The title for this post comes from a post Mark Lebedew wrote a few years ago about the Hawthorne Effect. Indeed, the studies of Elton Mayo & Co formed the cornerstone of modern motivation theory in the workplace replacing the medieval notions of financial reward and punishment. However, I recently read a book which would have to be up there in significance. I would go as far as to say if you only read one book about coaching, it should be Mindset by Carol Dweck.
For the last 30 odd years psychologist Dweck has dedicated her life researching how a simple idea in our minds can profoundly influence the way we approach challenges and adversity that appear along the road to success. In short, Dweck describes two types of mindsets: The “Fixed Mindset” where a person believes their talent, intelligence and character are innate and unchangeable; and the “Growth Mindset” where a person believes their talent, intelligence and character can be cultivated through effort.
For fixed mindset people there is an urgency to prove and validate themselves over and over again (and avoid situations that might disprove their talent or intelligence); for growth mindset people, there is a need to continue improving and getting better at things.
In one famous test (see video above), a group of children are given a math puzzle to solve. Afterwards, half are praised on their intelligence (promoting a fixed mindset) and half are paused on their effort (promoting a fixed mindset). The kids are then given a harder puzzle – the kids praised on their intelligence give up earlier, want to go back to the easier puzzles or lose interest completely; the kids praised on their effort try for longer and are keen for harder challenges. Afterwards the kids are asked to write about their experiences to students at the next school and give their results. The kids praised on their intelligence lie about their results and always in the same direction (upwards). Just by giving a kind of feedback was enough to change a group of students into liars.
Mindset gives plenty of insights and advice into how to promote the growth mindset in educational, parenting, sports and professional contexts. Some stuff I thought was useful:
|In one world—the world of fixed traits—success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself.
||In the other—the world of changing qualities—it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself
|Failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented.
||Failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.
|Effort is a bad thing. Like failure, it means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort.
||Effort is what makes you smart or talented
On stories like “The hare and the Tortoise” and “The Little Engine that Could”
The problem was that these stories (The Hare and the Tortoise) made it into an either—or. Either you have ability or you expend effort. And this is part of the fixed mindset. Effort is for those who don’t have the ability. People with the fixed mindset tell us, ‘If you have to work at something, you must not be good at it.’ They add, ‘Things come easily to people who are true geniuses.’
Dweck suggests praising people on successfully completing things quickly and without error is a bad idea:
Speed and perfection are the enemy of difficult learning: “If you think I’m smart when I’m fast and perfect, I’d better not take on anything challenging”
Instead it is better to deny praise and apologise for wasting their time on something too easy.
Dweck’s research is important in that everything seems to point to it. It’s cited in “The Talent Code”, “The Goldmine Effect” and works by Gladwell (she’s just the kind of character who’s spent her life researching a counter-intuitive niche concept that always pops up in his writing). After years of academic research, Mindset was written as the kind of New York Times bestseller list book that could be accessible to a broad base of readers. The book was on the required reading list for the USA women’s team under Hugh McCutcheon and the Arizona State University Sun Devils volleyball team.
Read it. You won’t regret it