Mindset by Carol S. Dweck

When I first came across Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, it did not pique my interest. The book cover is dull and the title seems to suggest it’s one of those books that simply elaborates on widely known concepts. However, wanting to order one more book, I added it to my online cart since the book cover shows a recommendation from Bill Gates. And if Bill Gates recommends it, then it can’t be all that bad right?

After reading the book’s introduction, my initial perception was further reinforced. Growth mindset is about believing people can develop their abilities and fixed mindset is about believing people are born with fixed traits. A growth mindset can help you fulfill your potential whereas a fixed mindset will hinder it. An entire book on this fundamental concept seems too dragged out to me. “At least it’s a short book that I can practice speed reading with” so I thought.

After the initial pages, this book quickly drew me in. The concept is indeed simple to grasp. However, the application of it and its impact on our daily lives is not something that I was actively conscious of. It helps you understand how people behave the way they do at times and how you can possibly help yourself as well as others in fulfilling their potential.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.

When you adopt a growth mindset, it changes how you approach challenges and setbacks. Failure is no longer an indication of who you are because it doesn’t measure who you can become. It’s merely feedback for you to reflect on what you can improve on. Challenges are no longer something you fear but something you cherish, because the more challenging a task is, the more room there is for you to learn and improve.

Whereas when you have a fixed mindset, you believe people have fixed traits. Failures are therefore feared upon since if your abilities are fixed, failures are not a reflection of how you did but a measurement of what you can do. A fixed mindset also makes effort disagreeable. If you are smart and you try your best, are you really that smart if you still fail? It is common to hear at exam centers people saying how little they studied and how unprepared they are. Sometimes it almost seems like it’s a competition to see who is the most unprepared. I’m guilty of doing so in the past myself. Although some people are indeed more gifted than others at a given subject, your talent is not an indication of your performance. We all know people who did great not because of any special talent, but because of their relentless effort on improving themselves.

At this point, you might be categorizing yourself either as having a growth mindset or a fixed mindset and probably the former since people tend to view themselves in a positive light. However, people can and usually do have different mindsets in different areas. This is evident when it comes to artistic abilities. Students might have a growth mindset when they are studying for subjects like history, chemistry, or math. But when it comes to artistic abilities like drawing, the word talent is very often thrown around. Yet experiments have shown that you can greatly improve your drawing skills if you learn how to see. So when you are shying away from challenges next time, think to yourself whether you are falling into a fixed mindset.

Keep in mind that the growth mindset is not only on how you view yourself but on how you view others as well. By having a growth mindset towards other people, you will be more willing to put in the effort to help them. Your peers might be underperforming now, but you know they can develop their abilities if they put in the effort. And if you are in a leadership position, don’t be too controlling and abusive as it can put your team into a fixed mindset. Make sure you foster a safe environment where people can make mistakes and learn from it without being judged.

The Danger of Positive Labels

When stereotypes are evoked, they fill people’s minds with distracting thoughts – with secret worries about conforming to stereotype.

The impact of negative labels is clear. You might get discouraged, get down on yourself, or subconsciously conform to the negative labels put on you. It still happens all the time, but the negative impact is clear which makes it easily avoidable.

When it comes to positive labels such as “You are brilliant for acing the exam!” and “Look at that beautiful portrait you did! You are so talented!”, people give out these praises without second thoughts since it usually makes people who receive them happy. What people fail to realize is when you praise someone on their talent over their effort, you are also putting pressure on the person to not fail. Since if their superior results is due to their talent, then they should keep on delivering superior results as the talent won’t just suddenly disappear. And if their performance is due to their talent, then why do they need to put in the effort?

Rather than praising someone on their talent, praise their effort instead. “Look at that beautiful portrait you did! Your hard work really paid off!”. Doing so will reinforce the value of putting in the hard work. And when they fail, it’s no longer because of who they are but about the additional effort they can put in to improve the result.

Praising people’s effort is great, but you only do it when they do put in the effort. Say your kid aces a challenge without putting in any effort. Instead of praising their effort, you can say “this question seems too easy for you, sorry let me find a harder question that will really allow you to learn”. This will teach the kid the importance of learning.

Relationships

Remember how hard it is for people with the fixed mindset to forgive? Part of it is that they feel branded by a rejection or breakup. But another part is that if they forgive the partner, if they see him or her as a decent person, then they have to shoulder more of the blame themselves. If my partner’s a good guy, then I must be a bad guy. I must be the person who was at fault.

When you are in a long term relationship, you will eventually get into disagreements with your partner. If you have a fixed mindset on either your partner or the relationship, then you will probably not believe that the relationship can be improved. And if a relationship cannot be improved, then no effort will be put towards trying to fix the problem. People with a fixed mindset will start assigning blame. They might blame themselves but often they blame their partner instead. And as time goes on, they see the problems as their partner’s character flaws.

The belief that partners have the potential for change should not be confused with the belief that the partner will change. The partner has to want to change, commit to change, and take concrete actions toward change.

When you have a growth mindset, you believe that you and your partner can improve and fix the relationship. It enables you to focus on the problem and to work with your partner towards a solution.

Summary

Carol S. Dweck is a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist. The mindset concept is simple but it is the various applications on our daily lives that makes it very insightful. I highly recommend people to give this book a read. It can have a profound impact on you as well as those around you.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.

 

What I Learned from Steve Ballmer’s Keynote on Leadership

A few weeks ago Index Exchange, where I’m working at as a solutions engineer, held an annual executive summit in Santa Monica. Steve Ballmer was the guest speaker invited who gave a keynote on the principles of leadership.

For those who don’t know, Steve Ballmer was the CEO of Microsoft from 2000 – 2014 and is the owner of the Los Angeles Clipper. As an NBA fan, I would love to get a chance to meet one of the most passionate NBA owners and learn from his experience. I didn’t get to attend but luckily for me, I was able to learn from the recordings and share my takeaways with you!

Ideas Matter

The worst leader of all is the charismatic leader who takes you in the wrong direction

The most important quality of a leader is having the right vision and ideas. What’s the proposition around which you are trying to lead people? Your team won’t buy in if they don’t believe in the direction you are leading them. There are many great ideas, but you need to choose the idea that your organization has the capability to execute on.

Get the Team Right

Talented people are talented people but they got to love where you want to go and collaborate in the right way

Start with ideas first. The team that you will want to put together will be dependent on your ideas. When picking the team, pick great people who believe in your vision and who can work well together.

Passion, Optimism, Persistence

Optimism is a force multiplier

If you don’t have passion, optimism, and persistence, then it’s hard to be in the game for the long term. In the road to accomplish great things, there will always be obstacles along the way. You will need passion to be focused on your goal, optimism to enjoy the journey, and persistence to get through the hard times.

Own the Results

The first step to owning the results is to know what the goal is. Measure your results against the goal. Understand how and why mistakes are made and learn how to prevent it from happening again. Start with yourself, but also hold your team accountable as well. Everyone makes mistakes but enforcing accountability is a must.

Magic of Time

Deciding timeframe for what success looks like and how long you give for ideas to develop is an important part of leadership
Everything has to be in a context of a timeframe that you think is relevant to what your team is working on.

Summary

This is one of the best keynotes I’ve watched. Steve Ballmer is an amazing speaker and all his points are concise and effective. He uses a story to demonstrate each of his key messages, which is something I’m learning to do more of. Unfortunately, the keynote recording is only shared internally, but this video I came across has very similar key messages. I’ll recommend it if you want to learn more about his leadership principles as well as how he communicates on stage.

I’ll love to hear what your thoughts are. 🙂