Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford and the author of Mindset, studies motivation theory: asking what drives people to succeed, why people succeed (or not) and how we can foster success in others and ourselves. Her work is influential in education and increasingly followed in the business world, too. In her TED Talk, Dweck discusses the power of the word "yet" and how simply believing that you can improve impacts your ability to succeed. While her talk focuses on children, the research and arguments she makes closely relate to the people development work of HR professionals.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from her talk.
"If you get the grade 'Not Yet,' you understand you're on a learning curve."
Dweck describes a school in Chicago where students receive a new kind of grade if they don't pass a test: instead of an "F," they'll receive a "Not Yet." The latter fosters a "growth mindset," or an understanding that abilities can be developed, rather than a "fixed mindset," where skills and knowledge are thought of as static. Dweck explains that by framing low grades or mistakes as an opportunity to improve, instead of a final result, we provide ourselves and others with the confidence to continue learning — "yet" provides a path to the future.
Instead of praising talent and intelligence, Dweck argues that we should praise the process: effort, strategy, focus, perseverance and improvement. Process praise, she explains, leads to more persistence and, ultimately, better results.
She references a study in which she partnered with game scientists at the University of Washington to create a new online math game — while a typical game rewards players for correct answers, this game awarded players for their process. Dweck shares that the "process" players exhibited more effort, more strategies, more engagement and more perseverance when they hit hard problems.
"Let's not waste any more lives."
Dweck shares a story of a letter she received from a 13-year-old boy, in which he wrote that he followed her advice and saw great improvements in school, in friendships and in family relationships. He signs off the letter, "I now realize I've wasted most of my life."
While Dweck chuckles at his youthful sincerity, she also emphasizes that focusing on results over potential does in fact lead to wasted lives — people believing they are not good enough or smart enough, and therefore giving up. Dweck is quick to point out that a "fixed mindset" can, in fact, change — by focusing on "yet," we can not only foster confidence, but also truly help people become smarter and more engaged.