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Brilliant in conception, underwhelming in execution
on 6 August 2012
Despite the three star evaluation, do not underestimate the quality of the central thesis of this book. The idea that there are two mindsets - fixed and growth - and that these mindsets are basic in determining many things about success and happiness in life, is incontrovertible, radical, and perception shifting. Dweck has based the book on a bedrock of sound, academic research. She has applied it to several key spheres of life. She has witnessed its power to change lives.
What's the problem then? The problem is this book and how it is written; specifically, Dweck underestimates her audience's ability to handle the strong stuff. Instead of explication and application, we are treated to story after story, anecdote upon anecdote, and imaginary dialogues with non-existent people. I'm by nature a careful reader but I found myself flicking, scanning and otherwise anxious to get it finished. That's what I usually do when I read the psychology section of a magazine.
And the worst about it is, Dweck has so much of depth and detail to say. I suspect that she has said it in her more academic book on the same subject, 'Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality and Development'. I suspect, further, that someone convinced her of the need to write a popular account of findings, dumbed down for us plebs. Perhaps this is slightly unfair; Dweck's passion for facilitating positive change in people's lives does shine through. But I needed less motivational patter, more on her theory of motivation. I'm a big boy, I can take it.
What frustrated me the most were the hints in her book of the workshops and training sessions she has supervised in order to help people grow a growth mindset (140-141 and 218-220). I wanted details, details, details. Instead, there were brief overviews, references to techniques without the possibility of follow-up, and dead ends. But surely this should be the very hub of the book. The concept of 'how to' might seem beneath the purview of lofty academics but for the average buyer of this book I'm guessing this is almost all of what is required. A large chunk of other reviewers seem to agree.
As well as more detail on use and how-to, I'd have appreciated some thought from the other end of the spectrum. What I mean is, if true, I think Dweck's theory constitutes a deep interpretation of human nature. She does recognise that mindsets run at a more basic level than the techniques and approaches of therapies such as CBT or REBT (216). Maybe I'm over-doing it, but I kept thinking of the debates in pre-Socratic philosophy between the worldviews of being and becoming, Parmenides versus Heraclitus. It also minded me of debates about personal identity and persistence over time i.e. whether personality is fixed, in flux or a fiction. One reason why I rate Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi`s 'flow' concept so highly is because he interacts with it on all these levels.
A few other little points niggled me. Dweck's excursus into business ethics was an exercise in naivety (esp. 118). Her habit of taking every businessperson, every sports star, every relationship issue, and using it to illustrate her fixed/growth dichotomy seemed stretched to me. And an academic writer who feels the need to quote Malcolm Gladwell as one of her prime sources is surely getting things the wrong way round (40, 90, 108-9).
Dweck's fundamental thesis will stay with me. Her stories will not. Her method lies elsewhere. So, probably, should your money.