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Education Bookcast

Jan 5, 2016

The ideas from Carol Dweck's research, explained in her book Mindset, seem to be very popular nowadays. They are even part of the curriculum of the Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) for new teachers being trained in the UK.

And, I believe, with good reason. The ideas here are very powerful. They almost read like self-help, but (thank goodness) they are grounded in many years of research by her, her colleagues, and other researchers. 

In brief, "mindset" here refers to what somebody believes about their own (and other people's) traits, skills, and abilities: are they an unchangeable part of who you are, written in to your genes, so to speak; or are they mutable, flexible things which change and develop with effort and experience? Those with the former belief have a "fixed mindset", while those with the latter have a "growth mindset". Dr Dweck spends most of the book explaining what effects each of these have, and makes it abundantly clear that it's better to have a growth mindset than a fixed mindset - and that it's possible to develop a growth mindset even if you don't have one at the moment.

Written for a general audience, Mindset has more examples of famous people with one or the other mindset and the resulting effect this had on their lives than references to research and experiments. On the one hand, I find this to be a bit of a shame, as her examples are mostly personal interpretations of life stories of people she hasn't met rather than anything more epistemologically sound; but it does have the advantage, if you believe what she is telling you (and I do - the research is sufficiently convincing), of getting you to more fully understand the workings of the mindsets, and to see the huge influence they have in many real-world situations. 

It's a somewhat repetitive book in the sense that after she introduces the central idea, she spends the remaining 200 or so pages mostly just going over example after example after example, but I don't mind that myself - in fact I find it useful as it helps me learn the concept more thoroughly. I don't believe that it's very controversial that repetition is good for learning. I remember how excited I was when I was learning Armenian (as you do - typical summer holiday for me) and discovered that the word for "education", կրթություն krt'ut'yun, was the same as the word for "repetition". (This turns out to be wrong - the word for repetition is կրկնությւն krknut'yun. Silly me.)

What's more, she actually covers a range of different fields with examples of cases where the idea of mindset applies. In the UK edition, there is a bullet point list on the front cover of the areas she focusses on: business, parenting, school, and relationships. She also spends a fair bit of space writing about sports. After reading this, you might come away with a feeling that there's nothing that the idea of mindset doesn't touch - that there's no field of human endeavour where it doesn't apply. I often get this feeling when I read a good, trendy non-fiction book. There should be a word for this feeling. Gladwell syndrome? I'm sure the Germans have a word for it, they have a word for everything.

Overall it's a good book to start from - accessible, fascinating, broadly applicable, and (to my mind) fundamental. It's one of those books which, after you read it, makes you start looking at things all around you differently. You might find yourself saying "That's what's wrong with X person!" or "That's why Y person is so amazing!".

I'd rate this book as "totally awesome, you should read it". But then that's why you're here, right? To listen to me talk about it so that you don't have to read it? ;)

Enjoy the episode.