Having a “fixed mind-set” can prevent you (and your company) from reaching your potential

[Note: After posting this, I discovered (via Merlin Mann) the video I’ve embedded below. In it, Ira Glass describes the gap between our taste and our ability to execute at that level when we begin working in a new medium. Read this post, the article it links to and the video and stop quitting just because you’re not good at something new.]

Why do some people with lots of smarts and talent seem to flame out and never quite make it?

Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist who’s studied the question for three decades, believes the answer lies in how people think about intelligence and talent. According to the NY Times, “Those who believe they were born with all the smarts and gifts they’re ever going to have approach life with what she calls a ‘fixed mind-set.’ Those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time, however, live with a “growth mind-set.”


“People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

w:Tiger Woods during a practice round at the M...

Over the years, I’ve seen incredibly talented young athletes, musicians or scholars hit the wall in their development. At the same time, I’ve observed young people who were less inately talented blossom into superstars. I used to think it had something to do with being “burned out” after years of being pushed to succeed so early. Over time, however, I’ve grown to think that being labled “gifted” early in life can trick a smart and talented person into believing hard work, determination and curiousity are less important than raw talent or brain-power.

Fortunately, we have some role models — Tiger Woods springs to mind — who have never let great gifts and talent trick them into having a fixed mind-set. Woods, surely one of the greatest to ever play the game of golf, is always seeking a deeper understanding and constantly working on new ways to improve his skills.

I think many successful companies develop fixed mindsets. They refuse to believe that a company with people less talented and not as smart as them can ever have the ability to surpass them. They refuse to push, stretch and confront their own mistakes and grow from them. They refuse to be like Tiger.

The good news? According to Dweck, individuals can change. They can overcome the fixed mindset. So can companies.

Bonus video: Ira Glass on not giving up when you’re working in a new medium.

[Image via: Wikipedia]

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