HBR IdeaCast, published 12 January 2012
SARAH GREEN: So I think we’ve all experienced maybe the strange sensation of, say, going back to your high school reunion, whether it’s the 10 year, or the 20, or the 30 year, or something, and seeing the person you thought was going to be the next President of the United States or something who just– their career has just not panned out. In that case, you never intend to be that person. You never intend to be the person who has the fixed mindset. So how does someone fall into that trap?
CAROL DWECK: That’s a great example because you think oh, this person’s most likely to succeed. They’ve gotten the A’s. They’re president of the student body. But because of their success, they may have fallen into a fixed mindset. They may have believed all the hype, the idea that they just have it. And they become afraid of making mistakes. They become afraid of tarnishing their image.
And because they are fearful of venturing out of their comfort zone, they don’t take the risks or develop the abilities they’re capable of. You go back to the same reunion, and you see people you thought were not likely to succeed, and they’ve really done amazing things. These are the people who maybe didn’t have an image to uphold, didn’t feel the weight of other people’s expectations, and just followed their passions and developed their abilities.
SARAH GREEN: So I’m wondering as you talk about that, is this a conundrum that we can get into at any time? If you become CEO of a company, say, at 45 or 55, can you suddenly find yourself falling into the same trap?
CAROL DWECK: It’s possible. Many people have told me that when they were promoted into a prestigious position, they suddenly felt, now I have to have all the answers. Now, my period of growth is over. I have to be a fully mature person who knows everything. So yes, at any point, you can fall into that trap. People who become CEOs suddenly feel they have to be gods goddesses, and not people who say, gee, I don’t know. Let’s talk about it. Let’s think about it. Let’s feel our way through this problem.