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Hans Meeder, Sr. Fellow for Innovation, YouScience

This summer, I’ve been re-reading Mindset by Dr. Carol Dzweck, and talking about it in the Leadership 360 talk I’ve been presenting to different audiences.

Knowing ABOUT this book and READING it are two different things.

For several years, I had heard about the concept of a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixed Mindset and the many implications these mindsets have on the way that we live our lives.

Intellectually, I believed in the notion of a Growth Mindset. I believe that each of us has natural endowments (at YouScience we call them aptitudes). And while there may be some limit on how far our natural aptitudes can be developed, there’s really no way to tell, especially early on in our lives.

Further, humans are much more likely to put limits on our own potential and the potential of others, than encourage hard work and focused efforts toward growing our potential.

Dweck lays out her findings from research and shares multiple stories of individuals that demonstrate a Growth Mindset. This mindset fosters a belief in the value of hard work, focused attention, and a positive way of thinking about set-backs. Thus, it allows people to often grow their aptitudes and develop their skills FAR beyond what their peers, advisors or parents told them.

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One well known example is that of basketball legend Michael Jordan, who as an early high school student, was not an exceptional player and was actually cut from his high school varsity basketball team. He reacted to the setback with a Growth Mindset – instilled by his mother – and increased the intensity of his practice routines. He developed an amazing work ethic that allowed him to become a truly exceptional player. In reading these stories and research findings, I began to reflect more deeply on my own life experience. Even though intellectually I believed in the Growth Mindset, my MO (mode of operation) was dialed to a Fixed Mindset Looking back on my childhood, my educational experiences, and my approach to sports and hobbies, I realized that I had more of a Fixed Mindset than a Growth Mindset about myself. I remembered that, as a 12 year old, my dad took me to an education assessment expert and put me through a battery of IQ tests (my dad was always interested in this kind of stuff and knew some interesting people and one of them happened to be an education test expert). I don’t remember any specifics or if the guy even talked me through the findings (I was twelve so not very vested in the activity). But what I took away was this narrative, “Hans, you’re pretty smart but you’re not brilliant.” I internalized this as part of my self concept, smart-but not too smart. Now I see that whenever I would face a subject in school that seemed difficult, I just chalked it up to – “I’m not really wired to do this.” And perhaps, there’s some truth that we have some areas that are more natural aptitudes than others. But even in some areas where I really did have a natural aptitude, I didn’t realize how powerful focused attention and hard work could be. In those areas, I might have been able to develop even further and enjoy the process of learning and developing more than I did. I saw excellence as something you either had or didn’t have, versus something that could be developed incrementally. Take a look at this chart that summarizes the differences between the fixed and growth mindsets.
Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
Beliefs Intelligence and abilities are fixed Intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort and learning
Challenges Avoids challenges and risks Embraces challenges and sees them as opportunities for growth
Effort Views effort as a sign of weakness Recognizes effort as the path to mastery and success
Feedback Ignores or rejects constructive criticism Welcomes feedback and uses it to improve
Success Sees others’ success as a threat Celebrates and learns from others’ success
Failure Takes failures personally Uses failures as learning experiences
Obstacles Gives up easily in the face of obstacles Persists in the face of obstacles and finds alternative solutions
Learning Avoids learning outside of comfort zone Constantly seeks new knowledge and challenges
Outcome Focuses on immediate results Focuses on long-term growth and development
Potential Believes abilities are limited Believes abilities can be developed to their full potential
One final thing I’ll point out is that most of us carry in our heads a mix of the fixed and growth mindsets. In some circumstances, we might understand the value of hard work and incremental growth. In other venues, we might just say, “I’m not good at that” and give up or avoid the challenge altogether. So if you’ve heard about the Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset, please read “Mindsets.” This is one book I would encourage you to take the time with to consider and reflect on your own mindset. Ask “how do I see myself and others” and “how would a more consistent Growth Mindset benefit my life and the lives of those I influence?” As always, I’m happy to hear from you with your thoughts, reactions, ideas and questions. You can reach me at Hans.Meeder@YouScience.com.