Carol Dweck


  • Failure is information—we label it failure, but it’s more like, ‘This didn’t work, I’m a problem solver, and I’ll try something else.’” – Carol Dweck


The Effort Effect” by Marina Krakovsky looks at the work of an academic pioneer in embracing failure, Carol Dweck. The piece is a fine abstract of Dweck’s recent book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” She wanted to understand “What makes a really capable child give up in the face of failure, where other children may be motivated by the failure?

Dweck conducted a number of experiments where half of the subjects were encouraged to carry on in the face of failure, while the control group was provided no support. The article describes…

  • ”The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed… The mastery-oriented children are really hell-bent on learning something,’ Dweck says, and ‘learning goals’ inspire a different chain of thoughts and behaviors than ‘performance goals.’ Students for whom performance is paramount want to look smart even if it means not learning a thing in the process. For them, each task is a challenge to their self-image, and each setback becomes a personal threat. So they pursue only activities at which they’re sure to shine—and avoid the sorts of experiences necessary to grow and flourish in any endeavor. Students with learning goals, on the other hand, take necessary risks and don’t worry about failure because each mistake becomes a chance to learn. Dweck’s insight launched a new field of educational psychology—achievement goal theory…If some students want to show off their ability, while others want to increase their ability, ‘ability’ means different things to the two groups. ‘If you want to demonstrate something over and over, it feels like something static that lives inside of you—whereas if you want to increase your ability, it feels dynamic and malleable’.”

Dweck’s insights apply as much to the world of nurturing an organisation as nurturing children. Not only is the “rank-and-yank” mode of performance management based on specious outcome fallacies, but it fosters the “learned helplessness” of the “looking smart” culture that Dweck first tackled instead of the “learning” culture of embracing failure. As Business School professor Jeffrey Pfeffer described, “It’s like the Santa Claus theory of management: who’s naughty and who’s nice.”