Years before Carol Dweck became a professor at Stanford University and first uttered the words ‘growth mindset’, I went to school with a boy called George. He was in my class from year four all the way up to sixth form. His nickname was Wingey Winston, so called because he would cry at the slightest thing and because his last name was Winston. Evidence, at least, that we’d all grasped the concept of alliteration.
If Wingey was invited to a birthday party, you knew there would be tears if the music didn’t stop on his turn of pass-the-parcel. As we grew older, Wingey continued to cry at school if he was caught out at cricket or didn’t get the Maths Genius of the Week award. I haven’t seen Wingey for years but I believe he’s now a headteacher. I do hope he’s managed to learn that losing is just part of life.
I get the impression that Donald Trump might have been the same at parties as old Wingey, considering how his inability to be gracious in defeat has played out following the US election results. For months, Trump has been falsely claiming that tens of millions of extra ballots are being mailed out unsolicited, as well as attempting to undermine any confidence in the election process (which, funnily enough, is exactly what his pals in Russia are trying to do, according to the director of the FBI).
In undermining the process, The Donald gives himself a handy get-out clause if results don't go in his favour. Which they didn't. And if he won, he would have painted himself as a hero, winning the public adoration against the odds. Wingey Winston did something similar on exam days. He would often say he had a migraine. If he flunked, he had an excuse. If he got decent marks, he used the feigned illness as evidence of his superior intellect.
Both Donald and Wingey’s behaviour shows a distinct lack of growth mindset. Without listening to others to understand what you could do better, and without listening to criticism, how can you ever get better?
How is it that Donald Trump managed to become President with such a fixed attitude? In part, it’s because the political classes he presented himself as the antidote to, were not listening. They too had become fixed and lacked perspective beyond their own worlds. It’s something we’re all guilty of.
Maybe we all shoulder some blame for where we are now. It’s easy to look at a situation and judge how someone else is behaving. The more difficult but more beneficial part is looking beyond the behaviour and understanding why it’s happening. And then being curious enough to learn from it.
This striving to understand and do better is what growth mindset is all about.