Immutable vs. Variable

What are you doing blogging about software concepts? Sure, you still manage developers, but maybe you should think about leaving this stuff to the experts still on the tools.

Yes, yes. But I needed to get the attention of those guys. What this is really about is a contemporary view in the psychology of personal development that we exist on some continuum between having a “fixed mindset” and having a “growth mindset”. See what I did there? Very clever. On with it then.

The premise is that with a fixed mindset, we believe that our personal qualities are set in stone. Our intelligence. Our moral fibre. Our personality. All static, all unchangeable – what we’re born with is what we’ve got. Inherent in this assumption is that our success is therefore a measure of these qualities, that any failure is due to some deficiency in one or more of these. Worse still, it infers that these failures cannot be overcome. People with this mindset will seek situations that validate their intelligence, scenarios that they will succeed in, avoiding any potential failure at all costs.

The growth mindset is the opposite. Those traits – intelligence, character, even creativity – can be developed, cultivated and grown. Where those with a fixed mindset see failure, those with a growth mindset see an opportunity to learn. Instead of taking a tried and true approach, or tackling a problem in which success is guaranteed (and thus validating their intelligence), someone with a growth mindset will stretch themselves and accept a challenge where learning and effort will be required, and failure is a very real possibility. Success in this mindset is in seeing that effort can grow your intelligence, that experience can develop your personal characteristics.

I’ve included here a graphical representation to help visualise this, put together by Nigel Holmes, and found in the seminal book in this area by Carol Dweck, Mindset: The new psychology of success


So, what’s the purpose of this post? I’ve really only recently begun to move from a well-entrenched fixed mindset, to appreciating and having the courage to adopt a growth mindset. And I can tell you it’s confronting when you start out. It takes a degree of self-awareness that I’m also still growing, to be able to identify where you stand, and why. You then need to challenge (look, already growing!) the reasons why you are approaching your personal and potentially career development from a safe and effortless position, and make a conscious and concerted effort to change.

We are all born with, and form further when young, inherent abilities that direct and guide our adult lives. It has been a welcome realisation for me that we can change the hand we were dealt many times over. I’ve had the luxury of two leaders in both my immediate boss and a coach pushing me in this direction, and challenging the status quo I’d reached. My challenge to you is take a step back and determine where you stand.

Do you have the mettle to accept that you can further develop traits that affect both your career and your relationships, even ones so important as those with your spouse and your children? Are you really ready to say that you can’t and won’t put in the effort and take the risks necessary to improve these, simply because your fear and belief that failing in some endeavour is a failure of self, and not an opportunity to learn?