A Growth Mindset: Work Smart, Not Hard?

In 2006, Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck published the first edition of her book, Mindset: A New Psychology for Success. In the book, she defines two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Dweck describes a fixed mindset as, “students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.”

And she describes a growth mindset as, “students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

Dweck claims that the growth mindset is the mindset that we need to succeed. She then gives us tips on how to nurture a growth mindset in children and adults who exhibit fixed mindset ways of working.

If you reward a child by telling them, “You are just so talented,” you may be, according to Dweck, reinforcing a fixed mindset which reinforces values like “talent is innate” and “change is impossible.” But if you reward children with comments like, “You worked so hard on that problem,” you reinforce messages like, “If you work hard, then you can tackle seemingly impossible problems.”

All of this is great. It gets tricky when Dweck’s thesis gets oversimplified. Dweck addresses these problematic interpretations of her work in a 2015 article in Education Week called “Carol Dweck Revisits the Growth Mindset.”

Rewarding effort alone isn’t the right way to go. The quality of effort is important too. We all know the phrase, “Work Smart, Not Hard.” Well, there’s some truth in that. “Hard work” often gets conflated with the number of hours someone puts into solving a problem. But smart work is a little more complex, Dweck argues. To work smart, not only do you have to put the hours in, but you have to be agile, try multiple approaches to solving a problem, and ask for feedback from other people.

Misinterpretation aside, if you work with kids or manage adults, then you should check out the book. The problems that are articulated and solutions that Dweck offers are useful.