The great British social theorist Terry Eagleton once said: “Everyone, without exception, operates under a philosophy. Those who think they don’t are in the grip of a philosophy they’re not aware of.”
As an advocate of doing things consciously and not simply because “that’s the way it is”, I’ve recently become very interested in the work of Carol Dweck, Stanford University professor of psychology and author of numerous books on “growth mindset”. She presents a very simple but useful model: the dichotomy of a “fixed mindset” vs. “growth mindset”.
To paraphrase, in a fixed mindset:
- Rules and standards of excellence are fixed.
- You are trained to achieve those fixed standards and gain praise.
- We tend to call people “talented”, “smart”, “successful” as though these are intrinsic qualities.
- It can often lead to avoidance of risk-taking, as we train young people to seek praise rather than seeking growth.
- Ultimately, it can often lead to depression or lack of motivation.
In a growth mindset:
- There are no universal, fixed standards of excellence; it’s not there are no standards, it’s that they’re more fluid and related to the individual stretching themselves.
- Comparison with others and seeking praise is not the goal; mastery and purpose are the intrinsic motivators.
- Notions of “intelligence” are not fixed; there is an understanding that with attention, one can get smarter in just about anything. (This would also correlate to many recent findings about neuroplasticity and the unbelievable flexibility of the brain.)
- One seeks out challenges that will promote growth and learning.
- It tends to lead to recurring experiences of personal accomplishment and fulfillment.
Professor Dweck has studied numerous organizations and conducted studies that conclude growth mindset cultures tend to prize collaboration, innovation and creativity far more than those who are trapped in a fixed mindset. And no big surprise, their people tend to be happier. In fixed mindset schools and companies, competition and even cheating are far more prevalent. For the simple reason that it’s all about getting praise and boosting your “self-esteem”.
Here’s a link to a Google talk she made last year. Very much worth listening to:
In next week’s post, we’ll discuss how this growth mindset can apply to our industry, advertising. We think it’s time that advertising agencies and clients consciously adopt a growth mindset. The results, I believe, will be powerful and meaningful.