Monday, March 19, 2007

The Mastery Mindset and the Resolution of Paradox

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

The most recent issue of Stanford, the magazine of the university's alumni association (not the law Toc_cover school alumni magazine) has an article about Professor Carol Dweck and her work in the psychology of success and failure.  (HT to my wife on this one.)  She was interviewed on NPR about her book Mindset.  (Interestingly, if you follow the link to Professor Dweck's web page, it will take you to a link that includes a decidedly mixed review - praising the idea underlying the book, but not the execution of the book itself, which appears to written more in popular self-improvement than scholarly style.)

The thesis is that there is an additional outlook, or mindset, wholly unrelated to intelligence, that frames how we look at problems.  The distinction is between a "fixed mind-set" that sees intelligence as static, and a "growth" or "mastery" mind-set that sees intelligence as something that can be developed.  The fixed mind-set about wanting merely to be smart, but the mastery mind-set is about wanting to learn.  As a result, if you simply are smart but not a learner, you would have a tendency to discount effort, avoid challenges, give up easily in the face of obstacles, and be defensive, particularly about making mistakes.  Learners, on the other hand, like challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, embrace effort, and tend to find lessons in mistakes.  I thought one of the conclusions in a diagram of the model was interesting - it generalizes that fixed mind-set confirms a deterministic view of the world but a mastery mind-set gives a greater sense of free will.

When I was in business I thought the creation of learning organizations was a great aspiration.  Learning organizations are or can be quite different from schools.  There are, of course, four possibilities (per the consultant's four-quadrant matrix): that a school is or is not a learning organization, and that a "not-school" (like a business) is or is not a learning organization.  And one of the critical things making something a learning organization was its orientation to mistakes.  (See Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline, and particularly his anecdote about the Japan Air Lines pilot who landed his plane in San Francisco Bay a couple miles short of the SFO runway.)

I was going to pose a thought-provoking question here about your organization, but I decided not to because I didn't want to get criticized.  And it's not worth the effort.  I give up.


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