Change Your Mind

Turns out a bedrock parental cliché—"you can do anything if you put your mind to it"—is true. Research reveals that, if you teach students that their intelligence can grow and increase, they do better.

Research psychologist Carol Dwek from Stanford University and her colleague Lisa Blackwell from Columbia University worked with hundreds of seventh graders, assessing which believed their intelligence was fixed and which thought that it could increase. The first group floundered over the next two years, while the latter thrived. The researchers then speculated that they could help by teaching the children who had the fixed mindset that they could actually grow their intelligence.

The struggling kids were divided into two groups: One was given a course in good study habits. The other was given an elementary neuroscience lesson about how the brain forms new connections every time you learn something new, which, over time makes you smarter. The second group showed remarkable improvement while those who'd learned new study skills did not..

Dwek extended what she's seen in her childhood-development research to apply to the population at large. Her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, divides people into those who believe they are who they are, and go through life avoiding challenge and failure; and those with a growth mindset, who view themselves as fluid and life as being filled with opportunity..

In business, a "fixed" mindset causes the sort of leadership that relies on intimidation (that supposedly proves how "smart" the leader is). A "growth" mindset views challenges and setbacks as an opportunity to learn and to improve through experience. Dwek offers an entire section on business, including a look at organizations that grow and the leadership tactics they employ.

Examples of fixed and fluid organizations abound. There are those that rely on size and dominance to maintain the status quo and those which, even if they are large, stay nimble and evolve with the marketplace, in part by tapping the collective web whims and wisdom.

Google may be the poster-child for tapping the group-mind of its organization—it was number one on this year's Fortune list of best companies to work for and also made the Fortune 500. The company is notorious not only for its elaborate perks, but also for its "20% time" policy, through which all Google engineers are encouraged to spend about a day a week on independent projects. Interestingly, this "independent study" doesn't lead to defection, as several successful Google services like Gmail, Google News, and AdSense grew out of these efforts.

True to Dwek's premise, this culture of innovation and experimentation doesn't yield complete success. Some Google products remain in perpetual beta, while others are beset by detractors and litigators. Google Book Search gets written up a lot for copyright exposure but its older cousin Google News took a hit in February when Google lost a copyright lawsuit to Belgian newspapers that demanded that it remove headlines and links to stories for which it had not obtained permission. If confirmed, this case could set precedent, at least in the EU, for how search engines link to copyrighted material in the capricious area of web news..

I got the heads up on this decision via EContent contributing editor Ron Miller's blog, "by Ron Miller" ( Miller was baffled by the existence of the suit at all, calling it "totally bone-headed." He argued that the Belgian newspaper "doesn't get this internet thing. It doesn't understand that when Google links to its site, the chances increase dramatically that people visit the site…and increasing traffic increases ad prices."

As luck would have it, I have another contributor, Heidi Gautschi, poised at the Belgian border to comment on just such events, so I shot her Miller's post. Gautschi (an American who has spent much of her life living in France) had quite a different take. "I think that, unlike in the Unites States, EU news- papers don't see the internet as a business opportunity …Europeans and Americans don't have the same vision of business or journalism," she says. "I thought it was a little odd, but in keeping with European copyright issues. I see how some things are interpreted through a cultural filter."

Miller also sees a cultural aspect. He wonders "if this is an overreaction to perceived American corporate arrogance, even more than a statement about how European publications should do business online."

Gautschi suggests that Google might need to invest some of its corporate culture in understanding others. "Google doesn't seem to mean any harm; they just don't seem to understand that things work differently in different places."

Ultimately, Dwek asserts that rigid thinking benefits no one. And both sides of this debate may need to do some mental stretching on this one. The good news: Research shows that anyone can change their mind.