Lisa Keating : ‘Too big to fail?’ |

Lisa Keating : ‘Too big to fail?’

Lisa Keating
For the Nevada Appeal

The Harvard Business Review recently devoted a special issue to failing. They called it “The failure issue.” They pointed out several people, who at one point, looked like major failures and who we now consider enormously successful: Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Oprah Winfrey, and a long list of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, gold medalists, and U.S. Presidents. They also pointed out many companies that once looked like failures which are now immensely successful: IBM, Apple, Adidas and Continental Airlines.

What these people and companies all had in common is that they failed well.

I imagine you might be wondering why all these people are talking about failure; shouldn’t they be focusing on success?

This new focus on failure, and how to do it well, is emerging in psychology and business fields as a result of the fact that we are all failing, and will continue to fail, more than we used to. This is due to current economic challenges, and to new skill sets being needed for the worldwide economy and the technology era.

The main point of failing well is, of course, overcoming failure well.

Who doesn’t fail well?

Dr. Carol Dweck, a distinguished Stanford University psychology professor, after decades of research, has found that those with a “fixed mindset” do not withstand failure as well as those with a “growth mindset.” People with a “fixed mindset” believe that intelligence and ability are something you are born with, and won’t change. They believe you should look smart at all costs, that grades are more important than knowledge, they are terrified of making mistakes and resist feedback from others about their mistakes, and they avoid putting too much effort into things believing they should come easily. About 40 percent of people have this mindset.

Conversely, people with a “growth mindset” believe that intelligence is malleable and can change with effort. They believe in continuous learning, they focus on improving their abilities rather than appearing competent, they emphasize knowledge more than grades, they choose situations that challenge them, and they persist in the face of difficulties. They accept failures, mistakes and setbacks as part of any process. About 40 percent of people have this mindset, and the remaining 20 percent aren’t sure.

Many successful people have “fixed mindsets” about their intelligence and abilities, reinforced by accomplishments in school, sports or business ventures. And, this isn’t to say that they aren’t smart and didn’t work hard. The problem is that if you believe these successes are due to innate abilities, rather than to learning, effort, and problem solving, you might also believe that the failures that may lie ahead, are because you aren’t talented enough.

Mindsets, like intelligence, it turns out, are changeable. So, stay tuned for my next article about instilling “growth mindsets” into ourselves and our children.

• Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.