Thursday, April 8, 2010

Book Review: Mindset

Book Title: Mindset
Author: Carol Dweck
Year of publication: 2006
Reviewer: Alyssa Roberts, CRS 625, Spring 2010

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, makes readers aware of the two opposing mindsets people have: the growth mindset and the fixed mindset, and how achieving and sustaining success follows from the growth mindset. In the growth mindset a person’s potential is unknown. The amount of achievement one can have depends on the effort put in to reach goals and how obstacles are learning tools to move forward. They believe that you don’t get something for nothing; in other words, you get out what you put in. In the fixed mindset, intelligence, ability, potential, personality, etc are all fixed traits that cannot be developed. People who think this way are constantly trying to prove themselves to others and when they fall short of their goals, give up with the reasoning that, “if it was meant to be, it would have happened.”

In relating creativity to these mindsets, one can easily see that in order to be creative, one must adopt the growth mindset. The growth mindset approaches life in the spirit of learning, growing, and opportunity. Thinking creatively and with a growth mindset complements each other and promotes a better human existence! Creativity has been linked to well-being and successful adaptation to the demands of daily life (Puccio, Firestien, Coyle, & Masucci, 2006). A growth mindset facilitates this because the setbacks, which are inevitable in life, seem less of a roadblock if they are seen as an opportunity to learn. In a fixed mindset roadblocks signify the end of the road. Setbacks and failure define the person and do damage to self-esteem and future effort. There is no place for a fixed mindset attitude in creativity because it squelches creative thought, and leaves no room for growth, improvement, and change.

The characteristics of a creative person and a person who has a growth mindset are very similar. Openness to novelty and tolerance for ambiguity and complexity are effective skills in creative problem solving (Puccio & Cabra, 2007). People with a growth mindset are capable of this flexibility, level of tolerance, and limited control. In a growth mindset, divergent thinking comes naturally because the person is willing to test and learn from his/her mistakes, and use the results to think of something better. Each failure is an opportunity to learn. When Edison was working on the light bulb, it did not all come together in a flash and without the help of others. Someone commented that it was a shame he had tried “50,000” things that didn’t work, to which Edison replied that he had lots of results! He knew several things that wouldn’t work (Puccio, Murdock, & Mance, 2007). He had a growth mindset and learned from the mistakes to continue on.

People with a fixed mindset cannot help but stifle creative thoughts! In fact CEOs actually punished and fired people for questioning them and trying to be innovative for the company because it jeopardized their success. They needed to bring others down to feel validated. The need to prove their superiority killed their own enjoyment in their work and stifled their creativity. People with a fixed mindset have no ability to defer judgment because they feel they should be right the first time. They only need one idea, and if it’s right- great. If it’s not, then there is no turning back to try again. This is because if they were smart and capable they would have gotten it right the first time. Therefore the problem is either unsolvable or the thinker is incompetent, or some other excuse could be listed here as to why the problem is not solved. To someone with a fixed mindset, creativity, talent, intelligence, athleticism etc. are all fixed because you either have it or you don’t. They believe that if it was meant to be or happen, it should be or happen almost by magic! They think if they fail, they cannot change and become better. It cannot be taught. If I’m not good at it now, it cannot really change. Contrary to Dweck, Gary Davis says that some highly successful people like Walt Disney were born with some special talent that even with training cannot be matched (Davis, 2004). Dweck would argue that you could be as good as you wanted to be! She gives many examples of ordinary people like Marva Collins, a master teacher and learner, and athletes, such as Michael Jordan, that have gotten to the top by hard work, persistence, and passion.

We start learning soon after we are born and those close to us push us towards one mindset or the other. Teachers and parents mean well, but exhibit a fixed mindset when they praise product over effort. Reinforcing effort says that even if something’s not right, it can be fixed! There is an opportunity to grow if you don’t succeed, and that in order to get better you must fail. A fixed mindset doesn’t not allow the students to think creatively because they are too worried about their self being judged. It’s not that an idea is bad, it’s more that they themselves are not good. Growth minded students think, if at first you don’t succeed, try try again. It is important to remind students that they are in school to learn! They shouldn’t automatically know everything because then they wouldn’t be there. From this early age we must intrinsically motivate them as this will promote creative expression and a growth mindset. Surprisingly, there is research to suggest that creative people are also extrinsically motivated by professional achievement and recognition, with the thinking that “their work is a key aspect of their identity...” (Byrne, Mumford, Barrett, & Vessey, 2009). After reading Mindset, I am weary of the people working with these end goals in mind as it is very characteristic of the fixed mindset. Are they motivated only by being better than others and keeping a status? Is their identity in life defined by their work? What happens when they don’t produce?

In Dweck’s book, the reader can see how important an attitude or mindset is to creative advancement. With the many examples she gives of business leaders, coaches, athletes, and teachers it is easy for the reader to recognize people they know or maybe positions they’ve taken in their life in terms of the two mindsets. Successful companies built upon creativity like IDEO rely on the growth mindset. Even the CEO feels no need to prove himself and is an active member of the group to get the job done. Things would never improve if people’s self esteems were at risk or if it was impossible for them to learn from their mistakes. Personally, the book made me challenge the way I think about my failures and what I am doing to learn from them and how they affect my future endeavors. If this book can effect others the way it effected me, we would have a much more productive society with a focus on creative change.


Byrne, C.L., Mumford, M.D., Barrett, J.D., Vessey, W.B. (2009). Examining the leaders of creative efforts: What do they do, and what do they think about. Creativity and Innovation Management, 18(4), 256-268.

Davis, G.A. (2004). Creativity is forever (5th ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Puccio, G.J., Firestien, R.L., Coyle, C. & Masucci, C. (2006). A review of the effectiveness of CPS training: A focus on workplace issues. Creativity and Innovation Management, 15(1), 19-33.

Puccio, G.J., Murdock, M.C., Mance, M. (2007). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Puccio, G. J., & Cabra, J. F. (2009). Creative problem solving: Past, present and future (327-337). In T. Rickards, M. Runco, & S. Moger (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Creativity. Oxford, UK: Routledge.

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