Book Review – Mindset by Carol Dweck


Thankfully (for now) it looks like Australia has contained the spread of the Coronavirus quite well thanks to the measures put into place. Businesses in many sectors are now starting to re-open as restrictions are being eased. Observing how the local business environment has reacted to the challenges presented by the lock-down and the re-emergence out of lock-down brought to mind the fixed and growth mindset dichotomy as set out in the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.

Carol Dweck is a psychologist and author who specialised in the research and study of motivation, personality, and development. Dweck’s 2006 book Mindset broke new ground in identifying and clarifying how people mentally approach the challenges of life. I thought it would be useful in light of the global pandemic and our experiences of it as business owners and managers as a point of reflection and review of this book.

Mindset looks at the difference between people with a fixed mindset and people with a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is one that believes abilities are, well, fixed and implicit in the skills and capability make-up of an individual. A growth mindset holds that skills, knowledge, capabilities can be acquired and developed with a positive intent to put in the required effort or study. The book positions a growth mindset as being more useful in overcoming setbacks.

If the above definition is enough for you, you will find the book somewhat repetitive as it takes the reader through several applications of the same overarching distinction. However, these case studies are useful on both putting the mindsets into practical observation but also in further refining the distinction.

A business example demonstrates how a growth mindset can be nurtured via structural changes that encourage communication. A fixed mindset requires approval while a growth mindset looks for development opportunities.

An example of a fixed mindset in sport shows an athlete that blames other people and objects, they make excuses or cheat. They spend no time analysing their failures or mistakes or seeking areas of improvement relying solely on natural ability. Michael Jordan on the other hand sees errors as opportunities to work on his own skills, and those of his team mates. Put simply, a fixed mindset saw failures as disasters, a growth mindset sees them as opportunities.

Another case study looks at extreme adversity such as physical incapacitation. People with a fixed mindset are likely to give up despite their talent, while those with a growth mindset take on such challenges to find a way around and past them.

It is not all bad news for the fixed mindset because, Dweck proposes, that the fixed mindset is not eternally doomed to be fixed. Our mindsets are influenced from birth and the presence of growth role models, teachers, and coaches guiding our development can influence occasional or permanent changes. This is important to realise in child development, and this author is grateful that the Mindset principles are in application at school. Business leaders and managers can also play this role with their employees through an environment where failure and mistakes are OK and are opportunities for learning.

Although it doesn’t come easy, Dweck shows that a growth mindset can be developed as the brain can be trained. We can consciously think about the choice we have in how we respond to setbacks. We can also create an environment that encourages a growth mindset in our houses, schools, and workplaces.

Mindset by Carol Dweck is an important book for anyone who manages a work place, parents a child, coaches a team, or plays any role in the learning and development of others.  It is widely referenced in performance and business psychology. It is an easy and engaging read and there is plenty of interest if you look deep beyond the headline distinctions.

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