Friday, September 12, 2014

Embrace intellectual challenges

Interesting article from Salman Khan. I quote:
Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has been studying people’s mindsets towards learning for decades. She has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not, that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure. Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset tended to focus their effort on tasks where they had a high likelihood of success and avoided tasks where they may have had to struggle, which limited their learning. People with a growth mindset, however, embraced challenges, and understood that tenacity and effort could change their learning outcomes. As you can imagine, this correlated with the latter group more actively pushing themselves and growing intellectually.
It seems to me that this must be only partially right.

  • People  should be rewarded for choosing good things to work on. Persevering in trying to flap your arms hard enough to fly like a bird is not going to work, no matter how much you persevere. Great scientists focus on important problems that are just within their reach, and they typically learn to do so by apprenticing with an older great scientist.
  • People should learn not to attempt to solve the insoluble. As a Peace Corps volunteer I saw some very good people break under the stress of trying to find a way to help the development of people who were could not progress rapidly for too many reasons. This is a corollary to the earlier idea, that you should choose good things to struggle with,
  • When do you reward someone for working hard on a problem? Perhaps you should encourage people to persevere in their effort, and praise the perseverance, but perhaps the reward should be reserved for success.

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