Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
reviewed by Peter T. Coleman - September 29, 2006
For decades, Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in psychology, has published her pioneering work on motivation and personality in top scholarly journals and texts. Her research on implicit theories of intelligence has resulted in a variety of important practical applications, particularly in the classroom. In her new book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006), Dweck brings together her extensive body of research into one narrative, and for the first time, introduces her work to the general public.
Dwecks research concerns a basic set of beliefs, or mindsets, that she has found to have profound and pervasive effects on behavior. She opens the book by telling a story of the first time she encountered one of these beliefsone quite different from her ownthat led children to see failure as a gift. At the time, she was conducting research on how people coped with failure and, much to her surprise, discovered that some children not only coped well, but seemed to love failure. Whats wrong with them? she askeda question that launched an extraordinary program of research on the effects of different mindsets on human learning and behavior.
The basic premise of Dwecks theory is that people can operate from two different types of mindsets, or basic assumptionsthe fixed mindset or the growth mindset. The fixed mindset views a variety of different aspects of lifesuch as your own and others intelligence, ability, and personalityas stable, fixed qualities. Thus, ones IQ, for example, is seen as a steady characteristic that cannot be substantially changed over time. The growth mindset, on the contrary, views such qualities as intelligence as always in-development; as characteristics that are open to substantial change given favorable conditions and sufficient effort. Dweck has found that these two underlying beliefs, which are often unarticulated and beyond our conscious awareness, influence a wide range of our interpretations, decisions, and actions; from how we approach learning in school to how we take up our personal relationships and professional roles.
For example, consider the implications of viewing intelligence as a fixed trait versus a developmental process. Dwecks research has found that people who view intelligence as a fixed-trait believe that you are either smart or you are not; that you were either born lucky or unlucky. Consequently, these people approach the learning of new tasks as a time to performto prove to themselves and to others that they are smart. If such people struggle with a task or fail, then it tells them that they have low intelligence. Such fixed-intelligence people therefore tend to shy away from new challenges that might provide such a verdict. Growth-minded people, however, approach the learning of new tasks as just thatan opportunity to learn. They see failures on such tasks as useful information, as feedback on what to do differently, and as a new opportunity to develop. Therefore, they tend to be drawn to challenging new tasks and consequently, to appreciate them. Thus, the different mindsetsfixed or growthhave implications for the meaning of failure and the meaning of effort in the face of failure. For if I am smart, I shouldnt have to work hard to achieve my goals, right? I should be able to just do it!
Unlike many other books on personality research, Dweck is careful to not oversimplify. She presents these mindsets as individual tendenciesat times chronic in some peoplebut suggests that many of us probably operate from a combination of these beliefs, or that we may hold fixed-beliefs in one domain of our life (such as in our beliefs about the fixed-nature of creativity), but have a growth-mindset about other aspects (such as regarding peoples abilities). Her understanding of the nature of the mindsets is, in fact, a growth-minded one, believing that they are socially determined through conditioning and develop gradually over time. Thus, her work is social-psychologicalhighlighting the importance of social conditions for both developing a propensity for and triggering different mindsets in people.
Dwecks book begins by establishing the basic distinctions between the two mindsets, elaborating on them in some detail, and then devoting the remainder of the book to discussing the implications of these mindsets for endeavors in a variety of domains including sports, business, education, families, and personal relationships. In doing so, she summarizes years of research on the effects of mindsets on such processes as depression (they have found growth-minded people to be more resilient when feeling depressed), learning, effort, and confidence.
The style of the book is accessible. Like Malcolm Gladwells Tipping Point and Blink (which she cites), Dweck is able to help the reader navigate the world of social science research in an informative and engaging manner. The difference in Mindset is that this is primarily a discussion of Dwecks own work (or of the work of colleagues who are working with her theory). Hence, her insight into the work is first-rate. Yet she doesnt overwhelm the reader with her science. Instead, she weaves a hopeful storypart personal reflections from her own journey from fixed-mindedness to growth-mindedness, part research summary, part mini-case studies of people (greats and not-so-greats from sports, business, and education), and part work-book. She concludes each chapter with a set of brief activities for exploring and/or changing your own mindset, and offers a workshop chapter at the end, which walks the reader through a program for personal and profession change.
Carol Dwecks scholarship on mindsets is already renowned in psychology. This book offers an easy introduction to her work, and to the benefits of a life lived as a learner.