Entries in Growth Mindset (6)
The current issue of FastCompany has an article by Chip and Dan Heath about Carol Dweck's mindset work, which I have highlighted in some posts (click Growth Mindset under Major Posts on the right). They describe success through training about mindsets to improve math performance by junior high students:
Now the puzzle deepens: Dweck has begun to explore whether we can intervene and change people's mind-sets, and if so, will that make them more successful? Earlier this year, Dweck and two colleagues, Kali Trzesniewsi of Stanford and Lisa S. Blackwell of Columbia, ran an experiment on junior high schoolers. If they trained the students to have a growth mind-set, would the kids' math grades improve? In less than two hours over eight weeks, they taught the students concepts such as: Your brain is like a muscle that can be developed with exercise; just as a baby gets smarter as it learns, so can you; everything is hard before it gets easy--never give up because you don't master something immediately.
They then make the jump to bringing this training-for-mindset approach to corporate leadership. That's got to be a double bonus for prospective MBAs. Cultivating a growth-oriented mindset can help with your pre-MBA quant work and your post-MBA leadership skills!
A student who just completed the first year at a top school responds to the growth mindset posts with the following comments that identify common ground by recognizing that everyone faces a transformative challenge to overcome during the intense MBA first year:
Hmmm, that's interesting. A more accurate (from my vantage point) statement is that most incoming students have anxiety about SOMETHING, which may or may not include quantitative considerations. For example, the international students had anxiety about writing/speaking/reading in their non-native tongue and being able to keep up with native speakers; the quant jocks had anxiety about having to present and speak in public; finance and accountant types were worried about excelling in leadership and integrative thinking courses.Additionally, I think the level of anxiety across all of these types was roughly similar, underscoring the fact that it probably was not necessarily the subject they were worried about, more so than the dramatic change in their life circumstances.
"Two men say they're Jesus; one of them must be wrong" is a line from a Dire Straits song that I've always liked. Adapted to the MBA domain, not everyone can be the top student in their MBA class. When confronted with competitive challenges in a group of top performers, Carol Dweck describes in her book Mindsets that people with the fixed mindset perversely may, consciously or unconsciously, reduce their effort to avoid a deepset fear of trying and failing.
Here's an anecdote from Dweck's book about a former violin prodigy struggling at Juilliard:
This prodigy was afraid of trying. "Everything I was going through boiled down to fear. Fear of trying and failing....If you go to an audition and don't really try, if you're not really prepared, if you didn't work as hard as you could have and you don't win, you have an excuse....Nothing is harder than saying, 'I gave it my all and it wasn't good enough.'"
Later in the book in the context of changing mindsets, Dweck describes a student's progression from a confident fixed mindset...
I'm naturally gifted. I don't need to study. I don't need to sleep. I'm superior.
...that crumbles upon encountering resistance...
Uh-oh, I'm losing it. I can't understand things, I can't remember things. What am I now?
With some insight about mindsets, he was able to change his perspective...
Don't worry so much about being smart. Don't worry so much about avoiding failures. That becomes self-destructive. Let's start to study and sleep and get on with life.
Carol Dweck describes her book Mindsets as being for a general audience after years of writing academic psychology research papers and books. Following some introductory chapters, applied chapters cover issues in sports, business, and relationships. Then Dweck addresses parents, teachers, and coaches about their impact on the mindsets of those under their care. The book closes with a workshop-oriented chapter about changing mindsets.
The studies Dweck performs all seem similar in that she has people answer some basic questions about their outlook and then she follows their performance in various domains. The questions ask how much the subjects agree with statements like "you have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can't really do much to change it" (fixed mindset) and "you can always substantially change how intelligent you are" (growth mindset). The focus is not on whether you have a lot or a little ability in a certain area but the extent to which you believe that you can change your ability level with effort.
She finds again and again that the mindset revealed by these self-perceptions lines up extremely well with peformance in challenging circumstances. To change mindsets, she encourages us to examine our mindsets in areas of relatively low ability and realize that similar dynamics are at play in areas of relatively high performance.
What really pulled me in was the section about artistic ability. While it seems crazy to me to believe that a person cannot substantially improve his or her quantitative ability through effort, I readily accept that I'm just not artistic. And never will be. My drawings on cards to family and friends still have only stick figures. Dweck shows how people with this mindset about their artistic ability were able to do competent (not great) self-portraits by committing to take a relatively short class in drawing.
Where the fixed mindset prevails, people shy away from challenges that will identify them as incompetent. Shift to a growth mindset, however, and you'll be surprised what can happen. It's not about who you ARE in some fundamental sense. Rather, it's about getting out of your own way and allowing yourself to BECOME more capable through steady effort.
The fixed/growth mindset distinction gives me great insight into the fear that many of my pre-term math camp students have about quantitative ability. I tell them that there's no reason to know anything about finance, accounting, economics, statistics, and spreadsheets until they've studied the subjects. But, like I would feel walking into an art class, some of them are convinced that they just "can't do math" (at the high level their MBA courses will require, anyway) and they are about to be discovered as admissions mistakes. Unfortunately, that mindset can be self-fulfilling.
Back in March, I posted about an article I read about mindsets written by Carol Dweck. Since then, I've read her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It's a quick, engaging, and wide-ranging read. I believe that it is extremely relevant to understanding how MBA students react to the overwhelming rigor of the MBA first year. I'll start with a quick post containing an anecdote from the book and then I'll provide an overview of the book's structure and some definitions in a separate post.
Basking in the warm, self-affirming glow of their hard-earned acceptances to top MBA programs, admitted students will soon need to leave behind the big-picture talk about career goals and get down to the nitty gritty of a fast-paced curriculum that includes demanding quantitative courses in finance, accounting, economics, statistics, and decision science.
I'll shift references from medical school to business school in one of Dweck's anecdotes to address incoming MBAs more directly:
Most students started out pretty interested in [business]. Yet over the semester, something happened. Students with the fixed mindset stayed interested only when they did well right away. Those who found it difficult showed a big drop in their interest and enjoyment. If it wasn't a testimony to their intelligence, they couldn't enjoy it.
"The harder it gets," reported one student, "the more I have to force myself to read the book and study for the tests. I was excited about [business] before, but now every time I think about it, I get a bad feeling in my stomach."
In contrast, students with the growth mindset continued to show the same high level of interest even when they found the work very challenging. "It's a lot more difficult for me than I thought it would be, but it's what I want to do, so that only makes me more determined. When they tell me I can't, it really gets me going." Challenge and interest went hand in hand.
I just read an article in Stanford Magazine that seems on point to the distinction between students who thrive and others who struggle in the crucible of the MBA first year. The article describes work by psychology professor Carol Dweck, spelled out in more detail in her recent book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
It resonates with my experiences being a grad student and more recently observing MBA students as articulated in two of my 8 MBA Quant Themes from the Major Posts links on the right: #3 Know Thyself: Confidence is King and #8 Quant Struggles are Emotional. The students who struggle most are not necessarily those who are the least talented or even those with the worst objective performance. Those who thrive seem to have a different mindset.
You finally achieve your way into an elite MBA program and the big issue is how you deal with challenges and peers in this setting. Do you have a fragile performance-oriented mindset focused on outcomes driven by inate talent or do you have a robust mastery-oriented mindset focused on improvement driven by effort? The article, and presumably the book, which I haven't read yet, argue persuasively that the learning-oriented mindset is a more effective route to success in challenging environments. Best of all, it can be learned.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
[Carol Dweck collaborated] with then-graduate student Carol Diener to have children “think out loud” as they faced problem-solving tasks, some too difficult for them. The big surprise: some of the children who put forth lots of effort didn’t make attributions at all. These children didn’t think they were failing. Diener puts it this way: “Failure is information—we label it failure, but it’s more like, ‘This didn’t work, I’m a problem solver, and I’ll try something else.’” During one unforgettable moment, one boy—something of a poster child for the mastery-oriented type—faced his first stumper by pulling up his chair, rubbing his hands together, smacking his lips and announcing, “I love a challenge.”
Such zest for challenge helped explain why other capable students thought they lacked ability just because they’d hit a setback. Common sense suggests that ability inspires self-confidence. And it does for a while—so long as the going is easy. But setbacks change everything. Dweck realized—and, with colleague Elaine Elliott soon demonstrated—that the difference lay in the kids’ goals. “The mastery-oriented children are really hell-bent on learning something,” Dweck says, and “learning goals” inspire a different chain of thoughts and behaviors than “performance goals.”
Students for whom performance is paramount want to look smart even if it means not learning a thing in the process. For them, each task is a challenge to their self-image, and each setback becomes a personal threat. So they pursue only activities at which they’re sure to shine—and avoid the sorts of experiences necessary to grow and flourish in any endeavor. Students with learning goals, on the other hand, take necessary risks and don’t worry about failure because each mistake becomes a chance to learn. Dweck’s insight launched a new field of educational psychology—achievement goal theory.