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Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Paperback – December 26, 2007
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“A good book is one whose advice you believe. A great book is one whose advice you follow. This is a book that can change your life, as its ideas have changed mine.”—Robert J. Sternberg, co-author of Teaching for Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, and Success
“An essential read for parents, teachers [and] coaches . . . as well as for those who would like to increase their own feelings of success and fulfillment.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Everyone should read this book.”—Chip Heath and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick
“One of the most influential books ever about motivation.”—Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock
“If you manage people or are a parent (which is a form of managing people), drop everything and read Mindset.”—Guy Kawasaki, author of The Art of the Start 2.0
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading researchers in the fields of personality, social psychology, and developmental psychology. She is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, and has won nine lifetime achievement awards for her research. She addressed the United Nations on the eve of their new global development plan and has advised governments on educational and economic policies. Her work has been featured in almost every major national publication, and she has appeared on Today, Good Morning America, and 20/20. She lives with her husband in Palo Alto, California.
From the Hardcover edition.
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The irony of Dweck's book is that if the reader understands and believes what she's saying, then after the first chapter that reader has no reason to keep reading.
And now, the long (Dweck) version. I was first made aware of this book and its ideas in a seminar on motivating students about a month and a half ago. As presented in the seminar, these seemed like great ideas: intelligence is not fixed, it is learnable, changeable, even teachable. Asking the right questions and making the right comments in the classroom can change the way students approach learning and thinking, and encourage them to grow and learn much more than one might expect. Fantastic. The approach seemed sensible, the logic intuitive, the results believable. I adapted some of the material for a class and sought out the book.
It seemed odd when I found the book on the library shelf not with psychological or pedagogical research, but near books of self-help and affirmation, such as Julia Cameron's `The Artists's Way.' Ah, I thought, it's just a categorization issue. Not something to worry about. But I should've worried, as I'll explain shortly.
Returning to Dweck, I found the ideas she presents - or rather, singular "idea," since there really isn't more than one - to be quite interesting, as I'd hoped. Unfortunately, the book itself isn't. As I said earlier, reading a single chapter gets the point across: intelligence is not fixed, it can be changed. It is only our "mindset" that holds us back. If we believe we can't learn, if we believe our abilities are restricted, then they will be. Our limitations are learned and set by ourselves. If we think we can improve ourselves, we will. If we insist that we're unable to achieve, we won't. (Dweck offers a few hasty caveats to prevent readers from believing they can will themselves to do absolutely anything, but always as afterthoughts.)
That's it. That's the core and kernel of the book, summarized in my few weak sentences. While it was only natural of Dweck to take more space than this, there are limits. Frankly, the main argument of the book could have been made convincingly in a twenty page pamphlet. With a thoughtful design and organization, perhaps a very readable, informative, and even inspirational, tome of 150 or so pages. But certainly not as the rambling, repetitive 288-page critter as this book now exists.
As I read the first three chapters of this book (and, in full disclosure, that is as far as I got, about one-third through), several things became clear to me. Besides the dearth of ideas - how far can one stretch this simple thought? - I began to understand why "Mindset" was categorized in the self-help section and not placed with more scholarly work. For one thing, there is little of scholarly weight here. Dweck frequently refers to studies and research, but most of this is not available to the interested reader. The endnotes are strangely non-standard, making it difficult to identify sources, let alone locate them. Much of the evidence cited appears to be unpublished and unvetted research by Dweck and her colleagues (or students). Several searches on Dweck and her co-researchers turned up nothing. The general bibliography, while something to go on, is also very thin. Dweck herself appears to have the credibility and scholarly bona fides one might expect from a PhD working at Columbia, but they are not in evidence here.
In addition, the format of the chapters was disappointing. It revealed why the book belongs in the self-help section. Each chapter consists of a mixture of assertions and affirmations from the author, impressive-sounding but undocumented research, and effusive testimonials - I can think of no other word to use - by students and others whose lives have been changed by Dweck's idea. As a motivational tract, it works. As a scholarly work, to be taken seriously, to offer up convincing and repeatable proof of its ideas, it falls short. It is reasonably well-written, it is entertaining (numbing repetition aside), it is provocative and confident. As a useful piece of research, it disappoints.
As I've stated more than once, the idea of this book is excellent. It is the execution of which I am critical. I look forward to a future volume by Dweck or her colleagues that presents more tangible proof and documentation, with less reliance on feel-good anecdotes and faith in the author's assertions.
Napoleon Hill, in Think and Grow Rich, stressed the importance of a positive mental attitude. Normal Vincent Peale, in The Power of a Positive Mental Attitude, stressed the importance of a positive mental attitude.
Dweck picks up where both of these very famous works fell short. Both Hill and Peale understood the importance of a positive mental attitude. But Dweck shows us how we develop fixed mindset attitudes in many areas of our lives and the damage our attitude inflicts on us and on those we interact with. Instead of dwelling on positive or negative attitude, Dweck used the term fixed mindset and growth mindset.
The book is not just theory. Dweck explains how the fixed mindset was in part responsible for the downfall of Enron. She also contrast the fixed mindset of basketball coach Bobby Knight with that of the growth mindset of legendary coach John Wooden (UCLA). The contrast and the results are startling.
As far as parenting and teaching skills, there are some very valuable lessons. We should learn to praise work and not talent. No one ever failed by striving for constant learning. History is littered with failures who relied on their God given talent.
The book is a real eye-opener. The fixed mindset verses growth mindset is not an either or situation. We can possess a growth mindset in certain areas but a fixed mindset in other areas of our lives. If you are honest, you will do some "Ahha" when you discover some fixed mindsets traits about yourself.
If you are a teacher, you will be challenged to ask yourself are you doing the best job you can do. There are some very inspiring stories about teachers doing outstanding jobs with childern everyone else had written off.
Lastly, Dweck tells how we can develop a growth mindset and improve our lives and the lives of those around us.