Reaching success – and staying there

I don’t often write book reviews, but this read is so good, it’s worth supporting.

“Mindset,” by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, explains in detail two ways of thinking. The mindsets affect sports, business, love and relationships, teaching and education (including parenting), and other areas of our lives.

Each of us has a mindset that affects the way we think, which explains how others respond to us.

The main point of her book is this: Whatever our mindset is, we are not stuck with it. We can change if we so desire.

The fixed mindset

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character – well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”

Dweck explains this mindset with her sixth-grade teacher, who “believed that people’s IQ scores told the whole story of who they were … only the highest-IQ students could be trusted to carry the flag, clap the erasers, or take a note to the principal … she was creating a mindset: … look smart, don’t look dumb. Who cared about or enjoyed learning when our whole being was at stake every time she gave us a test or called on us in class?”

Our genetics define us. We are who we are. It’s fixed. If we are born smart, then we are smart. If we are born with an intellectual mark or two missing, then tough rocks for us. We have to live with it.

There’s a pecking order, and we have to justify ourselves all the time to keep ourselves at or near the top.

At one time, I worked with a photographer who focuses on winning awards from his peers for his work. Recently, he and his photo department entered several photos in two contests. In the first contest, they won one award. In the other, they won eight – with the same photos.

Rather than getting excited about winning eight awards, he was bummed they won only one in the first contest, and vowed to do better next year.

On Facebook, I told him that he didn’t need validation. He’s a good photographer. He knows that.

He responded by saying, yes, he does need validation. His self-esteem is low.

He then deleted those comments from his Facebook post.

That’s the fixed mindset.

Can we improve our self-esteem? Can we appreciate a pat on the back from one person, even if another person chooses not to follow suit?

The growth mindset

“The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way – in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments – everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

This mindset isn’t afraid of failure, but tries to learn from it. These folks see setbacks and obstacles as challenges to overcome.

An example from sports

Dweck contrasts the two mindsets by comparing leaders in several arenas of life, including sports. She refers to former tennis star John McEnroe as a prime example of the fixed mindset. McEnroe was well-known for his temper. When he missed a shot or lost a match, he blamed everyone but himself – the weather, his shoes, the chair umpire, the ball boys, his opponent …

McEnroe had enough talent to get himself to the top of the tennis world. He won several major tournaments. But he couldn’t sustain it, because he wasn’t willing to work hard and improve himself.

In contrast, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school varsity basketball team. We like to give that coach a hard time, but Jordan had yet to show the incredible talent that would make him one of the best basketball players who ever lived.

Instead of complaining or blaming the coach for getting cut, Jordan took another approach. He worked hard to improve his skills. He worked so hard, he eventually became a superstar.

Here’s the key: Once he became a star and started winning championships with the Chicago Bulls, he continued to work hard and improve his skills. That’s why he won six championships, a feat that very few players have ever reached in basketball.

McEnroe and Jordan both had huge amounts of talent. But they handled it differently. And they got different results.

An example from business

Dweck gives examples of both mindsets from the business world. She has a section titled “CEOs and the Big Ego.” Her first example of this is Lee Iacocca, who rescued Chrysler Corp. from bankruptcy by obtaining federal bailout loans.

But before Iacocca got to Chrysler, he was a top executive at Ford Motor Co. He wanted to succeed Henry Ford II at the top of Ford. Dweck writes that Iacocca said, “Ford corporate headquarters was a palace and Henry Ford was the king … I was the crown prince. I was His Majesty’s special protégé. All of us … lived the good life in the royal court … White-coated waiters were on call throughout the day, and we all ate lunch together in the executive dining room.”

However, Ford eventually forced Iacocca out of the company. Rather than trying to learn from Henry Ford II or build on the skills he learned there, Iacocca hated Ford after that. “So the king who had defined him as competent and worthy now rejected him as flawed.”

Iacocca poured himself into Chrysler and, in his autobiography, wrote, “Today, I’m a hero.”

But like McEnroe, Iacocca’s success didn’t last. After he rescued Chrysler, he spent the company’s money on improving his image, not on building better cars. He didn’t want his underlings to get credit for innovative engineering or design, so he quashed good ideas. Instead of keeping up with Japanese companies that were designing better cars, he railed against them and demanded the American government impose tariffs and quotas against them.

Chrysler’s board of directors saw what was happening, and got rid of Iacocca. He could have made a huge difference in the auto industry, but he didn’t – because that would have required teamwork and sharing the glory.

In contrast, Dweck profiles several successful business leaders, including Lou Gerstner, who turned around a struggling IBM. Instead of dining in the executive offices, Gerstner visited every IBM facility to get a first-hand look at how the company was operating. He listened to the shop workers. He learned. He rewarded teamwork. He focused on customer service, even though that hurt the bottom line at first. Wall Street was not kind, but Gerstner pushed forward. Eventually, IBM became a world leader in the computer industry.

So what?

Mindsets aren’t only for world-class leaders. You and I have a mindset, too. How do we handle failure or setbacks? Do we give up, or do we learn from our situation? Are we stuck where we are, or can we grow and change?

Dweck is convinced that each one of us can choose a growth mindset. We don’t have to, but we can.

The growth mindset requires effort. Hard work. Learning. Overcoming. It’s not judging ourselves or others. It’s teamwork. It’s not putting others down when they make a mistake – including our children, who will do things their parents don’t like. Do we encourage and teach? Or do we yell and punish?

Certain parts of my life have fallen apart in recent years. How have I handled that? How do I handle that today?

Can I change the way I handle my issues? Do I want to?

What is my mindset?


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