A Growth Mindset and The Power of “Yet”
Aug 31, 2018
Learning how to code, as with learning anything worthwhile for the first time, is hard. Feeling panicked by the fact that you seemingly know nothing is, of course, natural. Every budding programmer will at times feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that they have undertaken and the sheer magnitude of all that they do not (yet) know. At THG Accelerator, we teach and promote a growth mindset; equipping our graduates with the ability to contextualise their learning and maintain perspective as they continue to learn and grow as software engineers.
Dr Carol Dweck, a prominent psychologist at Stanford University, is famous for her pioneering research on motivation and personality, which centres primarily on the opposing concepts of fixed versus growth mindsets.
In her TED talk, “The Power of Believing You Can Improve”, she describes a school in Chicago with an unorthodox and progressive approach to student assessment. Students are expected to pass a certain number of classes to graduate, but in the event that they do not pass they are simply awarded the alternative grade of “Not Yet”. Carol Dweck explains the power of “Not Yet”:
If you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet” you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.
In one of her studies within this area, Dweck wanted to explore how children responded to a challenge that was deliberately intended to be too hard for them. “Some of them reacted in a shockingly positive way”, explains Dweck. “They said things like, ‘I love a challenge,’ or, ‘You know, I was hoping this would be informative’”. These children had what Dweck defines as a “growth mindset“. They understood that their abilities could be developed, that they are not limited to the “now”. These children didn’t shy away from error; they confronted and engaged with it.
However, there was another subset of students for whom being confronted with a challenge that was beyond their current capabilities felt almost catastrophic. They considered that their intelligence had been challenged and they had somehow failed. These children possess what Dweck refers to as a “fixed mindset“. Individuals with a fixed mindset perceive their capabilities to be fixed and do not recognise their own potential for growth and development in the face of “failure”. The children with a fixed mindset were operating from the “now”, whereas the children with a growth mindset were operating from the “Not Yet”.
The “Power of Yet” or of a growth mindset is the belief that you can improve. If you do not (yet) know how to code or how to navigate the command line, you can learn. The great news for all of us too is that “mindsets can be taught, they are malleable”.
Our THG Accelerator graduates will be taught how to intercept their own fixed cognition and harness a growth mindset. Here’s how developing a growth mindset can help you with your programming skills:
By believing you can improve your coding skills and knowledge with effort: Possessing a growth mindset is associated with learning oriented behaviours. Individuals with a growth mindset will be more inclined to practice often, to persevere in the face of difficulty or failure, and accept and respond to feedback.
By accepting that mistakes are an inevitable and essential part of learning: When you come to accept that mistakes are integral to the learning process, you won’t feel discouraged or disheartened when you inevitably do make mistakes or find things difficult. When learning how to code, this outlook is particularly important as we will often encounter code that requires debugging or doesn’t run properly. If everytime we came to this part of the coding process we felt discouraged and disheartened, not only would it be detrimental to your self-esteem, but it would inhibit your learning and progression as a programmer. With coding, mistakes are unavoidable and actually form an important part of the process: write a line of code, watch it fail, implement the required functionality, and run the test again, repeat this process until your code executes.
By seeking out challenges: Individuals with a fixed mindset are more likely to avoid challenges, those with a growth mindset will seek out challenges and approach them head-on. In programming, problem solving and computational thinking are key. Coding is fundamentally a challenge-seeking activity. Feeling comfortable and able to tackle challenges (particularly those that they perceive to be beyond their capabilities or skill-set) is something that will benefit all programmers, regardless of their experience.
By being unafraid of requesting help: For those with a growth mindset, seeking help is recognised to be a sign of strength. Growth minded individuals are not afraid to ask questions, seek advice or request feedback. It is important to take the opportunity to learn from others, and refusing to ask for input from people prevents you from experiencing the benefit of their insight, knowledge or experience.