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Do You Have a Fixed Mindset?

February 21, 2011
by Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief
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If So, It's Time to Find New Problem-Solving Strategies in the Current Environment
Mark Hagland
Mark Hagland

In his 2010 book, Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success, journalist Matthew Syed discusses Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck and her experiments around theories of intelligence (Dweck herself in 2006 published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success). In Bounce, Syed writes that “The talent myth, as we have seen, is built on the idea that innate ability rather than practice is what ultimately determines whether we have it within us to achieve excellence. We have also seen that this is a rather corrosive idea,” he says, “robbing individuals of the incentive to transform themselves through effort: why spend time and energy seeking to improve if success is available only to people with the right genes?”

Syed recounts Dweck's 1978 experiment, in which she asked the question, how corrosive is the idea of innate ability? Dweck took 330 fifth- and sixth-graders, and gave them a questionnaire to determine their beliefs about talent and intelligence. Those who subscribed to the idea that intelligence is “set in genetic stone” had what Dweck called a “fixed mindset,” while those who expressed the belief that intelligence can be transformed through effort had what she termed a “growth mindset.”

Dweck then gave the young students a series of problems to solve, the first eight of which were relatively easy, while the next four were much more difficult. What did she discover? The “fixed mindset” children quickly began to denigrate their abilities and to blame their intelligence for their failure to solve the difficult problems, while the “growth mindset” kids not only did not ascribe their failure to solve the hard problems to any particular cause; they didn't even consider themselves to be failing. What's more, one-quarter of that group actually improved, teaching themselves new strategies for addressing the more difficult problems.

The lesson here seems quite obvious, as well as somehow extremely relevant to the current situation in healthcare and healthcare IT. Like Dweck's grade-school students, provider organizations today are facing a welter of challenges, some coming out of healthcare reform-related mandates, some out of the requirements of the HITECH Act for achieving meaningful use, some out of purchasers' and payers' increasing demands for better value in healthcare spending, and some out of market competition and other sources.

And, while it's eminently true that some hospitals, medical groups, and health systems are blessed with greater resources, with bigger staffs, with less challenging local healthcare markets, and so on, leaders at even the most advanced organizations will be the first to admit that they still have a ways to go to lay a firm strategic, operational, and IT foundation to ensure a solid organizational future. Yet the leaders at the more advanced organizations inevitably seem to report that their organizations are less fearful of the future, and more willing to plunge ahead and do what needs to be done to meet that future.

Our cover story package this issue includes our annual Top Tech Trends, a much-anticipated compendium of articles for us each year. Our editorial team is proud of the thought and work we've put into this package, and you'll notice in particular this year how interrelated all these trends are.

Fundamentally, all provider organizations in the U.S. are facing massive challenges-and opportunities-moving forward into the new healthcare. Given that fact, you might want to find out: is your team made up of “fixed mindset” or “growth mindset” team members? The answer may determine your organization's future.

Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief Healthcare Informatics 2011 March;28(3):8

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