Carol Dweck is a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation, why people succeed (or don’t) and how to foster success. She researches “growth mindset” — the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems. In her TEDx talk titled The Power of Believing that You can Improve, she describes two ways to think about a problem that’s slightly too hard for you to solve. Are you not smart enough to solve it … or have you just not solved it yet?*
Dweck opened the talk with this short narrative:
I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn’t pass a course, they got the grade “Not Yet.” And I thought that was fantastic, because if you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet”, you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.
Her ultimate point is that there are positive consequences to thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed. When you’re faced with a challenge, instead of concluding that you’ve failed, that you’re incapable, it is more productive to believe that your can do it but you just have not yet gotten how to do.