Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor, is the author of the recently published "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," which documents how people with a "growth" mind-set who believe they can improve themselves out-perform those with a "fixed" mind-set who believe their capabilities are fixed.  "The growth mind-set person recognizes that you’re not good at something before you’re good at it," Dweck points out. 

In one instance, Dweck found that when people experience a blow to their self-esteem, those in a fixed mindset repair their self-image by trying to feel that they are better than others, which n a business setting might take the form of blaming or taking things out on a colleague. Those in a growth mindset recover their self-esteem by trying to improve themselves and correct their deficiencies.

While it’s gratifying to see the impact of personal belief documented so clearly, parts of this thesis are hardly new– optimists outperform pessimists across all industries and job descriptions (except in law), in part simply because they believe they are capable of effecting change.  And the success that this sense of empowerment generates in any arena leads to the expectation of and achievement of success in others.  Optimists are also more resilient–understanding that specific setbacks are just that, and not a referendum on their personal worth, which makes them more likely to persevere.

Which brings us to lawyers, the least optimistic of any career, for whom Dr. Seligman has documented that pessimism is in fact a career enhancer, and who consistently score low on resilience.  For lawyers, the new psychology of success begins with systematically training themselves to confine their pessimism to their legal analysis and to bolster their resilience and optimism in the rest of their lives, including management.

In any event, Dweck’s overall assertion that rigid thinking benefits no one, least of all yourself, and that a change of mind is always possible, is welcome.