Interview With Carol Dweck, PhD

Interview with Carol Dweck, PhD

Carol Dweck, PhD, is the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, a book in which Dweck proposes that a particular mindset can enable individuals to lead more successful lives.

[MUSIC PLAYING] So Dr. Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset, thank you for joining us today on the BB&T Leadership Series. Really appreciate you being in North Carolina and with us here at BB&T. We at BB&T are trying to change the world. And we believe that leadership is a really important way to do that. 

And you've shown us that the growth mindset is a really, really important way to make that happen. So thanks and I just want to jump right in and start in the beginning with your first chapter. When you talk about how you were doing a search with some students, some kids, and it changed your life and your direction of research. 

It's great to be here. About the kids, I was interested in how children coped with failure. Whether they gave up or cope with it effectively. But I was flabbergasted to see there were some kids who loved it. They relished it. They said things like, I love a challenge. Or yeah, I was hoping this would be informative. And I said, who are they? Where did they come from? 

And yet I realized that they understood something that I didn't understand yet. So I pledged to figure out what it was they had to bottle it and give it to everyone. 

Exciting. I remember one of the studies you were doing, you found that when you gave the fixed mindsetters and the grow mindsetters a test, and then you came back the next day or two, the fixed mindsetters, who were really smarter, actually did worse than they did the first time. Because they had gotten frustrated and gave up. 

Yes, we found this in many cases. That if you give really challenging work or really challenging problems, that students or adults too, who are in this fixed mindset where they think oh, I have these fixed talents and abilities. They feel that their abilities have been discredited when they struggle with something, when they fail on something, they take that as a sign of deficiency. 

And then you see all kinds of defensive behavior. You see them giving up. But in a growth mindset, the expectation is, I've got to struggle. I've got to do hard things in order to learn. So they just keep bringing it on and when you come back, they are really ready for more. 

So I've seen in my own life and observing others, that when we experience lack of success, we view that as very negative. Is there a way to think about failure as positive in the context of growth mindset? 

Yes. First to say, failure can be disappointing. You were hoping for something to happen. It's not that a growth mindset person is a zombie without feelings or robot, but they understand that there's a long growth period. There's a long growth curve that they're on. And that when you are doing something hard and worthwhile, there are bound to be setbacks along the way. 

They are inevitable. They're part of learning and growth. And what you do is you figure out why did that fail, what can I learn from it? How can I take a lesson from it that prepares me to go forward? And it doesn't have to be a lone enterprise. You can call in experts, get a mentor, who will help you find new strategies to go forward. 

So lots of times, we see that people believe that they are failing because they don't have the ability. And so there's this confusion between effort and ability. You spend a lot of time talking about the efforts and ability. 

Yes. So just to review, when you're in a fixed mindset, you think my basic talents and abilities are fixed. That's it, I have a certain amount. I'm not getting anymore. And then what we find in our research, is that many people feel really bad when they're out of their comfort zone. Uh-oh, I'm in danger of exposing myself. 

They even feel bad, research shows, when they're trying hard because they believe in that system that if you have to work hard, it means you don't have ability. They see just the very act of trying hard as discrediting their ability. 

Whereas in a growth mindset, you believe your abilities can be developed throughout your life. Through hard work, through finding good strategies, through lots of input from other people. So that hard work, which is bringing learning and progress, is in itself rewarding. Those are different worlds where effort means the opposite. In one case, it means I'm deficient. In the other case, I'm struggling, I'm trying hard, I'm learning. 

I found talking with folks about there's one of the most intriguing areas. I'd love to hear you talk about, is about intelligence, IQ, and mental capacity. Because what you state, and I found to be absolutely true, is that there are really two myths about intelligence. One myth is that there's a high correlation between intelligence and success, which there's not. 

And then there's a myth that your intelligence is limited and in fact, starts decaying as you get older. Can you help our viewers understand that? 

First of all, the concept of intelligence has been way overrated. Almost anyone's capable of almost anything under the right circumstances with passion. Often success is about having an insight about one area, thinking of it in a new way, and going for it. So this idea of general intelligence, way overrated. 

Next, people think of it as a fixed thing. The research shows, yeah left to itself, it can be pretty stable, but it doesn't predict much and there are large fluctuations in many people. My favorite story, which I tell on mindset, is about a Nobel Prize winning scientist, who later got a hold of his school record and saw that his IQ was not very impressive. And he said, he never would have tried to become a scientist had he seen that number. 

Interesting. Did he give up after that? 

No, he was already a Nobel Prize winning scientist. He realized that the IQ score was meaningless, but it would have completely derailed him had he known it at the time. 


So the important thing to know is that nothing can diagnose someone's potential to succeed in the future. 

And then I read about this intriguing thing, I don't want to get too technical, but there's actually a process in the brain, I think it's called neuroplasticity. The brain kind of like rewires itself into learning. 

Yes, so the brain is changed by learning. And neuroscience is now showing us that every time we take on something hard, really stretch ourselves, really stick to it, those connections in the brain can get stronger and stronger, and our abilities grow. So it's just very exciting to see that people are understanding that wiring process in the brain and how our experiences, and even more important, our own efforts and behaviors are making that happen. 

Right, I'm excited because I've always wanted to play the guitar. Now I know I can still do it. 


Even 10 years from now I can learn it. 

I took up piano in my 30s, never having played an instrument and I loved it. I learned a new language in my 50s. So you know, we often hear that plasticity decreases. Well maybe our brains are not as plastic as when we were teenagers, but tremendous learning and growth are still possible. 

Because we only use about what? 10% of our brain capacity anyway. So lots of room to grow. So let's talk about the parenting challenges, because I suppose almost no parent really wants to hurt their children. But unintentionally, you point out that they can by limiting them, by nurturing this effective fixed mindset. They don't call it that, but talk about how that happens. 

Yes, it happens in such interesting ways. Because a lot of things parents do to help their child, may be feeling they are building their child's confidence. Instead, is kind of secretly pushing a fixed mindset. So we find that when parents tell their kids, you're really smart, you're really good at this, it creates a fixed mindset. It's telling the child your success came from some ability you have inside of you. 

And we have found in our experiments and in following kids over time and monitoring their interactions with their parents, that praising abilities backfires. That child no longer wants challenges. They want to keep looking smart. They become very upset and ineffective when they hit obstacles. 

So what should we do? Appreciate the process the child engages in their hard work, their strategies, their use of resources. What was the process that brought about their learning improvement or success, and teach that to them. 

To me, trying to explain it sometimes to our associates, that you can see this classically with a student. So the student will get a low grade and you say, well why did you get a low grade? And they'll say, well the book was no good, my seat was too hard, the teacher was no good, the lights were too dim, it was raining outside. They come up with 1,000 reasons as to why they were a victim. Isn't that part of a fixed mindset, being a victim? 

Yes, because in a fixed mindset, you have a choice. Either I'm dumb or something was wrong. Those are your choices. So often it's much more tempting to blame the test, the room, the lights, than to say there's something wrong with me. And can understand that, but in a growth mindset, of course there's something wrong here. 

You can't know everything. You're a growing, fallible person. And in order to become a smarter and smarter person, you've got to look squarely at what happened, why it happened, and what you can do differently in the future. So the worst thing you can do is blind yourself to the situation. 

Right, that relates very much to something I hear a lot about relationships at the adult level. So you know, I'm in a relationship, it's not working so well, I shouldn't have to work at this. If I had to work at this, maybe it wasn't meant to be. How do you think about that? 

Yes, so my view is complex, because if you have to work too hard all the time, if the person is always throwing you for a loop and maybe it isn't so great. Or if you're calling your friends up all the time, and oh he did this, she did that, what should I do? Maybe not, but every relationship, no matter how wonderful it is, hits roadblocks. 

There are misunderstandings. The person cannot read your mind. Every relationship has issues that need to be dealt with. And as you're saying in a fixed mindset, you say whoa issues, maybe it wasn't the relationship. Maybe it isn't the relationship I thought it was. Maybe we aren't meant to be. It's supposed to be smooth sailing. 

But in a growth mindset, you know hey, we have this wonderful relationship. It is inevitable that we'll have conflicts, disagreements, problems, and our relationship will grow from addressing those problems. 

You know, I have found in my life and I think it correlates very closely with this issue, is that fundamentally being honest really drives almost everything else. So if you're not honest with yourself, if you're not honest with your partners, then how can you ever really accomplish anything? 

And it seems to me that people with a fixed mindset are fundamentally, and I don't mean this in a condescending way, but fundamentally they're just not being honest. 

They're not being honest with themselves, because they can't look at their deficiencies, it's too scary. Maybe I'm not smart, maybe I'm not equipped to succeed. And then honest about others. If you're in a fixed mindset, you're trying to divide people into who's bad and who's good, who's smart, and who's not. It's not who they are. 

In a growth mindset, you must look at what you've done wrong. You can look honestly, but you can still love someone and think they're doing something that's harming themselves. And you can be honest with them in a caring way. Honesty doesn't mean brutal honesty. 

It means that you care about this person, you see that they're doing things that are not good for them, or that are not good for their relationship. Maybe you even see your role in aiding and abetting some of those patterns, and you talk about them honestly. 

You have a really, really good section in your book about business leadership. And I was intrigued by one area you talked about, where some of the most effective leaders are the ones who can ask really hard questions, get really bad answers, and still go forward and be an effective leader. How does that work? 

So fixed mindset leaders, they want to hear how great they are. Day after day. But growth mindset leaders want to hear what is wrong with the way I'm thinking? Challenge me, give me information, tell me what I'm not thinking about effectively. 

So they want everybody to give them an input. Now, they make the decision and they have to kind of see it through to a certain extent, but they're always questioning. Is this working? Is this not working? How can we look at it from another perspective? It's this very interesting combination of complete openness to criticism and then confidence. Once you make the decision going forward, but ready to re-examine it again. 

We talked earlier about something I think our viewers may be interested in. Many leaders, business people, have been exposed to Meyers-Briggs test, you know, I'm an extrovert, I'm introvert, and oftentimes people think one is better than the other. So sometimes people think, I have to be always the growth mindset to be my best. How do you think about that? 

Well I think about it in the following way. We are all a mixture of mindsets. Anyone who says, I always have a growth mindset, uh-huh. As we said before, it's probably a symptom of a fixed mindset. We're all a mixture and we all have to come to recognize, when does our fixed mindset come out? 

Is it when we're out of our comfort zone? Is it when we had a setback? Someone is criticizing us. When does this fixed mindset come out? What does it say to us? Don't take that challenge, don't take that risk. That person thinks you're not competent. What is it saying? 

If it's saying something helpful, fine, but if it's saying something unhelpful, work with it, bring it into your growth mindset world, where you have your eye on growth and development. 

So at BB&T, I've been here a long time and I've watched a lot of people, including myself, go through a lot of transformation. Well years ago, I didn't know how to describe it in terms of fixed or growth mindset. Many cases, it was clear that they had a fixed mindset. They would get to a certain level and they were extremely capable of going further if they would be willing to make the effort, but they give up. They wouldn't take the risk. Classical fixed mindset right? 


So how do you think about getting a whole company to embrace that growth mindset culture? 

That's a great question. So first let me say, that we have research companies now and fixed versus growth mindset cultures. Do people in the company feel the company is worshipful of fixed talent or committed to everyone's development? And we find that the growth mindset companies have employees who feel so much more empowered, committed, supported to take risks, and supported to collaborate and have team work. 

The employees in the fixed mindset companies feel there's a penalty for mistakes, a big penalty. And also they report, there's much more competition, cheating, cutting corners, hoarding information, keeping it from other people. Because you want to be a genius. How do you start creating a growth mindset culture? 

The first thing is it helps a lot if the person at the top believes in and embodies this idea of growth, this idea of stretching yourself, this idea of envisioning what the future will be like, and stretching toward it. Second, is really instituting policies that make it safe for people to collaborate, make it mandatory and rewarded for people to collaborate, brainstorm, come up harebrained ideas. 

See if they can make them, shape them in a way that can work, pursue it. Because that world of the future, we don't know what it is. It's probably safer to invent than wait for it. And then put incentives in place that reward the stretching, the persevering, the teamwork. Rather than kind of these little isolated tubes of talent. 

So what do you say to the people who say, no leaders are born, they're not made. What's your answer? 

Well, you know, some people may be natural leaders, but the leaders I've talked to have developed into leaders. They've developed a mindset where they continually learn and grow. They have input from everywhere. Many of them didn't set out to be leaders. 

They just loved what they did and they were voracious. And learning, then they saw how the whole thing worked and they wanted a crack at it. So we have no idea who can be leaders. And I think it's often a mistake to say, oh well this is our future leadership group. And I'll tell you the most interesting finding we had in our search with Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies. 

We asked managers to talk about and fill out surveys about their employees. In the growth mindset companies, the managers said they saw so much more potential in their young employees to become stars within the company, to rise within the company, much more than in the fixed mindset company. 

And what I love about the fixed mindset companies, they're identifying the talent, they're hiring the talent, they're making a talent segment of the young people. They're rewarding them and retaining them. And then a few years later, they're going where's the talent? They haven't created the culture where talent thrives. 

In a growth mindset company, all these people are surprising them with this tremendous burst of growth. 

So I've been doing some reading, following and reading your book. And I read about some recent research, recent being in the last 10 years, around some other characteristics, I'll say, that relate to success. Things like happiness, positivity, and grit. How do you think about those relative to growth mindset? 

Yes, I think they're very interrelated. I very much respect that work. I respect the work of Angela Duckworth, who is terrific. And we've talked many times. And we agree that our growth mindset is one of the foundations of grit. That you're not going to take on challenges, you're not going to stick to them, if everything is measuring you and worrying you. That you're not the person, the talent, the brain, the brilliant individual that you hoped you would be. 

So this idea of stretching, going out there, taking the risks, working toward a goal, a passion, a contribution in the future, is very much connected to growth mindset. And you're not happy at every moment. You're not comfortable all the time. By definition, you should be out of your comfort zone a lot of the time, but it's so much more rewarding and fulfilling in the long run. 

If someone comes to your office and says, you know what, I've got a fixed mindset, I confess. But I want to change, what do I do? 

Well, first, it's wonderful that you're recognizing, it's wonderful that you want to change. First step, what triggers it? What is it? What happens when it gets triggered? Do you want to play it safe? Do you want to get out of there? Do you want to change and do something else? How does it manifest itself? 

Learn to recognize it and then make friends with it. It is not your enemy. It is thwarting you, it is limiting you, but make friends with it. Take that fixed mindset person who shows up and bring them on board with your growth mindset goals. Say thank thank you, thank you for your input, but I hope you are enjoying me and trying this challenging thing. 

If you make a mistake, of course it's going to start yakking at you. OK thank you for your input, but I have an idea how to go forward more effectively. Can I count on you? So just start working with that fixed mindset and teach it a growth mindset. 

That's intriguing, it's like a partnership. 

It is. 

Yeah, that's really cool. 

These are parts of you, parts of all of us. 

Yeah, so the point that some people make is that they know they don't really see the reward. There's too much risk. I see what you're saying. I'm going to really have to step out of my comfort zone. I'm not sure I want to do that. How do you get people to see that it's OK to take risks to get the reward? 

I think that it's a decision people make. If they feel it's too risky, if they feel they don't want to do it, but if they really, really want to change then step out of the comfort zone. See what happens. You've made a mistake, see what happens if you analyze it, stick to it. What happens if you venture out of your comfort zone? The world doesn't end. 

What happens if you make a mistake? Maybe you can learn from it. I teach a freshman seminar at Stanford. The students, it's their first day of school, and they're in my class. And one of the assignments I give them is to do something outrageously growth mindset. Something they would never consider doing, way out of their comfort zone. And they do amazing things. 

The shyest person will run for president of their dorm. They'll apply for a job on campus or something that they wouldn't have dared to before. Way out of their comfort zone. And many times they win or they get the job, but other times they learn just as much. The world didn't end. 

They were proud of themselves and inevitably they say, so then I tried this and then I tried that. And then it happened eventually. So they never would have done something way out of their comfort zone, but every single person is glad they did it. 

That's fantastic. One of the things that I try to share with our associates is kind of philosophically about life, that I think at the end of the day, most of us really want to try to achieve a sense of happiness, a sense of self esteem, a sense of pride in how we're living life. 

And I love to use the metaphor of the butterfly. And just to remind them that you know, the caterpillar's probably not a very great a life. But I often wondered if the caterpillar knows that it's going to become a butterfly. Because if it did, it would help going through the whole process. But whether they do or not, they do in fact become, because they're destined to be. 

We are not, as human beings, we're not required to achieve element of potential, we have free will, we have free choice. But I believe in order to achieve your potential in life, you have to have a growth mindset. And I try to get people to be inspired about that. How do you think about that? 

Well one thing that we've been doing in our programs for adolescent students, high school, even college, this is in collaboration with my former student David Yeager, is to hook growth mindset to someone's sense of purpose. We say everyone has a contribution they want to make. 

Whether it's to their family, in this case to their company, their community, the larger world, working on social problems. What is something you would like to contribute? And then we show them how having a growth mindset can take them toward their contribution. And both the growth mindset and the sense of this longer term contribution pulls them into the future more effectively. 

So if people can think, what do I want to contribute to my work group, to my company, to my family, to the world? It's a very empowering thing and it's so consistent with a growth mindset, because your growth mindset is about becoming someone who can do that. 

That's fantastic. You know, I believe that your concept is one of, maybe the most important, concepts in the world today in terms of helping people achieve all they can achieve and make a difference in the world. Is there anything else you would want our viewers to hear you discuss before we end this inciting discussion? 

Yes, first of all, I don't think people realize how much of who we are is about the beliefs we have. Whether we believe our intelligence is fixed or not, whether we believe we're a good person or not. And the wonderful thing is these beliefs can be changed. 

We know how to do that. And then we can unlock, or people can unlock, their own potential. And then the second thing is, the world today is changing at an incredible pace. The jobs of the future bear no relationship to the jobs of yesterday in many cases. 

So we need a growth mindset for ourselves, for our kids, in order for them to, not just cope in the future, but relish the future the way those kids did when I first started my research. 

That is really exciting. Thank you so much. That is completely in line with the way we think and again, I really appreciate you being with us. You've been extremely helpful. You know, just like you, we are trying to make the world a better place to be. 

In fact, we say that right at the head of our mission. But we believe in order to make a big difference in life, you have to be an effective leader. And to be an effective leader, you've helped us understand that you have to have a really effective growth mindset. And so by working together and hopefully showing this to our viewers, I believe we will help people learn better how they can help change the world. Thank you so much. We really appreciate your being with us. Hope you have a great day. 

Thank you, my pleasure.

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