A Rebuttal: Someone’s Missing The Mark On Understanding The Growth Mindset

Leadership Lesson: The growth mindset is not merely about a foundation of continual learning lacking experimentation or risk-taking. Understand that, and you’ll realize the value of constant development, evolution, and risk-taking.

When it comes to how we learn, develop, and push forward toward accomplishment, Dr. Carol Dweck’s seminal book mindset: The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn To Fulfill Our Potential laid the groundwork for understanding the difference between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

The gist of the difference lies in what someone believes and does to achieve what they can.

The fixed mindset keeps itself locked in stagnation by not learning and exploring beyond what it knows now, what it’s certain of. It sees no need to progress to the next level of performance. It doesn’t understand the value in taking on new skills and abilities. It seeks to avoid stretching for fear of failure — that it will not succeed — which would lead to a feeling of incompetence.

The growth mindset, on the other hand, leads us to work to push through anything. We don’t believe in limitations. We don’t function in complacency. There’s always more to learn and better performance levels to reach. It’s not about the end results so much as it is about the effort we put in. So although something we’ve tried to achieve, accomplish, and overcome might not work out, we see the value in continuing to seek out new ways of doing it.

It’s pretty straightforward. Fixed mindset — “I’m good where I am.” Growth mindset — “How can I continue evolving?”

Fair enough. Makes sense. Seems like something we should all be aware of. Are we staying in our comfort zone for fear of looking ridiculous and foolish, or do we instead understand that that’s par for the course, and there’s nothing wrong with that?

Pretty simple.

In Episode 12 of the Coach It Out In The Books Podcast I covered and broke down the book and its value. I did so because I think it teaches a powerful lesson we could all learn, specifically as it applies to personal and leadership development — that we tend to stop developing, evolving, and expanding our ability out of fear of failure.

I believe in what the book teaches and think it’s imperative we all start functioning with the growth mindset — that we keep looking for what is possible, that we keep seeing the fruit in the journey of getting better.

There’s no need to have it all figured out or success reached today. That’s neither the promise the growth mindset makes nor a necessity in life. Our journey can be just as exciting as the reward we believe is at the end of its path.

Hence, why I take issue with the Forbes article The Danger Of Having A Growth Mindset by Kevin Kruse.

In it, the author says there’s a danger to having the growth mindset. And he’s right — to a certain extent. Well, actually, only if you utilize what his understanding and definition are of the growth mindset.

The author seems to confuse growth mindset with the idea of some kind of consummate student. Or, more specifically, someone who may just continue to learn without any need for execution of the ideas or attempts at implementation.

He seems to interpret that the distinguishing factor between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset is a matter of learning. That the fixed mindset chooses not to learn while the growth mindset will continue to learn but without doing anything with that growing knowledge.

He warns that the mindset is close to bordering on procrastination, because one is building knowledge without pulling the trigger on implementation.

Yeah, no.

Don’t get me wrong. Relatively speaking, that understanding can work. In it, the fixed mindset is still limiting itself while the growth mindset continues to gain in a knowledge capacity. The fixed mindset is still achieving — and risking — far less than the growth mindset.

But his idea doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t explain how things actually play out: That there’s no danger in living in a true growth mindset because the true growth mindset is one of developing and expanding, learning and trying, preparing and attempting.

The growth mindset is not afraid to try new things. That’s the point this writer misses. The fixed mindset will cringe away from something (not just learning), while the growth mindset will try something and, if it doesn’t work out, will figure out how to get better at it.

The mindsets set the stage for how much someone can — or wants to — achieve. In the book, Dweck goes into the power of utilizing such a mindset and teaching it to our youth, to set them on a path of lifelong learning…and growth, and empowerment, and achievement, and, hopefully, success.

For example, she notes that when a child achieves something, that the achievement itself should not be celebrated the most, and that more attention should be put on the effort the child puts in to achieve that end result. It aims to put emphasis on, and celebrate, effort more than achievement.

Related: If We Need To Evolve Beyond Today, Don’t “Teach A Man To Fish.”

That’s when we all need support and empowerment — in our effort, not when we’ve already achieved our success.

Think about it: If we only celebrate a child’s achievements, they’ll take less risks because they’re under the impression that only achievements are important and will be celebrated. With the growth mindset’s celebration of effort instead, the achievement is not the main focus of acclaim, so whether or not the achievement is attained is not as important as the effort put in.

But, this doesn’t mean achievement is not important, which seems to be what the author of the piece is concerned about. He believes that with the growth mindset no action is ever taken and nothing ever gets achieved.

Dweck wants to ensure we praise effort more than achievement, not that we forfeit achievement altogether.

Although the fixed mindset examples in the book encourage us to not merely praise the result of an effort but the effort most of all, that doesn’t mean encouraging a continuous life of merely taking in information. It doesn’t mean an effort of continuous, endless, and never-ending consumption of knowledge, or learning, as the author suggests.

So, I’m not sure why Mr. Kruse believes the growth mindset is about continued learning without any level of achievement, or that it’s a path comparable to procrastination.

There is continuous learning, yes, to get to what we want to achieve. But there’s growth after that. We can — and need to — raise the bar on ourselves. That’s how we grow.

That’s what I took away from reading the Dr. Dweck’s bookmindset.

Where do you stand? What were your takeaways?



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