Is a “Growth Mindset” Enough?

The world only cares about—and pays off on—what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). (2)

The quote above from a Thomas Friedman article on what Google looks for employees is one that has stuck with me.  It was a huge reason why I wrote “The Innovator’s Mindset” in the first place.

Yet this post was sparked by some conversations as well as this blog post by Adam Schoenbart comparing my book to E.D. Hirsch’s book from 1987, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know”.  Here is one of the passages from Adam’s blog:

Couros argues that “We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do” (p. 7), to which Hirsh would counter: “Our children can learn this information only by being taught it” (p. 14). What and how seem to be at odds in this dynamic. Hirsh’s views on the limited potential of students are definitely problematic, writing, “Left to itself, a child will not grow into a thriving creature” (p. 31). Really!?!

While Hirsh wants students to simply memorize 150-pages-or-so of definitive knowledge and ideas, Corous seeks to expand worldviews: “Innovation demands that our students learn the basics, but how we go about teaching them may look different than in years past. The basics are crucial, but they cannot be the only things we teach our students” (p. 163). What we teach our students is crucial to both authors as information is key in both texts.

Adam goes on to wonder what Hirsch’s viewpoints would be almost 30 years after this book where information is abundant:

Again for Hirsh, it’s about information first and foremost. With limited flexibility, he wants to tell America what to learn, to which Couros would likely respond: “You’ll learn that to truly empower people, there must be a shift from telling to listening” (p. 7). One can’t help but wonder how Hirsh’s views may have evolved in the new reality of technology and access to information.

Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” is one book that really pushed my thinking over the past few years.  The language we use when working with our students is crucial in how we help them develop.  In this post sharing 25 quotes from the book, here are some that stuck out to me:

Test scores and measures of achievement tell you where a student is, but they don’t tell you where a student could end up. – Carol Dweck

Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training. – Carol Dweck

Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard. – Carol Dweck

What did you learn today? What mistake did you make that taught you something? What did you try hard at today? – Carol Dweck

Although I am just sharing a bit of the book, these quotes scream “SCHOOL!” to me, not necessarily empowered learning.

Take the last quote shared in the group above.

What did you learn today? What mistake did you make that taught you something? What did you try hard at today? – Carol Dweck

What if it was changed to this?

What did you learn today? What ideas do you have moving forward because of what you learned? What will you create from this?

Both quotes are focused on learning, but in one case, the learning is extended.  This quote from “The Center for Accelerated Learning” shares the importance of creation for learning:

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So let’s go back to the title of this post; Is a “Growth Mindset” Enough?

My short answer (obviously) is no.  That doesn’t mean it is irrelevant, but I see it as more of a continuum.  Knowledge and information are crucial to creation; they are not separated.  But my hope is to go beyond kids being “good at school” and the learning that we decide is important for them.

It is about going further with learning, to help kids (and ourselves) become creators, inventors, and innovators.

A simple analogy to explain mindset from my book:

Let’s take the simple example of playing the piano to compare the two ideas. With a fixed mindset, the learner doesn’t believe he or she has the ability to play the piano. With a growth mindset, the learner believes that, with hard work and practice, the opportunity to play the piano is within the realm of his or her ability. That belief leads the learner to try and, ultimately, grow.

The innovator’s mindset takes the growth mindset a step further by focusing on using one’s ability to learn to play the piano to create music.

As I go to many sessions at conferences, I often wonder if the focus is on how to help student’s become strong at “school”, or to truly empower them as learners and creators.  Do we want students to learn math or be able to do things with the math they have learned?  As Friedman states, what we do with what we know is what will separate us today in a world where information is abundant.

Source: George Couros


  1. Karen said:

    Great piece – thanks!
    I am an Australian blogger, and I think that how we define “learning” sits as the basis of many of our difficulties. While we see learning as knowledge transmission, most of the traditional processes that we need to throw off sit comfortably.
    What’s interesting is that most teachers seem to understand that knowledge is constructed, that learning is a dialogic and social process, that active processing is required to reach mastery … yet, they hang on to many traditional teaching practices that need to be permanently retired, if we have any hope of achieving 21st century compatible learning.
    An example of this is in a very popular post I wrote: To Worksheet or not to Worksheet? That is the Question. ( The outrage that erupted was interesting, but more heartening was the endorsement of the idea that there is little merit in worksheets. Yeah to teachers, they are understanding the shift, may not yet know how, but are certainly on the move!

    July 30, 2016
  2. Urbie said:

    A growth mindset is important. But there’s more. What we are learning and what we do with knowledge has to be in a process more or less in control. Chaos leads to frustration and burn-out. What’s needed beyond a growth mindset is the freedom (or authority) to initiate and sustain change in our environment. Failing that learners and doers will fail and move on (which in itself is a good thing).

    July 30, 2016
  3. sambhav said:

    nice!! thanks for sharing….

    August 8, 2017

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