“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” (Carol S. Dweck)

The second of my recent airport bookshop purchases has made for an excellent read over the last week. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck explores the influence that the way we think about our talents and abilities has on our success.

The key concept here is that of the “growth mindset”, as compared to a “fixed mindset”. A fixed mindset is “believing that your qualities are carved in stone… [and] creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over” while a growth mindset is “based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others…. [and] everyone can change and grow through application and experience”.  She notes that all of us have elements of both mindsets.

She notes that a “fixed mindset makes people into non-learners” and, while failure still can be painful with a growth mindset, “it doesn’t define you; it’s a problem to be faced, dealt with and learned from”. I liked this question as a way to think about growth vs. fixed mindsets: “Is success about learning – or proving you’re smart?”

The role of effort in the growth mindset is highlighted throughout the book:

The fixed mindset limits achievement. It fills people’s minds with interfering thoughts, it makes effort disagreeable, and it leads to inferior learning strategies. What’s more, it makes other people into judges instead of allies. Whether we’re talking about Darwin or college students, important achievements require clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning. This is what the growth mindset gives people, and that’s why it helps their abilities grow and bear fruit.

It’s an interesting section of the book when Carol moves away from the individual to the organizational level:

Clearly the leader of an organization can hold a fixed or growth mindset, but can an organization as whole have a mindset? Can it have a pervasive belief that talent is just fixed or, instead, a pervasive belief that talent can be and should be developed in all employees? And, if so, what impact will this have on the organization and its employees?

She goes on to cite some research in this area:

People who work in growth-mindset organizations have far more trust in their company and a much greater sense of empowerment, ownership, and commitment… Those who worked in fixed-mindset companies, however, expressed greater interest in leaving their company for another… employees in the growth-mindset companies say that their organization supports (reasonable) risk-taking, innovation, and creativity… Employees in the fixed-mindset companies not only say that their companies are less likely to support them in risk-taking and innovation, they are also far more likely to agree that their organizations are rife with cutthroat or unethical behavior.

A reference to an excellent diagram by Nigel Holmes is a handy summary of the messages in this book:

Fixed compared to Growth mindset (thanks to Nigel Holmes)

This is a book with great messages and is of broad interest. Carol cites lots of research to back her claims and the book is made very readable thanks to the excellent examples from the business world, school, and sport.

Thinking about the book’s key message around the growth mindset in the context of software testing, it strikes me that much of the testing industry is actually stuck in a fixed mindset and the benefits of continuous learning and growth are not as valued as they could be. The idea of certifications in testing doesn’t help with this (although you could argue there is learning involved in attaining them), especially when you can take an exam to become an “Expert” level tester.

It’s personally very rewarding to be active in a part of the testing community that does genuinely value learning and growth (that’s the context-driven testing community) and where having “a bottomless trunk full of strategies [and] allies in learning” are the norm.


2 thoughts on ““Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” (Carol S. Dweck)

  1. robertday154

    This relates directly to my last and current roles. My last role was in the in-house IT team for a facilities management company. We developed applications to make the company’s offer – a 24/7 contact centre for (mainly) retail clients to call in maintenance and repair jobs – function. But the company regarded all IT as a support service, even software development and testing. So we spent a lot of time making apps work and firefighting. Ultimately, the company’s owners decided that developing software in-house was too expensive and they would be better off buying in from outside. Then they took that one stage further, and bought the company that developed the proprietary solution.

    If challenged, the company would say that they had a growth mind-set. That might even have been true; but it only applied to their core business. When it came to IT, their mind-set was definitely fixed. Yes, they wanted to look smart, but they gave up very easily – an in-house project to refresh the call centre software was pulled after five months, even though the Board had previously signed up to the plan to deliver the project over a year or more. My immediate line managers promised all sorts of personal development activity when I started, but none of it ever materialised. They certainly ignored negative feedback; when I applied simple smoke tests to other proprietary packages they bought in (an online teaching tool, or the company website), any bugs I pointed out – and there were plenty – were ignored, and I was actually told that my job was to test what had been built in-house, no matter what the reputational impact was on defective applications being seen and used (after a fashion) by colleagues as well as customers. And my successes in other fields beyond software testing were certainly interpreted as threats by some senior managers when I offered them to the company as additional assets that I could bring on board.

    I now work for a specialist software house. I’m pleased to report that I see none of those behaviours. Perhaps because we operate within the academic sector, learning and developing comes as a part of the package. The company was started 30-odd years ago by a lecturer and his son who saw an IT solution to an administrative problem; and as growth has been organic, the company has only expanded to the degree that it has been able to, without bringing in third party owners or partners. Again, that growth mind-set may also reflect in matters of corporate strategy and structure; my last employers, with a fixed mind-set, saw investment to be a matter of injecting a fixed amount of start-up capital and growing from there. With that starting point, all assets and resources are treated as having a fixed price, a fixed functionality and hence a fixed utility; and if they do not perform to requirement, they should be dispensed with and something else put in their place. The idea of growing functionalities as resources permit through organic growth into roles was not in their mind-set.

  2. Pingback: Testing Bits – 9/24/17 – 9/30/17 | Testing Curator Blog

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