Your Intelligence: Fixed or Fixable?

by Michael Haberman on September 8, 2011 · 0 comments


In his book Drive, Daniel Pink tell us about Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University. She has been studying motivation and achievement for many years. He said that her signature insight is that “… what people believe shapes what people achieve.” I believe this too. I am not sure how signature this is however, this is the same thing that has been said by Earl Nightengale, Brian Tracy, Charles Garfield and Harvey Mckay for many years. According to Dr. Dweck people hold two views of their own intelligence. Basically, some people believe that their intelligence is fixed. Others think there intelligence is fixable.

Dweck does not use those terms, they are mine. Her language sounds more scientific. She says that people who believe their intelligence is a finite supply and cannot be increased go by the “entity” theory. That is their intelligence is an entity. Others go by what she calls an “incremental” theory. They believe that intelligence is ultimately something that, with effort, can be increased. Pink explains this by using height and strength as examples. If you are an “entity” theory person you know that your height (once you are grown) is not going to change. If you are an “incremental” theory person you view it as strength, which through hard work can be increased. Pink says:

If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational experience and professional encounter becomes a measure of how much you have. If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters become opportunties for growth. In one view, intelligence is something you demonstrate; in the other, it is something you develop.”

To Pink this is profound. He is all about MASTERY, and he sees the incremental theory as leading to MASTERY, and the entity theory as preventing you from getting there. Entity theory leads you to performance goals. Incremental theory leads you to learning goals. It also has an impact on effort. Incremental people see exertion, or effort, as something positive. If you are an entity person working hard means you are not very good. Because the more intelligence you have the easier things should be.

Dweck says your view also has an impact on responses to adversity. Entity people fall into a pattern of “helplessness” if they are given a problem they cannot solve. They give up quickly on tough problems. Incremental people keep on working on the problem whether they can solve it or not and they try far many more ways to solve the problem. This is important to Pink. He says “Begin with one mindset, and mastery is impossible. Begin with the other, and it can be inevitable.”

This was pretty enlightening to me. And it got me thinking about organizations as well. The mindset of leaders have a major impact on the organizations they lead. If they have the entity mindset it is a sure bet that their organization will be limited in its success. If they have the incremental mindset then success will follow.

So take a look in the mirror. Figure out what you believe. Then take a look at the organizational leaders you work for. What do they believe? And if it is not incremental thinking then you may want to reeducate yourself and your organization if you want to achieve mastery and success.

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