I greatly admire the groundbreaking work of Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University, who lays out her research on the type of mindset that leads to success in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Dr. Dweck identifies two mindsets: the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.
Those with a growth mindset do not simply rely on “talent” but instead face challenges by digging in, working hard and doing whatever it takes to create success. The growth mindset inspires risk-taking, experimentation, the willingness to stumble, and even “fail” and to persist. They are on a life-long journey of growth and learning and they are able to trust that they will come out ahead.
This is in contrast to the “fixed” mindset where people hold onto their talent for dear life as the proof of whether they can be successful and are afraid to make mistakes for fear that this will unmask their lack of talent and intelligence. Those with a fixed mindset hold themselves back and avoid challenge, feeling that they have to be “perfect” or else they are failures.
The fascinating conclusion of Dr. Dweck’s research is that those with a growth mindset are ultimately more successful than those with the fixed mindset, who often peak early and then lag behind.
Whereas much of Dr. Dweck’s research focuses on childhood learning, her concepts resonate powerfully with musicians who easily fall into “fixed mindset” thinking. They perceive that they must be perfect due to their rigorous training, coupled with the limited traditional career opportunities that are based on competitions and auditions. Yet once they are introduced to the growth mindset, musicians embrace the notion that success flows from the ability to learn and grow and change.
Dr. Dweck has a new TED talk that takes her ideas a step further. It is called The Power of Believing that You Can Improve and is based on the concept of “not yet”.
So let’s take a look at her latest work and see what happens when music entrepreneurs embrace the power of yet.
The Power of Yet
Dr. Dweck was inspired by the power of yet when she learned of a Chicago school where students who had not mastered their material were not given a failing grade but rather the grade “Not Yet”. To Dr. Dweck, these two little words helped children to feel that they were on a learning curve as opposed to feeling worthless and ready to give up.
In her TED Talk, Dr. Dweck advises that in order to develop the growth mindset and help form children who are “hardy and resilient”, we should “praise wisely”: instead of praising someone on talent and intelligence, praise the process and the strategies, focus, perseverance and improvement that the child has engaged in.
Just by using the words “yet” and “not yet”, Dr. Dweck has found that children feel more confident and see a path to the future that inspires persistence. And this endeavor can actually change a child’s mindset because every time a child is pushed out of her comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, their brains change: “the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time [the child] can get smarter.
In addition, she provides examples of children in failing schools who were taught the growth mindset and were able to make remarkable progress in just a year’s time. She even cited the example of children on a Native American reservation whose performance went from the bottom of their school district to the top—and that district included affluent sections of Seattle. In other words, the “native kids outdid the Microsoft kids.”
This happened because the meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed for these children. Before being taught about the growth mindset, they felt like giving up if they experienced challenge and had to put in effort and difficulty but once they learned the growth mindset, they literally became smarter, with their neurons making new and stronger connections.
You can hear for yourself what Dr. Dweck has to say about the power of yet: The Power of Believing That You Can Improve
Musicians and The Power of Yet
While the elite students at the Yale School of Music may appear to have little in common with children on Native America reservation, Dr. Dweck’s concepts resonate powerfully with musicians. Our students work incredibly hard but they often feel stressed and discouraged by the difficulties of mastering the repertoire and technique, as well as having to compete and take auditions. Moreover, it takes a lot of knowledge, skill and self-confidence to create one’s own opportunities on the arts entrepreneurship model.
The students in my class last semester experienced profound changes in the way they were able to approach their careers as a life-long journey of growth and change and embrace the growth mindset model. To build on this work, I have been sharing the concept of the “power of yet” with students in my coaching groups at Yale, as well as several of my music entrepreneur clients.
In one of my coaching groups, we discussed the challenges of having to undergo auditions and enter competitions as part of their career trajectories, as well as completing their academic requirements. It is easy to fall into a mindset of life as a “zero-sum game” during an audition when you are being compared to other musicians. As one student shared, “I either win the audition or I feel that I have wasted two years of my life at Yale.”
However, with the power of yet, you focus on your process and your progress, as opposed to the end goal. With the power of yet, you can accept where you are in the process of learning a difficult piece of music and commit to getting better. Similarly, with competitions and auditions, you do your best and trust that over time, you will get better. Even your doctoral thesis does not have to be “perfect”; instead, you submit your research and commit to refining it as you learn more.
Artistically, the power of yet is incredibly liberating. In performance, several students noticed that when they were stuck in thinking that their technique had to be “perfect”, they were unable to let go and express themselves authentically. With the power of yet, they were encouraged to trust that their technique was good enough so that they could deliver an expressive artistic experience and connect more effectively with the audience.
Another musician shared that he has held himself back by playing it safe and not taking artistic risks. His underlying fear was that if he tried something new, he would fail and he was unwilling to face the prospect that he might not have enough “talent” to create the kind of art that he longed to do. With the power of yet, he felt inspired to challenge himself and take his artistry to another level.
The fixed mindset is all about “now”: let me stay within my comfort zone and not rock the boat because I am afraid that I can’t make it. And this ultimately leads to burnout, cynicism, and lack of self-esteem, not to mention failure.
The growth mindset, on the other hand, is how to achieve and feel satisfied over the long haul, based on the conviction that with smart hard work, persistence, and the willingness to learn from mistakes, you will in fact succeed in a way that feels powerful and authentic.
In short, the power of yet helps musicians to see that they are on a life-long journey and they feel inspired and determined to improve and grow. So how about embracing that process and seeing what results you can achieve?