Saturday, December 22, 2007

Attitude Trumps Intelligence

I've known this for a long time. Any good manager can tell you he can accomplish more with someone willing to try than the most gifted employee with self-imposed limits. This Scientific American article focuses on child development, but the lesson is for everyone. The good news is that even after we leave home, all of us have the capacity to make affirmative changes for the better.

Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners—helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so. Like Jonathan, such children shun effort in the belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.

The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else. After all, if you believe that you can expand your intellectual skills, you want to do just that. Because slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they can be remedied by more effort. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating; they offer opportunities to learn. Students with such a growth mind-set, we predicted, were destined for greater academic success and were quite likely to outperform their counterparts.

The moral of this story: You may not be as smart as you think. Thankfully, you also may not be all that stupid.

No comments: