mindsets are always in the process of becoming, while fixed-mindsets always think that they already have to be. As a society, if we were able to effectively change most of our fixed-mindsets to growth-mindsets we would solve a lot of the world’s problems. As individuals, making that shift from fixed-mindset to growth-mindset wouldn’t make our lives perfect, but it sure would make them richer.
Andrew Carnegie understood what it meant to be a growth-mindset person. He once said that he wished to have his epitaph read, “Here lies a man who was wise enough to bring into his service men who knew more than he.” Carnegie is a very rich example who we can all learn from. Lesson: Get around people that are smarter than yourself.
Another way that helps us to become growth-mindset is just knowing that the two mindsets exist. Knowing these mindsets exist will allow us to start thinking about it and consciously choosing to act differently. For example, people are born with the love of learning, at some point, especially during adolescence, that love of learning comes undone for a safer route of not doing anything that will give people a chance to judge them anymore, also known as, a fixed-mindset. We can make the conscious choice to keep making the effort to learn and not worry about being judged. Some of us may even remember that old saying that goes something like this, “When I was 20, I thought everyone was looking at me. When I was 40, I didn’t care anymore who was looking at me. When I was 60, I finally realized that no one had been looking at me.” Let’s not let the fear of what others may be thinking of us keep us from becoming all that we were meant to become.
Beliefs are powerful. Change your beliefs and you can change your mindset. For example, intelligence is not set in stone. Even Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test admits that this test that has been labeling kids for so long, was really designed just to identify children who were not profiting from the Paris public schools, so that new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track. According to Dr. Dweck, Binet said that “With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.” Believe it or not! You better believe it!
Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise, “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.” Stop believing that you’re smart of not smart. Regardless of where you are, you can choose to, and more importantly, make the effort to become smarter than you presently are. But, first, you have to believe that effort is a good thing, and it’s worth it to work harder. Check your beliefs.
Benjamin Bloom, and eminent educational researcher who after forty years of intensive research on school learning said his major conclusion was, “What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.”
Binet, Sternberg, and Bloom understand that we can all learn under the right conditions. Those right conditions are growth-mindset fed through effort and proper praise that recognizes effort over innate talent and performance. Talent is over-rated here in the United States, as well as, elsewhere in the world. And talent certainly isn’t heroic, like some try to make us believe. What’s so heroic about a gift anyways? You want to know what’s truly heroic? A heroic effort is heroic and worthy of praise, not natural endowments that one didn’t do anything to deserve.
Finally, if you are an adult working with our youth, don’t praise their performance, that only weakens their resolve and lowers their IQ in the end. Recognize and praise their effort and willingness to take on hard things, and to actually fail at hard things and bounce back from them. Now that’s something that is truly heroic and worthy of praise.
In the end we become more through a herculean effort and a growth-mindset.
Daniel Blanchard is an award-winning author, speaker, and educator!
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