An interview with Carol Dweck, Ph.D., author of the book "Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success."
Carol's work has been featured in such publications as The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and she has appeared on "Today "and "20/20."
A great word for the 2008 presidential candidates to position around. It's positive. And negative.
An Overwhelming Constant
But for us regular muck-a-mucks battling through the life of business, trying to stay competitive with marketable business skills, change is an overwhelming constant. It batters us with dizzying storms of unfathomable amounts of information. Howling hurricanes of digital rain. Just to stay even you have to run uphill.
I work in Public Relations for a software company called Cincom Systems. To do my job adequately (keep abreast of the new technologies, strategies and tactics) I need to read at least three to four hours per day. Let me repeat that. Just to keep up, I need to read at least three to four hours per day.
But I don't. I can't. Am I derelict in my duties? Not purposefully. My brain just can't cope with the immense amount of information. Besides, (in my defense) I'm busy with 200-300 business e-mails (not counting junk mail) that need attention. Think I'm wrong?
According to IDC 's 2008 "Expanding Digital Universe" (research paper), the amount of digital information created, captured and replicated in 2007 was 281 exabytes.
What's an exabyte?
What's a petabyte?
Simpler, 1,000 terabytes.
Stop! Help Me Understand
Two hundred and eighty one exabytes is more than three million times the information in all the books ever written*.
Most of that went into my e-mail.
IDC also estimated the 281 exabytes would increase to 1,800 exabytes by 2011.
Help Me Understand ... Again
988 exabytes, the number the previous IDC report indicated would be reached by 2010, is equivalent to 72 stacks of books, 93 million miles each.
How to Keep Up?
That's a critical question for everyone in the business world. Are there strategies or tactics that can help free the mind and spirit from this tsunami of digital rain?
Are there ways to breakthrough this garagtuan glob-beelzebub of info-clutter to decipher what's important? To help understand and learn things necessary for our business and personal development?
Turns out there might be. We're going to speak to Carol Dweck, Ph.D., author of the book "Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success," about it.
But first ... to better prepare for the discussion with Ms. Dweck, I sought outside counsel for some questions and topics. I went to the "Whiner Diner," to meet with a couple of demographically (emphasis on "graphically") diverse friends with mindsets worlds apart, to discuss this information explosion and the impossible possibilities of keeping up with it.
For the record, not much dining ever goes on at the Whiner Diner, just whining, drinking, and retro-strategic thinking.
However, this session turned out to be fruitful ... in a fruity kind of way (just note the participants). My friends, Donkey O'Tee (middle) and Cal 9000 (on right) helped me prep for the interview. I'll confess. I needed some help. I mean come'on -- she's a professor from Stanford!
Quick Background of the Round Table Mindset Think-Tankers
Donkey O'Tee started out life as a lowly cartoon metaphor for overcoming obstacles in the original story, "Shooting the Donkey in the Complex Sale ... Hollywood Style."
Turns out though, that Donkey O'Tee is imbued with an insatiable desire to learn. He uses that desire to help overcome his low-life cartoon donkey metaphor beginnings.
Donkey O'Tee embraces all the challenges that being a donkey in the modern human world poses. And, there are many, not the least being ... hoove-typing. Don't believe me? Try it.
Donkey O'Tee believes setbacks can always be handled and mastered through persistence and sheer effort.
Donkey O'Tee learns from criticism and finds inspiration and useful life lessons from the success of others.
This Donkey mindset enabled him to overcome his lowlife sociological beginnings to become... an honorary Harvard scholar.
Now Donkey O'Tee is the best-selling author of "Pompously Obfuscating On Purpose."
Cal 9000 has participated in many of the Shoot the Donkey columns. He’s well known as a corporate salesperson that can unleash a tornadic swirl of immeasurably long and undecipherable words lasting upwards of five minutes without taking a breath. Not even a miniscule pause, which is, in my opinion, always his most singular accomplishment, as I usually have no idea as to what he's trying to say.
Cal 9000 has the most impressive repertoire of corporate gobbledygook I've ever heard. He uses every acronym known to mankind, and possibly most extraterrestrials. A corporate gobbledygook automaton of epic proportions. The best there ever was … or will be. Because of this talent, he was dubbed ...
“CAL 9000” (Corporate Automaton Linguist) 9,000 pre-programmed acronyms for release upon the slightest provocation – such as an unqualified sales lead. Not to be confused with HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic Computer), of '2001: A Space Odyssey' fame. Hal had a personality.
CAL 9000 brought a not-so-unique mindset to the Whiner Diner discussion as well. He's smart.
Don't believe me?
He'll tell you.
Takes on Any Challenge
And challenges? He'll take on any challenge... as long as already knows how to solve it.
Obstacles... No Problem
CAL 9000 never met an obstacle he couldn't avoid. And effort? That's for others with less intelligence.
How to Handle Criticism
CAL 9000 handles criticism well - he ignores it. He revels in success ... as long as it's his. Anyone else's success - not so much.
In life, CAL 9000 believes you either have it, or don't. You're born with intelligence, business acumen, looks, etc. You don't develop it.
He has it.
Our Whiner-Diner roundtable came up with a set of real-world questions and scenarios for Ms. Dweck from the various viewpoints and mindsets of overworked, overloaded, business (questionable) professionals (again questionable). I'm guessing Ms. Dweck will not have been asked these questions by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times or Washington Post.
But we're always willing to help those publications expand their reach and awareness by asking the tough questions - heartland-of-America type of questions. Coping questions about information-overload, aging, entrepreneurial ventures... and wizards.
Wizards and Mindsets?
Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities, has lectured all over the world, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Steve: First of all, I delved deep into the intellectual gene pool to pull these questions out. I appreciate you taking the time to answer them.
Carol: (surprisingly quiet - one might even say totally silent).
Steve: Let's start. The first question is actually more of a scenario.
You’re a baby boomer. The thought of not being the best at what you do, or not being very good at what you do and learning a whole new set of skills is both intimidating yet intoxicatingly inspirational. The vast amount of information to consider, consume and absorb in possibly learning new skills is daunting. You're having trouble just keeping up with your own job's knowledge skillset. Your book talks about the two different type of mindsets, "fixed" and "growth." How can those different types of mindsets apply in a situation like this?
Carol: Many people stay in less-than-fulfilling jobs because they need to support their families and pay their bills. This responsibility to others is no small thing. However, many people stay in a confining job for reasons of ego - they’ve achieved some status and don’t want to risk losing it. This can happen to people at any age. The thought of being a novice, making mistakes, and looking stupid is terrifying, and each day it’s easier to remain secure and bored than take the big step.
In our research we find that people with a fixed mindset (those who believe their intelligence is fixed) prefer to do things that will make them look smart and that will shore up their image instead of things that can stretch them and help them increase their skills. This is true even when they might badly need those new skills.
People with a growth mindset (those who believe their abilities can be cultivated) are highly eager to learn, even if it means that they will make mistakes and expose their deficiencies.
Fixed Mindset = Likes to Look Smart ... Not Be Smart
Growth Mindset = Leaps, Learns, Looks Forward
"If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner."
- Tallulah Bankhead
The inventor of several big advances in technology recently came to see me, and told me how he picked his work teams for his important projects. He points out to all potential team-members that they are currently superstars in their units and might wish to stay that way. However, he continues, if they join his team, they will all struggle together and not feel special or superior, but they will accomplish things that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Many say, “No thanks, I’d rather stay a superstar,” but many others say, “Sign me up; that really sounds exciting.” This is how he assembles his growth-mindset teams.
Fixed Mindset = No Thanks. I'm a Already a Star. Beat it.
Growth Mindset = Thanks. Sign Me Up. Sounds Exciting!
"Learning is not compulsory ... neither is survival."
- W. Edwards Deming
People with a growth mindset realize that effort (even struggling)—and not perpetual, know-it-all perfection is what makes life exciting and worthwhile. Do you want to look back at the end of it all and realize that you looked smart thousands of times but were bored and unfulfilled? Or do you want to look back and know that you stretched, struggled, grew, and became the person you were capable of becoming?
Fixed Mindset = Likes to Look Good - Bored and Unfulfilled
Growth Mindset = Stretches, Struggles, Grows
"Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death." - Anais Nin
If fear of learning is the only thing keeping you back, then take that step. If responsibility to others is also holding you back, then discuss the matter with your family. They may be willing to pitch in more or make some sacrifices to help you to take that step.
Steve: Aging. How are "mindsets" affected by aging?
Carol: As people head into retirement, those with a fixed mindset may see the possibilities as limited and shrinking. They may hold a stereotype of older people as experiencing inevitable decline and increasing uselessness. Yet, much research is documenting the great ability to learn new things and continue to grow well past one’s 60s and 70s. Those with a growth mindset, while not denying that some things may become more difficult with age, can look with excitement at the many skills they can develop and the many ways they can expand their lives. Retirement becomes a time of opportunity.
Fixed Mindset = Possibilities are Limited & Declining
Growth Mindset = Realistic, Sees Opportunities to Expand Life
"Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old.
All you have to do is live long enough."
- Groucho Marx
Those with a fixed mindset may be afraid to try to learn new things, afraid that the attempt will confirm their ineptitude. Each time they forget something or become confused, they will see it as a sign that they are no longer capable of learning. People with a growth mindset understand that forgetting and confusion were always part of learning - and if they need to work a little harder at learning now than they did before, so be it.
Research shows that life transition seems to be harder for people with a fixed mindset, because they worry at each stage that their skills might not be up to the task and that they will be exposed as inadequate. We can see how this fear would be magnified as people enter a stage of life that is not commonly known for its growth opportunities. This is why a growth mindset is especially critical at this point in life.
Steve: Is this growth mindset an innate, predisposed genetic trait that one either has or doesn’t?
Carol: It may well be that inborn things, such as temperament, play a role in the mindset people develop. However, our research shows that environment can play a very strong role. For example, we have shown that when children are praised for their intelligence, they develop a fixed mindset along with the fear of mistakes that comes with that mindset. In contrast, when children are praised for the effort and strategies that went into their good performance, they develop a growth mindset and the love of learning that comes with it. We have also shown that the growth mindset can be directly taught – even to adults - and that when it is people take on more challenges and remain motivated and effective in the face of difficulty.
Praise the Effort. Not the Result.
"Hard work spotlights the character of people.
Some turn up their sleeves.
Some turn up their noses. Some don't turn up at all."
- Sam Ewing
In a study with students making the transition to junior high, we taught the students that the brain is like a muscle and gets stronger with learning.
Steve: I must be a growth mindset. I'm called muscle-head all the time.
Carol: - - - We also taught them that every time they apply themselves and learn something new, their brain forms new connections. Students taught this message showed better motivation and higher grades than their peers. Similar studies have been conducted with college students, with business school students, and with business managers. In each case, learning a growth mindset resulted in enhanced motivation and performance.
Fixed Mindset = Stagnant, Disconnected
Growth Mindset = Learns, Connects (in more ways than one)
"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."
- Lou Holtz
Steve: Is there such a thing as too much growth mindset? Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla for example. I bring this up because your book cites Thomas Edison as a good growth mindset example. I struggle with Thomas Edison because of the huge differences between Edison and Nikola Tesla. Your book made me consider this issue from a different angle.
Tesla had a brilliant, wizardly-genius and unending growth mindset. Some might consider his drive and mindset pathological. But Tesla considered himself a “Planter of Seeds” for the betterment of humankind.
Inventive Genius - But With A Business Mindset
Edison created inventions and products that he could sell. That was his bottom line. Utility. Profitability. Business. He wasn’t about the betterment of mankind unless there was a buck in it. Tesla brought AC electricity to the world – but had to give away his royalties to Westinghouse and his investors to make it happen (worth billions of dollars) just so it could be made available to the masses. Edison would have never done that.
Thomas Edison is revered today - was rich and famous in his time. He's in the history books.
Tesla is almost forgotten but by a very few, not mentioned in the history books, died penniless, alone, in a hotel room in New York. His only friends at the end were the pigeons he fed and cared for.
Where does one such as Nikola Tesla and his mindset fit in our world?
Carol: The love of learning that comes with a growth mindset often has to be combined with some sense of practicality. For example, a student might love to learn, but may also need to get good grades to go on to a good college or graduate school. A young professor may love to do research but also has to publish that research to get promoted. A young worker may love exploration and learning, but may also need to do things to stay competitive and keep the job. Sometimes we have to earn the privilege of continuing to do what we love to do. So although learning is often the most important thing to a person in a growth mindset, it is not the only thing.
Earn the Privilege To Do What You Love To Do
"It's a rare person who wants to hear
what he doesn't want to hear."
- Dick Cavett
This came through clearly in our study of pre-med students at Columbia taking their first organic chemistry course. These undergraduate students fervently wished to become doctors and, as we all know, needed good grades to do so. Students with a growth mindset put their greatest emphasis on learning in this course, but in the process of learning, they studied the material more deeply, managed their motivation better, and, in the end, earned higher grades than the students with a fixed mindset. In this case, they did not only immerse themselves in the joy of learning but used the learning process to master the material in a way that earned them high grades as well.
It’s a pity that the world is not pure and that the selfless contributors to society don’t always get the rewards they deserve. However, Tesla is not forgotten. The strength of MRI machines that are used so widely now to study the brain is expressed in Tesla units. Among other things, a monument to Tesla was recently established in Niagara Falls and a play about him (Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nicola Tesla) has been produced and taken on tour.
Steve: Thank you, Carol.
Mindsets: Be Fixed On Growth
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
- Pierre de Coubertin
Nigel Holmes has a great graphic explanation of the differences between the "fixed" and "growth" mindsets. Check it out. And visit "Mindset" online if you want to learn how you can change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
About Carol S. Dweck:
Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities, has lectured all over the world, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her scholarly book Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development was named Book of the Year by the World Education Federation. Her work has been featured in such publications as The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and she has appeared on "Today" and "20/20."
E-mail: Ms. Carol Dweck
Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology, Stanford University
Bldg 01-420, Jordan Hall
Stanford, CA 94305-2130
About Steve Kayser:
Steve is an award-winning business writer who has been featured in a marketing best practices case study by MarketingSherpa, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing, Innovation Quarterly, B2B Marketing Trends, PRWEEK, The New Rules of PR and Marketing ( by David Meerman Scott) and Faces of E-Content magazine.
Steve's writings have appeared in Corporate Finance Magazine, CEO Refresher, Entrepreneur Magazine, Business 2.0, Ragan Report, Media Bullseye, and Fast Company Magazine, among others.
In his spare time, Steve professionally models kilts for Un-Vanity, Non-GQ and The Manly Kilt Wearing Man monthly magazines.
Steve also headlines fundraising events for his run at an Olympic Gold Medal in the commando kilt-wearing mechanical bull-riding competition to be held in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2050.
You can contact Steve by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Recent Articles: It's Complex to Write Simple These Days - But Hemingway's Rules of Writing Can Still Work*From IDC 's "Expanding Digital Universe" research paper.