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A Growth Mindset

When trying something new, I often experience a lot of internal misery. I tend to get scared, anxious, and full of doubt. I blame it on schooling. I think school comes loaded with a kind of virus that alters your operating system in a detrimental way.

We’re all born with this incredible willingness to tackle new problems: how to walk, how to talk. As an infant, I didn’t care if I stumbled, fell over, sounded stupid. I was going to accomplish these goals no matter what. There was no embarrassment, there was no shame, there was no fear of what others would think.

Somewhere along the way, things changed.  School is so focused on getting things right, on being perfect, on getting it correct the first time. It warps our understanding of what it means to learn. It fundamentally alters how we perceive challenges.

Instead of relishing the opportunity of diving into a thorny problem, I tend to hold back, raise shields, and cower.

In Carol Dweck’s research studying children’s reactions to hard puzzles, she was prepared to document how they struggled with difficult challenges:

Confronted with the hard puzzles, one ten-year-old boy pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out, “I love a challenge!” Another, sweating away on these puzzles, looked up with a pleased expression and said with authority, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!”

What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure.

As I read this excerpt from Mindset, I realized how far I am from this “growth mindset” that Dr. Dweck explored. In many ways, I am stuck in the “fixed mindset” that demands validation and proof that one is good, smart, and intelligent. The fixed mindset assumes that these traits are unchangeable. The growth mindset recognizes that things like creativity, intelligence, and problem-solving are all skills that can be continually improved upon.

I’m aware that many, if not all, Makers seem to hold the growth mindset. They relish challenges, they want to stretch themselves, they want to try and do things that they have never done before.

Instead of attending school, I’d like my children to spend their days with Makers so they can soak up this growth mindset and avoid the fixed mindset. In fact, it seems that what we really need as a human race is a whole lot more people with the growth mindset in order to tackle and overcome the many challenges we face. What’s exciting to me is to see groups, schools, and camps all over the world who have this approach in mind: Brightworks in San Francisco (Gever Tulley’s year-round school), The Tinkering School (summer camp with partners in several cities around the U.S.), Leonardo’s Basement in Minneapolis, and the forming Decatur Maker Space right here in Atlanta.


  1. sharon dvora says:

    Craig… I love your use of the term growth mindset. I’ve been using the term designer’s mindset a lot lately, in referencing design thinking and the kind of mental preference for ‘play’ rather than directly seeking ‘solutions’. I look forward to looking deeper into the links here and exploring a ‘growth mindset’. It sounds organic and evolutionary! A favorite photograph of mine captured a simple painted sign that says ‘grow’—planted amongst an assortment of weeds and such. We don’t readily know how to grow ourselves {although ripe conditions for growth fascinate and attract me}. How can we develop a proclivity for openness towards learning and openness towards change {aka growth}? It’s wonderful to find someone who’s thinking travels similar pathways as mine. I’ll scramble to catch up and then we can wander the maze together! Much appreciation… Sharon

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