By Kathleen McCarthy
Why implementation and process matter just as much as effort
In my colleague Carol Hoffman’s blog post from last summer, we shared how one of our grantees introduced us to the work of Carol Dweck, Ph.D. and her influential book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success. Published in 2006, the book captured the attention of educators, employers, parents and others interested in the idea of realizing one’s full potential.
Dweck’s research highlighted the belief that one’s potential for success is not fixed at birth, but rather fluid and open to nurturing. She distilled this concept down to two mindsets – “fixed” and “growth.” An individual with a fixed mindset believes that they are born with a restricted amount of “x” – whether that be intelligence, personality, aptitude etc. Believing that you are restricted by what you received at birth limits a person’s passion for learning and taking on challenges; it prohibits curiosity and can promote a feeling of being “less than.”
On the flipside, an individual with a growth mindset believes that their potential was not dictated at birth but rather is something that they can cultivate and expand through “hard work, strategies and lots of help from mentors…” Growth mindset thrives on curiosity and challenges.
This twofold concept of fixed and growth mindsets seems straightforward, right? If you want to reach your potential, adopt a growth mindset. Unfortunately, since the publication of her book, Dr. Dweck started noticing the misapplication and misunderstanding of her mindset concept, which is where I’d like to pick up.
I recently came across an interview with Dr. Dweck published in The Atlantic in 2016, ten years after the initial release of the book. The article, How Praise Became a Consolation Prize by Christine Gross-Loh highlights how (as one of our grantees put it) “implementation matters.”
Clearly concerned by what she was hearing from the field, Dr. Dweck dug back in to understand how well-researched concepts could be distilled down to an oversimplification about effort, i.e. “praise the effort, not the outcome.”
In Dweck’s mind, and demonstrated through her research, effort is not enough. Effort + the process is what matters. This is where implementation and the way learning is approached takes a front seat to mere effort. Creating a safe environment for a student, or an employee, or an athlete, where failure and achievement are viewed through the lens of a journey, is key.
In a truly functioning growth mindset, mistakes, obstacles and setbacks are not viewed as failures but opportunities for examination, strategizing and succeeding. Creating those opportunities for youth or any other person is challenging since we are all shaped by a mixture of growth and fixed mindsets. When we don’t or won’t take the time to do a deep dive into our own fixed positions around facing challenges, it can be hard for us to impart a growth mindset in our work and our relationships…no matter how much we declare ourselves to have a growth mindset.
One of the greatest joys in my job over the past two years has been working with our grantees focused on opportunities for older youth in the out-of-school time sector. Watching them give power and voice to the youth they are serving – bringing them into leadership positions, asking them to sit on boards and navigate program development – is part of the journey to cultivate a growth mindset. Top down didactic programming does a disservice to youth and may tamp down their curiosity and belief that they are powerful and possessing more than what they received at birth. In that regard, Dweck’s concepts continue to resonate with me, because they have the power to create a love of learning and a belief of self. Just remember, “implementation matters.”