What are Mindsets?
How would you answer this question? “Is a person’s intelligence fixed and unchangeable?” It turns out that the way you answer this and related questions influences how successful you will be. This the idea that Carol Dweck outlines in her terrific book Mindset. In a very good review of the book, Alex Vermeer provides this summary:
Your mindset is the view you have of your qualities and characteristics – where they come from and whether they can change.
These following two mindsets represent the extreme ends on either side of a spectrum.
A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone – who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed. A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments - but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
It’s very possible to be somewhere in the middle, and to lean a certain way in one area of life, and a different way in other areas. Dweck writes about them as a simple either-or throughout the book for the sake of simplicity. Your mindset likely varies from area to area. Your views may be different for artistic talent, intelligence, personality, or creativity.
And this graphic by Nigel Holmes summarises the kinds of outcomes that result from the different mindsets:
Mindset and Innovation
Dweck’s work has some important implications for innovation:
- A fixed mindset is an important source of risk aversion. Risk aversion is one of the biggest innovation obstacles that we face. You can see how a fixed mindset leads to avoiding taking a chance on new ideas. If we work on building our growth mindsets, we can start to work our way around this problem. Which leads to:
- We can change our mindset. Dweck and her team have done a huge amount of carefully constructed research on this topic, and they have consistently shown that you can change your mindset. Here is a quote from Maria Popova’s excellent post on Mindset:
Dweck and her team found that people with the fixed mindset see risk and effort as potential giveaways of their inadequacies, revealing that they come up short in some way. But the relationship between mindset and effort is a two-way street: “It’s not just that some people happen to recognize the value of challenging themselves and the importance of effort. Our research has shown that this comes directly from the growth mindset. When we teach people the growth mindset, with its focus on development, these ideas about challenge and effort follow. . . . As you begin to understand the fixed and growth mindsets, you will see exactly how one thing leads to another—how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.”
And, most importantly, this means that:
- We can grow our talent. The outcome from all of this is the idea that talent is something that can be developed. This means that it is not the case that you are either creative and innovative or you are not. You can build these skills.
We Develop Talent by Building Skills
Here is more from Popova:
Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning.
This is a powerful idea. When I was younger, I had a very strong fixed mindset – and it made me terrified of failing. Fortunately, the more I’ve failed, the more I’ve developed a growth mindset. It’s taken a lot of work and effort, but I’m much better equipped to build skills now than I was when I was younger. This reflects the differences in the attitudes towards effort in the two mindsets. With a fixed mindset, having to work hard at something is a sign of deficiency. But with a growth mindset, hard work is the only way you grow. I thought of this over the weekend when I read this quote in Turning Point by the great Hayao Miyazaki:
I had thought that my passion could bridge the gap between what I wanted to express and my ability to express it. But I saw that I couldn’t get by without acquiring the necessary skills. I learned through bitter experience that without those skills I wouldn’t be able to express my ideas. This was when I changed. No matter what I was working on, I would give it my all; no matter how boring the job, I would discover something new and move forward, even if just a little. Unless one does this, one cannot make use of one’s abilities when a really important job comes along.
Here is a great quote from Ira Glass of NPR that makes the same point:
Hayao Miyazaki and Ira Glass both do genius-level creative work, and yet, they attribute their success to hard work. That reflects a growth mindset.
Innovation is talent-based. You need skilled people to innovate well. The great news from Carol Dweck’s work is that if we have the right mindset, we can build the talent that we need.