Sent: 24-02-2009 15:51:01
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I came across an interesting piece by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck recently about whether people will continue their personal development or not. She asked the question, "why do some people reach their creative potential in business while other equally talented peers don't?"
She believes that the answer to the puzzle lies in how people think about intelligence and talent. She argues that people who believe they were born with all the smarts and gifts they're ever going to have approach life with what she calls a "fixed mind-set." On the other hand, those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time, have what she calls a "growth mind-set."
No prizes for guessing which ones prove to be most innovative over time.
As she so rightly says, society is obsessed with the idea of talent and genius and people who are 'naturals' with innate ability. Having been a teacher as well as a university lecturer I have seen all too many examples of highly intelligent people who think that the world owes them a living and do not use their innate ability. I have seen lots of examples of people, bright but not necessarily gifted, work hard and achieve great success.
Here's a conundrum. It has been found that people who undertake extended study tend to be more intelligent than those who do not. The question is, does this mean that people are studying because they are more intelligent? Or, are they more intelligent because they are studying?
Many years ago the dominant view was that being more intelligent led you to study. Now the more common view is that by studying you are increasing your intelligence. Those who are active mentally as well as physically active tend to retain their vitality well into old age. Whilst those who suffer the more debilitating effects of old age earlier, often have a sedentary lifestyle (Not the use of the terms tend and often as these are not hard and fast rules. There are always exceptions).
As Carol Dweck points out, "people who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they're so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them."
This is a clear example where nurture wins out over nature.
Putting this in a business context, some managers apply these principles every day, carefully nurturing their staff and helping them grow in the process. Sadly all too many others take a different approach and believe that hiring the best and the brightest from top-flight schools is an automatic guarantee of corporate success.
I seem to recall a certain hedge fund that was full of highly intelligent Noble Laureate economists that got into serious trouble.
According to Carol Dweck, the problem is that, having been identified as geniuses, the anointed become fearful of falling from grace. As she says, "it's hard to move forward creatively and especially to foster teamwork if each person is trying to look like the biggest star in the constellation".
However, she is not suggesting that when recruiting you ignore innate talent. Instead, she suggests looking for both talent and a growth mind-set in people you are considering hiring. That means looking for people with a passion for learning and who thrive on challenge and change.
She argues that people with a growth mind-set tend to demonstrate the kind of perseverance and resilience required to convert life's setbacks into future successes. That ability to learn from experience was cited as the No. 1 ingredient for creative achievement in a poll of 143 creativity researchers cited in "Handbook of Creativity" in 1999.
For those who are interested Carol Dweck wrote a book on the subject called "Mindset -- The New Psychology of Success", published by Random House.
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