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March 14, 2007

"The Effort Effect"

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If you manage any people or if you are a parent (which is a form of managing people), drop everything and read The Effort Effect. This is an article about Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck. It examines her thirty-year study of why some some people excel and others don’t. (Hint: the answer is not “God-given talent.”)

The article postulates that people have two kinds of mindsets: growth or fixed. People with the growth mindset view life as a series of challenges and opportunities for improving. People with a fixed mindset believe that they are “set” as either good or bad. The issue is that the good ones believe they don’t have to work hard, and the bad ones believe that working hard won’t change anything.

She recently released a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I have not yet read it, but I ordered it as soon as I read this article. I can’t imagine not liking it.

To provide a further taste of the article and her work, here is a sidebar from the article called “What Do We Tell the Kids?” I took the liberty of adding [employee] to show the relevance of this article to business.

You have a bright child [employee], and you want her to succeed. You should tell her how smart she is, right?

That’s what 85 percent of the parents Dweck surveyed said. Her research on fifth graders shows otherwise. Labels, even though positive, can be harmful. They may instill a fixed mind-set and all the baggage that goes with it, from performance anxiety to a tendency to give up quickly. Well-meaning words can sap children’s [employee’s] motivation and enjoyment of learning and undermine their performance. While Dweck’s study focused on intelligence praise, she says her conclusions hold true for all talents and abilities.

Here are Dweck’s tips from Mindset:

  • Listen to what you say to your kids [employees], with an ear toward the messages you’re sending about mind-set.

  • Instead of praising children’s [employee’s] intelligence or talent, focus on the processes they used.

    • Example: “That homework was so long and involved. I really admire the way you concentrated and finished it.”

    • Example: “That picture has so many beautiful colors. Tell me about them.”

    • Example: “You put so much thought into that essay. It really makes me think about Shakespeare in a new way.”

  • When your child [employee] messes up, give constructive criticism—feedback that helps the child [employee] understand how to fix the problem, rather than labeling or excusing the child.

  • Pay attention to the goals you set for your children [employees]; having innate talent is not a goal, but expanding skills and knowledge is.

  • Don’t worry about praising your children [employees] for their inherent goodness, though. It’s important for children [employees] to learn they’re basically good and that their parents love them unconditionally, Dweck says. “The problem arises when parents praise children [employees] in a way that makes them feel that they’re good and love-worthy only when they behave in particular ways that please the parents.”

Here’s some food for thought: perhaps this explains the inexorable march toward mediocrity of many (temporarily) great companies. Let’s say a startup is hot. It ships something great, and it achieves success. Thus, it’s able to attract the best, brightest, and most talented. These people have been told they’re the best since childhood. Indeed, being hired by the hot company is “proof” that they are the A and A+ players; in fact, the company is so hot that it can out-recruit Google and Microsoft.

Unfortunately, they develop a fixed mindset that they’re the most talented, and they think that continued success is a right. Problems arise because pure talent only works as long as the going is easy. Furthermore, they don’t take risks because failure would harm their image of being the best, brightest, and most talented. When they do fail, they deny it or attribute it to anything but their shortcomings.

And this is the beginning of the end.


Dr. Moira Gunn of TechNation interviewed Dr. Dweck on 3/14/06. Thanks to TomL for pointing this out.

“How Not to Talk to Your Kids” by Po Bronson is another interesting read. Thanks to Tim Ludwig for this.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "The Effort Effect":

» Identity or behaviour? from Johnnie Moore's Weblog
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Comments

u're really ammazing to me .i love u n appreciate u as a friend n hope u succed at every situation in ur life
i'm very fond of reading such hopefull texts

I bought and read this book and it has really helped me improve myself and my approach to entrepreneurship. Mostly I am more confident about what I'm doing because I know that it's not about proving that I am capable but really it's about becoming capable!

I started a blog based on this Mindset concept: growth.weebly.com

I'm depressed after having read all this conformist comments

Is there a more important insight EVER in the history of parenting and teaching? Perhaps not. I wrote some reflections on Dweck's study at my blog back in February: http://crawdaddycove.com/2007/02/17/praising-effort-vs-praising-ability/

This is really interesting stuff. As a parent who always tells his daughters how smart they are, I have a lot to learn. I've found in my own life that when I set performance goals I may hit them, but I don't learn as much as when I just focus on the process and improving continually.

it reminds me a song witch said "hello teacher tell me what's my lesson, look right through me...". i am happy to see people trying to find ways to approach and understand humans with advanced perception. i live for the day that these humans will rule the world and smart people will fall from their shiny throne...

i'm so glad i found your (insert praise)blog!
my 3 yr old attends, Stanford University Psychology Department laboratory nursery school. i'm going to read this + discuss it with her teachers. there are 5 teachers per classroom (with master's degrees)+ they are very attentive . i'm going to link this post on my mod*mom blog

Thanks, Guy, for pointing me to this article. With three kids (13,10,7)...this was very timely for us. Not to mention a bunch of employees...applies on many levels. I've ordered the book. Great post!

I had read about FAE in Tipping point, good to get more information on it as well as the other concepts. I think even being aware of the fixed mindset can possibly help shift to growth (if one can recognize it and want to change) or give managers a different away to approach issues where this is relevant.

Syven - It is interesting that you mentioned the depressed robot (good analogy), I just saw that movie the other day, after having read the book long back.

And as I work quite a bit with mothers who, for one reason or another have underachieved, I often help them focus on the management capabilities they have to show to get the best from their children (as well as managing a busy household).

When they get that into perspective, its amazing how quickly they realize that they have management and leadership skills they didn't appreciate (though often I saw an opportunity for them :-)).

Regards

Heh, my wife and I were watching ABC talk about that video/book "The Secret." There's no secret! It's exactly what you and Dweck are talking about-- you can either live life or let it live you.
We have a friend who is of the fixed mindset. Her husband is worse. We value their friendship, and try to help (my wife went over to help her clean her house tonight even), but there's only so much we can do. They have a "fixed" view. They are on a lot of government assitance, but don't feel they will ever get out. The choices they make, time and time again, are too easy, too palliative. They really won't get ahead on the road they are on!
At our house, we have a saying: "just decide to be happy." It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it works. While we had our 2 kids, during that 3-year period, I went through several jobs. It was unsettling, but each loss was an opportunity for a step up. I grabbed those opportunities, and I'm richer (figuratively and literally) for it.
Great book suggestion Guy, thanks!

Pat Reiley talks about the 1% solution and keeping a journal of his players progress. I am going to check out her book asap

John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach who lead his teams to an incredible 10 National Championships in 12 years, gave a great talk at TED a few years ago. I thoroughly recommend his book, "My Personal Best" which talks a lot about his philosophy that each person must achieve his "Personal Best" regardless of his talent. If you put in the focus and work to be prepared for the game you're a winner even if you "lose." That's a great lesson for kids and adults no matter what the topic: sports, business, school, music, .... It's the foundation of a coaching philosophy that anticipates and extends research like Dr. Dweck's.

This article touches on the very old Catch-22 that business leaders want their employees to reach their potential - but they only want this potential to be harnessed for the exclusive benefit of the company. This relies on employees being their best, perhaps without realising it. Of course, if they truly realise their worth they will be off in no time - possibly setting up a rival company.

I can see no real solution to this. Perhaps it is not a problem after all. It is actually a good sign for the economy in general when employees get frustrated with their lot in life, and set up a new business on their own. Sometimes when a company is struggling to find the right employees, it can signal that the local economy is in a strong position - there are too many people out their running their own show, and it is taking more and more to convince them they should be working for somebody else's baby.

The only answer for business owners is to really make their workplace an enjoyable place to be. Be a fun company to work for. It makes all the difference.

Guy,

It seems like one of the big challenges is getting the right balance between confidence and capability. Striving is admirable, but isn't enough if you don't have the necessary toolset. Over-confidence (fixed+good) results in squandered talent. (I wonder if fixed people have internal confidence or care less about external opinions in driving their choices.)

The book would be pointless if a fixed mindset is "unfixable", so I'd guess that there is a process for "fixed" people to become more "growth" oriented.

You might find John Maxwells' new book "Talent is Never Enough" interesting as well. It mines a similar vein.

After reading your article about the new book " Mindset: The New Psychology of Success", I go to some biggest bookstore in my town...

It's too bad, can't find one.

Regards,
Pradha

It all goes back to what Thomas Edison said: "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."

This has been said a lot before, but the world could certainly use another book such as this one. In my part of the world, people are still pessimistic on what lies in their future. Sometimes I wonder if this is what hinders most people to become entrepreneurs. For one thing, my classmates laugh at my idea of building my own business. My family never had a business before, so I was not influenced by them, so my classmates wonder where I get my crazy ideas from. They're good friends though, so I just take their comments as healthy criticisms of my ideas. :D

Thanks for the article . I really enjoyed reading it.

So, Carol Dweck (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success) has now postulated a new theory about success. Surprise, surprise, the ‘positive mental attitude’ (Dale Carnegie + million others) is apparently not sufficient.
She contends that a fixed mindset is actually negative, because, even if you believe you are talented or that you are a star, that this mindset limits your growth and achievement. On the other hand, a ‘growth’ mindset allows you to learn, grow and improve.
Dweck postulates that “learning goals” inspire a different chain of thoughts and behaviours than “performance goals.”
[Private thought 1: Soon, everyone will agree with my thoughts, which were originally quite contrarian.
I generally use the term ‘process’ goals and ‘output’ goals to distinguish between types of goals. One can possibly argue that process goals are not really goals, but let’s side aside semantics for the moment.
Dweck’s findings are a spin on ‘attribution theory’ if you are that way inclined. In simple terms, success and failure is determined (or least influenced) by the excuses you come up with when confronted with your own success or failure. (You know how some people believe success is explained by other people’s lucky, but their own talents?)
I said it before, but it is worth repeating: A positive attitude only makes opportunities glow in the dark. True success comes from actually tackling those opportunities, not from having any specific attitude. To be successful, you only need a 51% strike rate.

very very nice infomation thanks really....

The headmaster at my son's school has been preaching this for some time. See http://www.princetonacademy.org/weblogs/heads-journal/archives/001175.html

Regards,
-Bob

Yes, I remember that Blink story too Roger, great connection.

Pay attention to the goals you set for your children [employees]; having innate talent is not a goal, but expanding skills and knowledge is.

I really like this particular point. It's something that a lot of people over me need to learn. In the place where I work, many times I have to design for ego. Including the sentence that a board member came up with in the front of the booklet in the center is always important. People watch our TV station mostly to see themselves, so we have to give the important administrators quite a bit of airtime.

The other thing that really bothers me about my workplace is the lack of thirst for knowledge. If something breaks in the control room "Well, I guess we should call the engineer." I go in there and mess around with it for twenty or thirty minutes and "Oh! You fixed it! You're so smart." It's as simple as doing some online research to figure out how to fix the problem, but more often than not, my supervisors just don't want to touch it! They want to leave anything they would have to spend effort learning about to somebody else and quite frankly, that makes me sad. People have said before that I work hard for our department, and I do, but they don't know that the REASON I work hard is because I want to learn more, not because I want praise.

The praise I am given at work isn't helpful, things like "no" as feedback on a design instead of suggestions to make it better, "you're so artistic" as a reaction to a layout. None of those things help me grow and improve as a designer or as a learner.

Thanks so much for posting this article!

I have to agree with Nemrut as well as a few points made in the post.

When I got a full scholarship to Cambridge, where India's 1st Prime Minister studied too, my father said 'um, ok'. The reason? I have been told since my childhood - and shown consistently - that I am bright. That means higher achievements are expected of me, and are not beyond that burden that comes with a better-than-average 'God-given talent'.

Now while such clear expectations can be stated by parents, managers many find it harder to do in a PC environment which somehow raises expectations of entitlement and makes people believe that all must have prizes... Did you, for instance, know that using words such as 'dynamic', 'energetic' etc in job descriptions is banned in the UK under age discrimination regulations?

Achievement is not for wimps, but equally racing achievers at home (or managing them at work) is not for wimps either. Giving feedback - esp negative while keeping it specific and actionable and constructive - takes a lot of courage and intelligence.

Intriguing book though, worth a try, in paperback at least.

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