In a recent interview about her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, explained how a person’s mindset can account for success. 

She identifies two major mindsets–fixed and growth.  In a fixed mindset, we think we know our strengths and weaknesses, believe that they are "fixed" and think we should only attempt undertakings that use those strengths.  This type of person often cites genetics or background as limiting factors to their productivity.

With a growth mindset, we believe that we can grow into the skills needed for success. That is, we have the attitude that with analysis and persistence and feedback, we can stretch and extend our abilities over time.  The basis of these differences in mindset lie in one’s sense of control and optimism–attitudes that have long been associated with greater success and sense of well-being.

Dr. Dweck’s research on athletic performance is intriguing–the more athletes believe that their success is a function of effort and practice (as opposed to "natural talent"), the better they do.  Even more importantly, the more they believe that their coach thinks their success is a function of effort and practice, the better the athletes do.  

She also points out that in India and Asia, the common belief that children are blank slates at birth who can learn anything help people there succeed.

Her research also has relevance to those of us practicing law.  As measured by various assessments, lawyers are highly pessimistic and also have low resilience to setbacks (an indication of low sense of control). When gauging ourselves, and particularly in mentoring others, it is important to focus on the process–how much time and energy is being put into the effort and how persistent the person is.  Encouraging those traits will pay off with better performance over time than praising how "smart" someone is or how "natural" they are at something.  In fact, that type of praise is shown by Dr. Dweck’s research to actually lower productivity–trapping the person in the narrow range of their perceived ability and making them fearful that they can’t always live up to that talent or go beyond it.

Lawyers are also not inclined to take risks and therefore are less likely to proceed, whether personally or as a firm, when they are not certain they are likely to succeed.  In this time of fast-paced changes, however, Dr. Dweck points out  the disadvantage of such a fixed mindset.  With law practice undergoing tremendous transition, that reluctance can put both a person and a firm at the back of the evolutionary process that will produce better services. 

Dr. Dweck has developed an assessment to determine one’s mindset and strategies for changing a mindset from a fixed one to one of growth, both of which we can offer as a part of your complete professional development plan, whether for one attorney or a large group.