Monday, June 1, 2009

Book Review Mondays

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Mindset by Carol Dweck
by Carol Dweck

Book Review by Richard L. Weaver II, PhD.

In February, 2006, I wrote an essay entitled, "Some people succeed because of their growth mindset." The essay explains my support for the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, so I have included, as my review of her book, the following essay:

Every now and then you hear or read something that explains a fact you’ve always been concerned about but never directly pursued with enthusiasm or interest. When you hear or read it, however, you think “Ah-ha, that’s it!"

As I was reading the March/April issue of Psychology Today (2006), in the section labeled “PT Road Test,” and under the heading “Self-Help,” in an article entitled “Press for Success,” Lee Billing reviewed the book called Mindset by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck. Her theme for the book can be captured in the statement: “the further you reach, the more you grow.”

Mindset is based on more than 20 years of research into personality, intelligence, and development, and it isn’t her theme that caught my attention.
What I found captivating is that in her book she identified “two distinct approaches to life, a divide,” writes Billings in his review, “with powerful implications.” This is how Billings explains Dweck’s bifurcation (dividing all of human behavior into two aspects):

“Those who believe that intelligence is God-given or intrinsic (the fixed mindset) are likely to stagnate, while those who think that aptitude is flexible and honed through experience (the growth mindset) tend to flourish and thrive” (p. 37).

Why is this piece of information so important? There are two reasons. First, throughout my professional career I have written and given speeches about motivation—how to be motivated and how to motivate others. Whether or not people are motivated is determined by mindset.

For persuaders, this is one piece of demographic information that might help them approach their listeners, because they would know, in advance, which listeners would be more likely to be affected or moved by their message.

Second, it offers a method of self-evaluation. That is, if you discovered which mindset best characterizes your own approach to life, in the first case it would provide information that would be self-explanatory. That is, it may reveal why you are unwilling to reach out, face challenges, and risk failure. It may reveal why you are more likely to protect yourself, seek security, and guard your safety. Your inability (or lack of desire) to face the unknown can be motivated by a desire to defend your vulnerability or to insulate yourself from danger.

If you discovered, instead, that aptitude is flexible and honed through experience, you would be able to build on this knowledge by taking further steps that would contribute to your growth, development, and change. It may explain how your personal program of reaching out, facing challenges, and risking failure directly correlates with your success and happiness. What a terrific incentive for continuing your program.

This equation is insightful. Also, it is invaluable for its self-motivating, self-determining, self-sufficiency.

The problem with the bifurcation that Dweck offers, of course, has the very same drawback as any bifurcation. Life tends to be made up of shades of gray and not aspects best defined by the starkness of black and white.

The problem can best be explained by saying that in situations where you feel qualified and knowledgeable, you are willing to take risks and face challenges. In traveling, for example, you may seek out unusual locations off the beaten track. In situations, however, where you are unqualified and less knowledgeable, you are less likely to take a risk or face a challenge. For example, you might be a terrible politician or lobbyist and rather than stick your neck out, you would rather crawl into a hole and hibernate.

Circumstances, too, would dictate the rate of speed by which success and happiness might occur. In some situations, growth and change would happen rapidly and with ease because you felt comfortable, encouraged it, and were determined.

Be this as it may, think of the freedom and license that discovery of a growth mindset (instead of a fixed mindset) might release. For some, it may, indeed, be liberation. There are many people, of course, who already believe in personal growth, development, and change, and there would be little result from such a discovery as this, even though it might spur greater or quicker progress. For them, it may not be a discovery at all.

If you believe that intelligence is an intrinsic, unmoveable, God-given entity then it is unlikely that any kind of outside influence—even highly persuasive, evidence-based, credibility enhanced arguments or presentations—are likely to move you in any way. It is similar to those who believe that the “theory” in “evolutionary theory” means that evolution is merely speculation or a guess.

The term “theory” as used by scientists, carries much more weight than in its common use; it means a concept that has been extensively tested and validated by specifically designed observation and experiment.

The point is that just as evolutionary theory has a long, extremely intensive, published record validating its various aspects and implications, some people still dismiss it entirely as mere conjecture.

In much the same way, it has long been known that aptitude is flexible and honed through experience. Knowing this, the implications for self-improvement are powerful.

One clear conclusion from reading Dweck’s book, Mindset, is that mindsets are not set in stone. Thank goodness, because rigid thinking benefits no one. Thank goodness, too, because mindsets create our whole mental world. They not only explain how we become optimistic or pessimistic, shape our goals, determine our attitude toward work and relationships, affect how we raise our kids, and predict whether or not we will fulfill our potential, they are the path of opportunity and success.

With a growth mindset, the proper attitude is in place so that parents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, executives, and others not only know there is something solid with which to work, that there is an internal motivation in place to realize and take advantage of constructive criticism, and there is a determined and specific effort to move forward in a positive direction. Some people succeed because of their growth mindset.


Through our reading, researching, and writing, And Then Some Publishing (and our extended family of readers) mine volumes of books representing a wide variety of tastes. We use the books in our writing, test and try suggested techniques, and we read for enjoyment as well. We wouldn't spend the time reviewing the books if we didn't get something out of it. Read more reviews on other fantastic books at our BookWorks website.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Dr. Weaver. We enjoyed your review of Mindset, thank you. Building on your comment that mindsets are not set in stone, we wanted to let you know that Dr. Dweck has also created an online program to help middle school students cultivate a growth mindset based on all of her research on the subject. The program is available at


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