"Mindset - The New Psychology of Success"

Author – Dr. Carol S. Dweck
Publisher – Random House, 2016
(Newer versions available)

Can help with: growth, confidence, inferiority complex, reducing stress, dealing with “failure”, achieving more, relating to others, how you approach challenges.
Mindset - The New Psychology of Success by Carl Dweck - Book Cover image

Book Review of "Mindset" (Dweck)

Two Mindsets

Our worldview and culture can have a profound effect on how we think about ourselves and others. Dr Dweck introduces the concept of 2 key mindsets that influence people’s behaviour: a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset”. Firstly, she explains what this means to her and then she goes on to apply the principles to various areas of life and business. 

Fixed Mindset – essentially believes that your abilities and intelligence are fixed and that education and testing simply reveal their levels. “Success is about proving you’re smart or talented” (p.13). When things go wrong, people with a fixed mindset question who they are – am I really talented/smart? “Failure” can feel like a crisis.

Growth Mindset – believing that your intelligence and abilities can grow through training. Education and testing show where you are at the moment and how to improve. You can learn new things and achieve new levels of mastery through growth. “Failure” isn’t a marker of who or what you are; rather it is about whether you are growing or not. “Success” is not a proof of who you are or that you have “arrived” – it is about you continuing to grow.

Choosing Your Mindset

Dweck believes that we can identify and change our mindset if we want to. This isn’t just a one-off for all of life. We can have a more growth or fixed mindset towards each aspect of our lives. So, although we may have a growth mindset for art, for example, we may still have a fixed mindset for sports – e.g. you can grow as an artist and become a better artist, but you are either a born athlete or you’re not.

The book isn’t exactly equally weighted in terms of positives and negatives of the two mindsets. The author on the one hand says that we can choose which to adopt, but on the other leaves us in no doubt that she sees a fixed mindset as negative.

"When people of the fixed mindset opt for success over growth, what are they really trying to prove? That they're special. Even superior" (p.24)

Finding a Balance

The challenge of these mindsets as I see it is going too far one way or the other. If we apply a growth mindset rigidly to everything then we risk saying that anyone can be a master of anything if they just find the right way to grow into it. This can potentially be psychologically damaging when life proves that this simply isn’t true. We can’t all be born with the same physical or mental potential to be world-class at any and every skill. A certain amount of realism is needed to balance the growth mindset so that expectations don’t become too far-fetched. Dweck seems slightly agnostic on the subject – “can anyone do anything? I don’t really know” (p.58).

Similarly, the excesses of a fixed mindset (e.g. you just don’t have the talent, so why bother…) can cause problems and leave deep scars. In the past, I’ve worked with people with learning difficulties who have been labelled as unlikely to make progress. Yet, for some, finding a different approach that was more aligned with how their mind worked enabled them to achieve far more than many with “talent” did. So, we must not disregard growth as sometimes education and testing in the conventional way simply hasn’t enabled some to tap into their potential. Labelling at an early stage because of a system that works a certain way can wrongly lead to the person and those around them believing they are incapable and destined to remain that way.

To me it seems better to acknowledge the truth behind both beliefs and hold them together in a creative tension. Yes, we might have inherent physical or mental qualities that may facilitate certain things while making others harder; but that doesn’t mean we can’t achieve more and grow if we can find a way to do so that works for us. Believing we can grow and change opens up far more positive avenues than a rigidly fixed mindset. Being realistic can help moderate the frustration or guilt if despite all our efforts we are unable to master something as a growth mindset might suggest.

Benefits of the Growth Mindset

Dr Dweck shows many benefits that are available to those able to lean towards a growth mindset. From turning around businesses through cultural change to personal relationships and study, she is convinced that it is the choice that can make the difference. Here is a summary of some positive outcomes as I see it, drawing on the author’s work: 

If we focus on growth rather than fixed qualities then we can keep on improving and refining, especially if we vary our approach. This gives us hope for potential achievements that might otherwise be written off as unlikely or impossible. Growth is focused more on  the process than the results, so gives more weight to the effort put in. It can also reduce some of the fragility of ego and wavering self-esteem that a fixed mindset can cause due to equating oneself with the results achieved. This, in turn, can reduce the fear of failure as it is no longer as catastrophic to our picture of ourselves. Knowing that we are all works in progress and focusing on how we can grow rather than being proud of who we think we are can induce more of a capacity for humility.

"[P]eople with the growth mindset thrive when they're stretching themselves. When do people with the fixed mindset thrive? When things are safely within their grasp" (p.19)

I would add too that our mindset can affect our relationship with our comfort zone. A fixed mindset is more likely to make our comfort zone more apparent and assuming it has served us well we are more likely to want to stay there where we know the going is good. Choosing the growth mindset can instead point us to looking to expand our comfort zone and not become fixated on its boarders. This is what the results of the author’s research into learning environments seems to show – the growth mindset is up for a challenge. 

Evaluation of Examples

The chapter on business provides examples of famous companies that have either done well or gone through real troubles depending on the approach that they took. Not surprisingly, the positive outcomes are reserved for those who implemented a culture of growth. Although this does help the author to get her point across and does show some real world examples, it risks being a little skewed. For a more comprehensive study, I would like to see examples that were less obviously chosen to prove a point. It is worth acknowledging that a model isn’t 100% perfect, so perhaps a few examples of when things didn’t quite work out as expected could be of use.

The sections on teaching and parenting may not seem obviously relevant to some, but there are principles there that anyone in a position of influence over others could benefit from. It isn’t just children who are learning and training – adult learners can benefit as well. With a little creative application, we can find useful ideas for how we interact in any relationship with another person.

Professional Photographers & Mindset

So, what value is there for professional photographers in the ideas presented in this book? If you find yourself thinking, for example, “I’m not a technical person, so I’ll never understand lighting”, or “I’m not a real artist” then you could be trapping yourself in a fixed mindset. The risk is that as soon as anything comes along that is difficult then we view that as confirmation that we can’t do it. Adopting a growth perspective instead could leave us more open to learning and improving. We might instead think “I don’t know how to do this yet“. 

Rather than look at another photographer and think how lucky they are to have so much talent, we might instead consider how we could work to improve our skillset and find out from some of those photographers what work they had to do. People don’t tend to succeed without trying. If we aren’t willing to put the work in, then we can’t just use “talent” (or lack of it) as an excuse. A growth mindset helps us to take responsibility for ourselves and our businesses. It can open new doors and take us places we might otherwise never have gone.

Exploring Mindset & Personality Further

Understanding our mindset is part of the work we do to discover our passion and personality in depth here at Focused Professional. This enables photographers to tailor their business more around them to be more effective and enjoyable. If you would like to find out more about our mentoring service please get in touch.

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