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.
JAMES MOREHEAD: So I actually — I have two children, two daughters, college age and high school age. I read your book after my older daughter was approaching high school, but my younger daughter benefited from it to the point right where I banned the two S-words in our house– smart and stupid. I never used the latter, but I was very guilty of using the former. Raise your hands if you told a friend, or a child, or a loved one how smart they are. Words are really powerful, is one thing I took away from your book. Talk about trigger words like that: smart, stupid, and how those can work against your best intentions.
CAROL DWECK: Yes. When you call someone smart, you put them in a box. Or, really, you are kind of putting them on a pedestal. And their life becomes organized around deserving the pedestal, staying on the pedestal. And you can only do that by narrowing your life to include only things you sure you’re good at, only things you’re sure you can succeed at.
When we tell someone, you did that so quickly, I’m so impressed, they hear if I didn’t do it quickly, you wouldn’t be impressed. A lot of things take a long time. Or you got an A without working, then they think, oh, if I work you’re not going to think I’m smart at math, say. And so you’re just very subtly conveying these ideas that smart people don’t make mistakes, smart people don’t have to work hard, the most important thing in the world is to be smart and look smart at all times. And then people start narrowing their world so they can succeed within that fixed mindset.
JAMES MOREHEAD: So one thing at Google that we’re obsessed with this is proving things through data. And I think one of the compelling arguments your book made was around the research you did with children in school environments. So talk about some of that early research and how it’s evolved to reinforce that there’s weight behind this concept.
CAROL DWECK: Yes, we’ve done research, now, with tens of thousands of students. First, finding that those who naturally have a growth mindset do better. We’ve traced them over challenging — especially in challenging courses, like pre-Med organic chemistry; or challenging transitions, seventh grade, high school, college transitions. We’ve studied all of those. Recently we studied all of the 10th grade students in the country of Chile, 170,000. And we found that at every level of family income, those who believe they could develop their intelligence perform substantially higher on achievement tests than those who thought they couldn’t.
And the most striking was that among the poorest kids, those who had a growth mindset were performing at the level of much wealthier kids. But importantly, because those are correlations, we’ve done a number of studies where we have taught students a growth mindset. The ideas that every time they do a really hard task and stick to it, the neurons in their brain form new connections and they can get smarter. And then we show them how to put that into practice. We have found that students who learn this far better across challenging courses and transitions. We just showed that in a study of women in STEM classes at universities around the country.
But we’ve shown that at the transition to college, transition to high school, and so forth. So teaching a growth mindset leads kids to take on challenges, stick to them, and improve.
JAMES MOREHEAD: So in our current education culture, and then I want to switch to in the work environment, there’s such an obsession with standardized testing and those tests having a real material impact on teachers’ advancement and even, in some cases, their income. How do school systems battle on that front and at the same time tackle growth mindset, which is more about working hard in the process than the actual end results?
CAROL DWECK: Yes. It’s such an interesting story, because standardized tests were brought in for good reason. There are students in certain parts of the country and in certain schools who were performing so poorly. And nobody knew and nobody cared. And it was an attempt to say let’s not cheat kids out of a good education. But we all know the unintended consequences.
School became about standardized tests, and many teachers, feeling that their jobs or their raises were on the line, taught to the test the entire year. How warning could that be for teachers or for students? And we did research to show that a lot of students think that those tests measure how smart they are and how smart they’ll be when they grow up. So they’re nervous about them, and the whole year is spent on them. When, in fact, if you just taught kids, and in a way that made them love learning, to love challenges, know how to stick to them, feel the thrill of improvement, then the test score would come as a byproduct of that. Finland, the country that does so well on all these international tests, they don’t teach to the test. They teach.