Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Carol Dweck and Transforming Mindsets from Fixed to Growth

Continuing from the last post changing attitudes toward marketing objects, here is one on marketing the way we think.

At the RSA yesterday, I heard Dr. Carol Dweck talking her research that shows academic results for children are determined not by intelligence, not by effort, but by mindsets.  This might sound obvious, but not when you dig down.

It also applies to adults in business, but let's start with the kids and work our way up.

Two Mindsets: Fixed vs. Growth

Dweck contends that there are two ways of thinking about oneself and one's academic achievements: Fixed and Growth.  The Fixed Mindset is characterised by the conviction that intelligence is a fixed trait.  You are either smart, or you're not.

This mindset is characterised by a reluctance to try new things, difficult challenges, anything that you don't begin with the knowledge that you will succeed.   These children, above all, don't want to look foolish.  There is also the belief that a task should be avoided if it requires effort.  Again, you're either smart at something, or you're not.

The Growth Mindset, by contrast, posits that intelligence can be developed.  In this way of thinking, anything that requires effort is useful because new connections are being created in the brain.  Kids in this group will embrace difficult tasks, and effort is to be expected.  Kids have more resilience when set-backs appear.

Setting the Stage: Studying a Struggling Population

In her research on children "fulfilling potential" intellectually (more on "potential" later), Dweck focused on the transition into 7th grade in a large group of schools.  7th grade is populated largely 13-year-olds, and as Dweck says, the move from the year below can be challenging.  Academically, it signals more work, dividing class members into subject areas, bigger class size, less individual attention.

The emotional effects of these changes, usually without support, are compounded by a dissolution of class cohesion: you might only see familiar faces, including your friends, in one class rather than throughout the day as courses each have their own population.

Some Research to Back it Up

Amidst these changes, the difference in performance, Dweck found, was determined by the way in which children thought about learning.  Dweck studied students who all began with the same scores in math.  Those who had integrated a growth mindset saw a steady increase in grades.  Those with a fixed mindset saw the same decrease in scores that created the reason for the study in the first place.

More on growth mindsets and feedback, and what this has to do with business, in the next post.

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