It’s easy to feel knowledgeable about an event after it has happened.
“Monday’s expert” will tell you all about how the weekend’s game was lost and how it should have been won. The best decisions or the real reasons seem obvious in retrospect.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
But what if it wasn’t? What if hindsight could be contributing to the development of a Fixed Mindset?
Consider the resume of Joanne, a principal who I met recently, as an example. Joanne’s career achievements are:
• 2000 – First teaching appointment (small school)
• 2002 – Science Coordinator (small school)
• 2003 – Science Coordinator (large School)
• 2005 – Programs Leader (large School)
• 2007 – Curriculum Leader (new large school)
• 2010 – Professional Development Leader
• 2013 – Deputy Principal
• 2015 – Principal (new school)
Joanne’s resume shows her taking on increasingly difficult, more senior and more challenging roles. Hindsight might explain her career progression this way: Joanne’s early roles were well within her abilities, so naturally she was able to progress her career. She was always “cut out” to be a principal. After all, what principal wouldn’t be able to fulfill the role of science coordinator at a small school?
But these are exactly the thoughts that perpetuate a Fixed Mindset.
The problem lies in the assumption that Joanne has always had her current capacities. It’s an assumption that reinforces the Fixed Mindset: the idea that people’s basic abilities are fixed and unchangeable. And, in Joanne’s case, that they are set at a very high level.
The truth is that at every stage of her career, Joanne was working to the limit of her (then) current abilities. She literally was not capable of anything better at that point in time. She was doing her best.
But her best got better.
To get a promotion, Joanne had to become better than she was in the past. She had to improve some of her most basic characteristics. She had to develop the talents, abilities and intelligence needed to succeed in senior roles.
It’s tempting to view someone’s past achievements in light of their current achievements. With a wry smile, we may say, “Well, of course they could have done that, look at how good they are today!”
But this is wrong in two critical ways:
Firstly, it robs the person of their real achievement. Joanne’s real achievement is the years of effective effort she put into developing the capacities needed to become a principal. Her appointment as principal is simply the evidence of that achievement.
Secondly, the assumption that she’s always “had it in her” to become a principal reinforces the idea that abilities are fixed. We reinforce it to ourselves and anyone we repeat the story to. In doing so, we contribute to the development of a Fixed Mindset.
We must give due credit to people who have worked to develop their capacities. In this regard, hindsight is not 20/20. It often ignores a person’s backstory. It’s critical that we look closely at a person’s backstory to discover the truth about what it takes to succeed.
From Joanne’s position, she knows that today she could take on any of those less challenging roles and meet them with a level of mastery she was incapable of before. This is because she’s not the same person she was before.
Perhaps the most important and exciting part of this story is that it doesn’t end here. With her Growth Mindset, and the right sort of effort, Joanne can continue to grow. In five years’ time, she might look back at her role today – the peak of her career (currently) – and remember when she was only that good, reflecting on how much she’s improved since then!
Where might her Growth Mindset take her next?
James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.
James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.
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