By Peter Wingate

    “I wish that l had made a lifetime of mistakes, for I can only learn when I reflect on apparent failure”

    I love this quote… (not simply because its makes me feel a tad better about my ‘lifetime of mistakes’…” 1990s Pete: Nah, let’s just keep renting in Yarraville, surely house prices can’t go any higher”) but it encapsulates a powerful academic theory I’ve been studying. If you’ve had anything to do with education, learning and development, personal development, organisational development, psychology etc. you may also have been exposed to the idea of ‘Growth versus Fixed-mindset’ and its relation to success.

    This educational theory exposed by Carol Dweck, regardless of whether you are currently in ‘education’ (don’t forget all life is about learning) is bound to have you questioning your relationship to failure as a means to success.

    I know those of you yet-to-be exposed to the Growth-Mindset are probably thinking this is just a new-age, ‘there, there, you’re not a total loser’ response to the harsh realities of life, but this little gem of a theory is backed by plenty of peer-reviewed research (thanks Stamford et. al) and it’s had me rethinking the who I am as a learner.

    It starts with the idea that ‘talent’ (you might call it intelligence, ability or skill) in a particular area is not innate or ‘fixed’ i.e. inherent to the individual from birth, but largely dependent on the person’s attitude or ‘mindset’ – a ‘growth’ one being the winner here. Dweck’s research shows that it is much more your attitude to so-called ‘failure’ and the learning experience, than ‘what god gave you’ and the perceived strengths and weaknesses you attribute to yourself.

    Those with a fixed-mindset see not-getting-it-right as confirmation of their innate (therefore not-their-fault) personal attributes and can easily divorce the notion of personal improvement from consistent effort and growth.

    Growth-mindset learners don’t get bogged-down in judgement or labelling but know that achievement (and ‘failure’) is temporal and continued i.e. not fixed in nature and time but changing over a lifetime directed by attitude and effort.

    Ok, so we all know about how important it is to ‘try’ and have a positive attitude to things, but this is the first time academics have shown that it is actually all about this thing called Growth Mindset and rarely about what we were born with. In fact (almost counterintuitively) the more we experience mistakes and failure, the ultimately more successful we can be.

    Unlike apparent ‘success’ which to most people mean the end of the game and thus learning, mistakes ask us to delve into the problem further, often revealing important insights about the learner as well as the subject.

    Join me next month in The Dumbocracy as I explore this theme in greater depth; in particular, how to put it into practice in everyday life.

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