Here is the full transcript of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s fireside talk on The Growth Mindset @ Talks at Google conference. This event took place on July 16, 2015.
Moderator: James Morehead
JAMES MOREHEAD: Really excited to have such a full room. And I know we have a lot of people on the livestream and a lot more people still who can’t make either and looking forward to seeing this up on YouTube which will be the case in the next few days.
I’m really excited to introduce Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University. She’s the Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of psychology. She is best known for her work on mindsets that people use to guide their behavior. She earned a BA in psychology from Columbia University and then a PhD in psychology from Yale. She’s the author of a bestselling book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”. And despite traffic, a bunch of books arrived at the back of the room, which you can purchase afterwards I certainly encourage you to do so. There’s my well-thumbed copy.
It’s sold over a million copies, so there are many of your friends out there who have enjoyed this work. She’s a frequent speaker, has spoken on the TED stage multiple times, at the United Nations, the White House, among other prestigious organizations. Her work has won so many awards that if I named them all that would be the entire talk. So I’m not going to do that.
And now that I’ve incredibly boosted her ego, I’d like to bring up Professor Dweck.
All right, before we get into mindsets, I want you to share what we’ve learned from what is now the widely-discredited theory of self-esteem and the self-esteem movement.
CAROL DWECK: OK. In the 1990s the self-esteem movement took over the world. We were told to tell everyone how fabulous, brilliant, talented, special they were all the time. This was going to motivate them and boost their achievement. Instead, as you said, it was a complete disaster. It led to the acceptance of mediocrity. It didn’t challenge people to fulfill their potential.
And our research showed telling people they’re smart actually backfires. It makes them afraid of challenges, it makes them fold in the face of obstacles, because they’re worried, oh, does this not look smart? Am I not smart? The whole currency is built around smart.
JAMES MOREHEAD: So what triggered your interest in going deeper and researching how people are motivated and learn, and how did that lead to your definition of mindsets?
CAROL DWECK: I was always interested in why some people wilted in the face of failure, shied away from challenges, when people who are no more talented or able were embracing challenges and thriving in the face of failure. Ultimately this led to our discovery of the mindsets.
And what we found was that some people believe their talents and abilities are just these fixed traits — you have a certain amount and that’s it. But other people believe talents and abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies, good mentoring from others. Through years of work, we found that having a fixed mindset led you to be afraid of challenges that might unmask your deficiencies, made you withdraw in the face of difficulty because you felt stupid.
You didn’t want to feel stupid. You didn’t want other people to think you’re stupid. Whereas having this growth mindset, the idea that your abilities could be developed, made you think, why waste my time looking smart when I could be getting smarter? And I do that through taking on challenges. I do that through seeing them through. Now granted, that doesn’t mean everyone’s the same, that they don’t have different talents and abilities. It just means everyone can grow.
JAMES MOREHEAD: And sort of building on that, you really can’t watch a sports broadcast or the TV show America’s Got Talent, who has talent in the name, without hearing how talented that player is. Or seeing someone perform the ballet and say she has tremendous talent. What role, if any, does innate talent play?
CAROL DWECK: Well, they do have talent now, when we’re watching them, but I think it’s created a nation that thinks when they see someone displaying talent or incredible performance, they were born that way. And they’ve had this inevitable rise to great success. I teach a freshman seminar at Stanford every year. And I have my students do an assignment where they do research on their hero, and almost invariably they think that hero just catapulted to success because of this amazing inborn talent.
But every single time they find that the hero put in inordinate amounts of work, met with obstacles, and really powered through them. So I don’t rule out the idea of the fact that some people are born with passions and talents and build those, but many people who never achieve anything are also born with talents and passions that they don’t see through. And what’s there, what we come with, that’s the raw material that you’ve got to develop. Michael Jordan, it turns out, wasn’t particularly talented until he went at it so ferociously, more ferociously than anyone else.
JAMES MOREHEAD: Over lunch, we had an interesting discussion with part of the team here about growth mindset, fixed mindset, it’s a great simplified way to think of it. Yet people can have both, and it’s more of the spectrum. Talk a little bit more about how you can have both mindset.
CAROL DWECK: Yes, we’re all a mixture. And it’s true that you could have a fixed mindset in one area and a growth mindset another area. And it’s true that it’s a spectrum, not a dichotomy. But it’s really dynamic. Even in a given area, sometimes you’re in a fixed mindset. You think, oh, my ability to fix, I have to prove them, I have to look smart, I can’t show that I’m working too hard. People might not think I’m so smart.
And other times we could be more in a growth mindset. So what we have to start doing is looking for what triggers — because the fixed mindset holds us back, we have to start looking for what triggers it in all of us, even me. And what happens when you’re facing a big challenge? Do you worry about, well, I’m going to unmask deficiencies. What happens when there’s a setback? Do you think maybe I’m not good at this? What happens when you’re receiving criticism? Do you get angry and defensive? What happens when you see someone who’s better than you in what you’re good at? Do you feel jealous and resentful, or do you feel inspired?
Maybe I can learn from that person. Maybe they can mentor me. So watch out at these trigger moments. See how you’re feeling. And see if you can get yourself into more of a growth mindset.