Book review: Mindset, by Carol Dweck

How do you respond to setbacks? Do you see them as a sign that you’re a failure, or do you stop and think about how to do better next time? How do you view effort? As a pre-requisite to good performance, or as something that people with natural talent simply don’t need? Your answers will give you a clue to your mindset, the subject of Carol Dweck’s insightful book.

Dweck identifies two mindsets: fixed and growth. The fixed mindset views ability as just that – fixed – and believes it to be carved in stone from an early age. We’re the finished product. Period. The growth mindset views ability as something that can be developed with commitment, effort and practice. We’re dynamic, developing and a work-in-progress. No prizes for guessing which one Dweck is promoting here.

The book is basically in three sections. First, there’s the background research and thinking on ability and accomplishment and how the fixed and growth mindsets can show up. Then there are heaps of examples from the worlds of sport, business, education as well as more intimate relationships (couples, parents) with some stunning examples of mindset and its effects. Finally, Dweck moves to changing mindsets with some thoughts on how to shift from the corrosive fixed mindset to a more sustainable growth one.

Things I like about this book:

  • The underlying message for a start – ‘you can change your mindset’.
  • Carol Dweck uses extensive resources and research to support her claims and yet the writing style is accessible, readable and often humorous – especially the examples from her own life as a ‘recovering fixed mindset’.
  • There are inspirational examples of teachers and coaches with much food for thought for managers and parents. If you think that dishing out, “You’re so talented”, praise is the way to go… brace yourself. And Dweck is scathing about the effect of meaningless praise on the children now showing up at work (‘the praised generation’).
  • The business section compares and contrasts leaders from the U.S. such as Jack Welch and Lee Iacocca, in ways to which we can relate.
  • I like the short and sweet questionnaire early on and the diagram that maps out fixed v growth mindsets.

Things I’m less keen on about this book:

  • All the examples are from the U.S., which is okay when it comes to world-famous business leaders (for good or ill), and sports stars with a more global reach, from tennis and golf. But I struggled with baseball, basketball and ‘football’ (meaning lemon-shaped thing that seldom makes contact with a foot, as opposed to a round, ball-shaped thing that frequently does) and lots of names I’d never heard of, so these examples had far less resonance for me.
  • Some of the example growth mindset speech patterns might sound a bit over-sweet to our old European ears, so will probably need an edit before you try them out.

Having said that, this book is highly recommended to managers and parents (and might just be compulsory if you’re both). It sits well with work on realistic optimism and resilience (by Martin Seligman for example), and CBT (the ‘Overcoming’ series for example).

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