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Carol Dweck’s “Mindset”

If you read the popular books on success, almost all of the authors refer back to Carol Dweck’s work. She is clearly a titan researcher so when I found out she had written her own book, “Mindset”, I was giddy. Why not get it straight from the horse’s mouth?

Her premise is that intelligence is not fixed but eminently teachable. If you don’t believe this, if you have the wrong “mindset”, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy and, worse, it makes you stop challenging yourself because you don’t think effort helps. Moreover, a limiting mindset causes a lack of fulfillment, depression and a host of other ailments. It all makes a ton of sense.

Unfortunately, for buyers of the book, I’ve told you virtually everything you need to know. She never really takes the book anywhere else beyond repeat the premise 1,000 different ways. Worse still, Dweck weaves in a bunch of silly anecdotes and contrived narratives:

  • John McEnroe was basically a failure. He was one of the best tennis players in the history of the world and is the best commentator in tennis (at least arguably). This we know. Yet somehow the narrative she paints him as a failure. I’m left with the question, if mindset is so important and his was so awful, how did he become great? That question gets lost in the “he saw awful” leitmotif.
  • Michael Jordan’s success was in part due to his great humility. Michael Jordan? Seriously? Have you read anything about Michael Jordan or did your research include watching 1,000 Nike commercials? She also lionizes the character of Tiger Woods which history makes look pretty foolish.  
  • She tells this story about how she caught this big fly fish after a fishing lesson and two men who were there assumed her much too evolved husband would feel ashamed to have been beaten by a woman because they too felt ashamed. About catching a fish? The chances this was not just her interpretation at a joke? Close to zero. The whole thing just seemed out of touch.

And this is all just in the first few chapters. For such a serious researcher, Dweck frequently refers to studies but never actually provides any citations.

I feel bad beating down such an obviously brilliant researcher. But I went in with the presumption that this was going to be a good book and left it feeling like I had wasted my money. But that does not detract from Dweck’s important message about mindset. I would just rather read Gladwell interpreting Dweck than reading Dweck herself.

For a different point of view, read this review.

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