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Book Review: Mindset by Carol Dweck


The basic premise of this book is that, in all area of life, people can be divided into those who have a ‘fixed mindset’ or a ‘growth mindset’. The basic premises and the author’s research are explained  in the first two chapters with the remainder of the book devoted to very readable examples of her theory in practise using public figures in the worlds of sport and business. She applies her theory to relationships, parenting and education. It has only a tiny section devoted to creativity but nonetheless the book helped me fathom out a possible answer to  something that always puzzled me?

Why do some people stick rigidly to using published patterns or kits to make art or craft items and refuse to try original design?

One woman I know makes the most exquisite and complex cross stitch kits. Her skill levels are high. But she has no interest at all in trying to design even a simple piece of her own even though I believe she has the potential to win prizes in embroidery shows. She tells me she is not good at that. That she has no imagination. Yet, this same woman was persuaded by a close relative to make some embroidered blocks for a quilt and produced beautiful original and intricate designs. When it is suggested to her that she makes more she ignores all the evidence of what she can achieve and retreats to kits. She says they were different because it was for family and no-one was going to see them.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with kits. I design them myself for the African Fabric Shop. But still, I am puzzled as to why they are not used as a phase people go through to learn the more satisfying and exciting possibilities of original design, rather than the height of people’s achievements.


A Fixed mindset approach

Carol Dweck’s research showed that those with a ‘fixed mindset’ 

•  viewed success as getting perfect results all the time and being good at something right off. •  avoided challenge because that meant there was a high risk of failure 

•  took failure personally and believed that to have something not work out meant that they were stupid or had no aptitude or talent and that made them feel bad.

•.  were not willing to practice their deficiencies away

If someone felt that way then a kit, with good instructions, offers a certain outcome with no risk of feeling that they were inept or had wasted good materials trying something that did not pan out.


A Growth Mindset approach


Those with a ‘growth mindset’ 

•  did not see a failure as a set back which defined them

•. saw it as an opportunity to grow.

•  defined success as the fact that they were learning and improving not that they never got anything wrong. 

•  they liked to stretch themselves and would take a riskier option if it gave them a chance to grow.

The growth mindset is presented as the one which reads to greater  and longer lasting success and satisfaction in all areas of life.

It seems to me that using kits may well in the earlier days of a creative endeavour provide learning opportunities to acquire a new skill or technique. But thereafter to start original work requires a ‘growth mind set’?

The research shows that these mindsets need not be fixed. People can be put in a growth mindset by the messages given to them by teachers or managers for example.  Indeed the author engagingly talks about  how her own mindset was changed and how she coped with the new challenge of writing in a popular way.( One which, in my assessment, she rose to with aplom). A person may have one mindset, say, about relationships, and another about creativity.

One challenge I took from my reading of this book was to apply it to the instructions I give in kits and the posts I put in this blog.

Can I provide within the product, both the information necessary for the purchaser to acquire the skills needed and also the encouragement  for them to branch out and produce something other than a mere replica of my work? How can I help readers to develop a growth mindset so that they are freed to do what they never thought they could?


Do you use kits?

Do you agree with this analysis or are there other reasons you like to use kits?

Do you identify with one mindset over the other?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Brigitte Red #

    I don’t use kits. I would much rather choose my own supplies to create something; either from a pattern or on my own. I somewhat agree with the analysis offered. A fixed mindset doesn’t necessarily avoid practicing away their deficiencies. I’d like to offer the theory that instead they continue to subconciously repeat the deficiency so that they can say “see I knew this wasn’t going to work, it didn’t turn out” However one would think that at some point the fixed mindset would reach a point where they would be satisfied with the end result and consider it “somewhat successful”
    As for the mindset that identify with, neither. I think I am somewhere at the in between mindset if there is such a thing, I feel as though I was a fixed mindset, but am slowly, ever so slowly wending my way to a growth mindset.

    November 29, 2012
  2. Gwyned Trefethen #

    I certainly used kits as a child, because that is what I was given to do needlework and how my mother created needlework. I learned crewel and needlepoint that way. I never went on to do my own designs. As for quilting, I have never used a kit, but I began by using other’s patterns. Once again, it was a good way to learn the rudimentary skills. However, it wasn’t long before I started tweaking the patterns and then designing my own. I even return to patterns on occasion as a way to rest. For me, that is the advantage of being in a fixed mindset – less decisions. There are times when I just like to follow someone else’s lead. Mostly, I would categorize myself as someone in a Growth Mindset. I thrive on experimentation and what if. My mantra when creating art is “there are no mistakes. There are only challenges and creative opportunities.” Perfection is overrated. It is imperfection that motivates me. When I finish I project I know what worked and what I want to change next time around. This pushes me to try harder and experiment further. I don’t create for the product. I create for the process, for the excitement of seeing those serendipitous connections and learning from them.

    December 12, 2012

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