Bob Sutton’s Blog – “Work Matters”
I’ve always hated the expression “nature versus nurture”. However, the idea behind the expression does provide good food for thought. So I was happy to see Lewin’s formula, B=f(P,E) in business school. The formula says that a person’s behavior is a product of both the person (as they were born) and the environment in which they live. I’ve always leaned toward the idea that our environment shapes us. The ideologies that we submit ourselves to tend to have a great impact on who we become. This is greatly exemplified in Bob Sutton’s blog “Work Matters” when he discusses the question of whether a person can get smarter or are they locked into an unchangeable IQ with which they were born.
Raw cognitive ability has often been tied to IQ. A person’s IQ has often been identified (correctly or incorrectly) as the level of intelligence that a person has innately. However, some more recent studies have shown that people who believe (or are taught) that they can get smarter, very often do. I actually find this to be a pretty incredible fact. If by working hard and exercising your mind you can actually become more intelligent, then we all ought to be learning and training our minds for our entire life. It’s kind of like what your parents used to say, “you can accomplish anything you put your mind to”. It always sounded like someone’s mother trying to push them to try harder in school, and nothing more. But it appears that idea had much more merit to it than originally thought.
The studies quoted in the article actually show that people who were told that intelligence is “malleable” and that they can become smarter, actually do indeed become smarter and better at what they do. It also showed that being bad at something when you first try doesn’t mean you lack intelligence, or the ability to become better at it. It shows that we as humans can always get smarter and do better. The main thing here is that it leaves us all without excuse. It appears that if you don’t get smarter during the course of your life, it’s simply because you either believe that IQ is fixed (which can be re-taught) or that you simply didn’t try hard enough. This gives us a much different picture of humanity. No one is beyond help. No one is too dumb to better their circumstances. And no one is less than someone else by the nature of their innate gifts. Different yes, but less, no. The desire to keep learning may one day be the one thing that separates us from each other.
Dweck’s Article – “Can Personality Be Changed?”
Dweck’s article continues along the lines of fixed versus malleable theory regarding personalities. It seems to me pretty revolutionary that simply thinking of yourself in one context versus another can change not only your method of interaction with the world around you, but also your ability comprehend it. Believing that your personality and level of intelligence can change just because you believe it can, sounds so simplistic, but the reality is anything but.
Based on our natural tendencies and the environment in which we mature, we can possess either a fixed or malleable view of personality and intelligence. That is, is it possible to change, or are stuck with that which was born in us. It appears from the studies that both are true and they are at least partially dependent on which view you hold. As the studies show, your ability to change is merely a function of your belief in that ability.
The interesting thing is that even if you hold to the fixed (entity) theory, you can be taught otherwise. People who believe in the malleable (incremental) theory not only become smarter, but they are more open to challenges and able to handle failure better. It’s even possible to teach these theories by the type of praise you give someone. As an example, praising someone for how “smart” they are tends to reinforce the entity theory. However, praising someone for the effort that they put in, tends to reinforce incremental theory. I find it fascinating that you can have such an impact on someone just by giving them the correct positive feedback. I guess “positive reenforcement” is another one of those old-school ideas that really had merit.
All in all, the moral of the story is to keep trying, keep working. Self improvement is a process, not a destination.