Category Archives: Psychology

“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.

The way we say things matters

This lovely little piece of mis-translation came through my Twitter feed over the weekend (originally from Sheenagh Pugh):


I am reliably informed by team mates in our Zhuhai office that a better translation would read “Keep off the grass”, but the wording as it is makes for a much nicer message I think. (For a much more in-depth look at this translation problem, check out the post on this very topic on the Language Log.)

This got me thinking about the way we express ourselves as testers. We’re often the bringers of bad news and choosing how to express that information to our stakeholders can make a huge difference to how both the individual tester and the profession of testing is perceived.

I’ve been reading recently about interactional expertise (Collins and Evans) and emotional intelligence and I think these are subjects that testers need to be familiar with to help them interact with their varied stakeholders in more effective ways. While writing good defect reports is still an essential (and overlooked) skill, the ability to communicate with stakeholders more generally is becoming more and more important especially in agile teams, so I’m sure that developing these skills will elevate testers within their teams and help to make them the valued team members they really should be.

(And, while I’m here, I strongly recommend that you grab yourself a copy of the latest Status Quo album, called “Aquostic“. This is the band’s first all acoustic effort and has just charted in the UK at number 5, not bad for a band in its sixth decade!)

Release decisions and marshmallows

The Stanford “marshmallow experiment” was a series of studies on delayed gratification led by psychologist Walter Mischel, in the late ’60s and early ’70s. A recent revisiting of this experiment can be seen in this short video and, whether you believe in the claims of follow-up studies or not, it’s interesting to watch the different behaviours of different kids (even the difference between two twin boys in this regard).

I was working on a presentation about thinking of testing as being an information service provider when this video came to my attention (thanks to my wife). It got me thinking about the people who make release decisions for the software we work on.

We can provide one marshmallows worth of valuable product information right now and you can release based on that information. Or, we can spend some more time doing really good testing and then give you two marshmallows worth of information, to make an even more informed release decision!

The problem with this analogy is that neither marshmallow necessarily tastes very good – and the second one is likely to taste worse than the first, right?!

Anyway, maybe just give your business folks a marshmallow anyway, it might just make their day.