What if two people with different mindsets get together? A growth-mindset woman tells about her marriage to a fixed-mindset man: "I began to realize I made a big mistake. Every time I said something like “Why don’t we try to go out a little more?” or “I’d like it if you consulted me before making decisions,” he was devastated. Then instead of talking about the issue I raised, I’d have to spend literally an hour repairing the damage and making him feel good again. Plus he would then run to the phone to call his mother, who always showered him with the constant adoration he seemed to need. We were both young and new at marriage. I just wanted to communicate. So the husband’s idea of a successful relationship—total, uncritical acceptance—was not the wife’s. And the wife’s idea of a successful relationship—confronting problems—was not the husband’s. One person’s growth was the other person’s nightmare.
In the early 1970s, Irving Janis popularized the term groupthink. It’s when everyone in a group starts thinking alike. No one disagrees. No one takes a critical stance. It can lead to catastrophic decisions, and, as the Wood study suggests, it often can come right out of a fixed mindset. Groupthink can occur when people put unlimited faith in a talented leader, a genius. This is what led to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, America’s half-baked secret plan to invade Cuba and topple Castro. President Kennedy’s normally astute advisers suspended their judgment. Why? Because they thought he was golden and everything he did was bound to succeed.
“Unfortunately, people often like the things that work against their growth. . . . People like to use their strengths . . . to achieve quick, dramatic results, even if . . . they aren’t developing the new skills they will need later on. People like to believe they are as good as everyone says . . . and not take their weaknesses as seriously as they might. People don’t like to hear bad news or get criticism. . . . There is tremendous risk . . . in leaving what one does well to attempt to master something new.” And the fixed mindset makes it seem all that much riskier.
People with a fixed mindset were only interested when the feedback reflected on their ability. Their brain waves showed them paying close attention when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong. But when they were presented with information that could help them learn, there was no sign of interest. Even when they’d gotten an answer wrong, they were not interested in learning what the right answer was. Only people with a growth mindset paid close attention to information that could stretch their knowledge. Only for them was learning a priority.
In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.
However, sometimes an even tougher question is: Who can you turn to when good things happen? When you find a wonderful partner. When you get a great job offer or promotion. When your child does well. Who would be glad to hear it? Your failures and misfortunes don’t threaten other people’s self-esteem. Ego-wise, it’s easy to be sympathetic to someone in need. It’s your assets and your successes that are problems for people who derive their self-esteem from being superior.
Groupthink can happen when the group gets carried away with its brilliance and superiority. At Enron, the executives believed that because they were brilliant, all of their ideas were brilliant. Nothing would ever go wrong. An outside consultant kept asking Enron people, “Where do you think you’re vulnerable?” Nobody answered him. Nobody even understood the question. “We got to the point,” said a top executive, “where we thought we were bullet proof.”
CEOs face another dilemma. They can choose short-term strategies that boost the company’s stock and make themselves look like heroes. Or they can work for long-term improvement—risking Wall Street’s disapproval as they lay the foundation for the health and growth of the company over the longer haul.
As with personal achievement, this belief—that success should not need effort—robs people of the very thing they need to make their relationship thrive. It’s probably why so many relationships go stale—because people believe that being in love means never having to do anything taxing.
When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world—the world of fixed traits—success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other—the world of changing qualities—it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.