Children are given problems to work on that no one believes they can solve—certainly not the young researcher who designed the study to test children’s responses to setbacks and failure. But when, instead of expressing anger or frustration or simply giving up, one boy “pulled his chair up, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and said, ‘I love a challenge!’” and a second boy remarked, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!,” that young researcher—once she picked herself up off the floor—found herself increasingly interested in what she came to call these boys’ “growth mindset.”
In 2006, Moira Gunn, host of NPR’s Tech Nation, spoke with psychology professor Carol Dweck about her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I recently had an opportunity to listen to the free podcast of this conversation, and found myself intrigued by Dweck’s characterization of two different ways that people perceive themselves: either with a “fixed” self-conception or a “growth” self conception. Someone with a fixed mindset has an essential view of human qualities—a person is a certain way and that’s that. Someone with a growth mindset sees human character as a process—something you “grow into.”
Fixed-mindset individuals, for instance, believe that you can learn new things, but that characteristics such as intelligence, talent, or creativity—dare I propose we add imagination?—are preordained. It turns out that believing, instead, that such qualities can be purposely cultivated makes people capable of greater intelligence, talent, creativity, and imagination. I am worried. I see a lot of myself in the portrait that Dweck sketches of a typical fixed-mindset person. A fixed mindset can be a determining factor for much of your work, life and relationships, but fortunately, as Dweck tells Gunn, fixed mindset is just a belief—and beliefs can be changed.
Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon, in their book, Imagination First, draw from Dweck’s work, considering the story one tells about oneself to be a key to unlocking the possibility of transformation to a growth mindset. They posit that, “imagining intelligence or courage or imagination to be something you can shape and increase helps make you—with practice—more intelligent, courageous, and imaginative” (88). It turns out that one’s capacities for imagination fuel this process; an ability to think about oneself with a “what if…” orientation paves the way for unlimited growth and potential.
I now find myself on the lookout for opportunities to tackle my own roadblocks. With relish.
Click here to listen to Dweck’s Tech Nation interview.
Click here to purchase Dweck’s book.
Click here to read a review of Dweck’s book in the Business section of the New York Times.
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