For context, read this NYT article:
The Many Errors in Thinking About Mistakes
. . . We grow up with a mixed message: making mistakes is a necessary learning tool, but we should avoid them.
Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has studied this and related issues for decades.
â€œStudies with children and adults show that a large percentage cannot tolerate mistakes or setbacks,â€ she said. In particular, those who believe that intelligence is fixed and cannot change tend to avoid taking chances that may lead to errors.
As an aside, Dweck’s research, and particularly the book Mindset, has been the frikkin’ mother lode for reporters doing think-pieces on education, business, etc. For that matter, I’ve used it in a lecture at UT. Good, good stuff — and very important work.
The majority of those praised for being smart chose the simple task, while 90 percent of those commended for trying hard selected the more difficult one.
The difference was surprising, Professor Dweck said, especially because it came from one sentence of praise.
Now compound this with years and years of typical schooling. It’s enough to make me want to copy my many friends who homeschool.
As we get older, many of us invest a great deal in being right. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, we focus on flagellating ourselves, blaming someone else or covering it up. Or we rationalize it by saying others make even more mistakes.
What we do not want to do, most of the time, is learn from the experience.
In other words, we don’t grow up. It’s sad how much I see this in all the different milieux in which I move — academics, business, social contacts, etc.
Those in the fixed mind-set chose to compare themselves with students who had performed worse, as opposed to those Professor Dweck refers to as in â€œthe growth mind-set,â€ who more frequently chose to learn by looking at those who had performed better.
This reminds me of something I once read from Neil Peart in an interview. (Sorry, can’t find it online right now.) He said that when he would hear the great drummers — I think he mentioned Bonham — it would inspire him to go home and work harder on his drumming. Contrast this with the attitude of many I’ve known who despair at ever getting better when they hear/see/read/experience the work of one of the greats.
â€œWe get fixated on achievement,â€ [Rutgers management professor Stanley Gully] said, but, â€œeveryone is talking about the need to innovate. If you already know the answer, itâ€™s not learning. In most personal and business contexts, if you avoid the error, you avoid the learning process.â€
So go make some constructive mistakes!