The growth mindset – the key to developing skills in filmmaking and anything else

Recently, I came across research papers in psychology and education that I found fascinating. The work comes from, among others, Carol Dweck, who is a psychology professor at the Stanford University. She has been studying people’s mental attitudes and how they inhibit or propel achievement and personal development. Her findings are very powerful, I think, and widely applicable.

On her profile page at the Stanford University you will find a long list of research papers. Here are two that stood out for me the most:

Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model

Brain Points: A Growth Mindset Incentive Structure Boosts Persistence in an Educational Game

    And here are my main take-away from these papers.

  • People deem intelligence as either fixed or malleable. This translates to “fixed” or “growth” mindsets towards education and development.
  • Those with fixed mindset set performance goals. They perceive studying and testing as an act of measuring their intelligence.
  • Those with the growth mindset set learning goals. They perceive studying and testing as a learning opportunity.
  • The fixed mindset group has a weaker coping mechanism for experiencing failure or negative feedback. They are more likely to give up in their efforts, because they perceive failure as a sign of their limited (and fixed) intelligence or ability.
  • On the other hand, people with the growth mindset are better equipped to overcome adversity, since they believe they can improve themselves. They see negative feedback or failure as a gauge of the progress in their development – not an indicator of their intelligence. As a result, they believe that hard work will increase their intelligence and abilities.
  • To be in the growth mindset, we should focus on effort, use of strategy and incremental progress (the “brain points”).
  • On the other hand, praising someone’s innate skill can discourage the growth mindset.

I think there are some powerful ideas here. I have to admit that for most of my student life I’ve had the fixed mindset. I did think that I could improve my skills at a task with practice, but at the same time, I believed that I was limited by whatever intelligence I was born with. Although I was always a good student, I wish I did not assume so often that I hit my ceiling, that I could not do better. What I find most interesting in this research is that it apparently does not matter if intelligence is fixed or not, because none of us are likely to ever reach our maximum theoretical potential – we have plenty of room to grow. So, the keys to success are effort and perseverance, not innate intelligence.

I know that many of us struggle with various aspects of filmmaking – especially storytelling and cinematography, I think. It is easy to question whether we can ever get good at these skills. Although I don’t know whether all of us can achieve a level of excellence that will garner national or international recognition, I do believe that with hard work and the growth mindset, everyone can achieve a level of skill that will bring fulfilment to them and joy to their audiences.

If you have more interest in education, then I strongly recommend the “Learning How To Learn” course from the University of California, San Diego – it is available online, free-of-charge via Coursera. I wish this course was taught to everyone in primary or secondary schools. Learning effectively is a key skill to have.

Here is an article where I talk more about this course and how I am applying it to screenwriting.

2 thoughts on “The growth mindset – the key to developing skills in filmmaking and anything else”

  1. Great write-up, Tom. This study is mentioned in a book I’ve been reading by Jane B. Burka called “Procrastination” (which I highly recommend). It discusses the growth mind-set in relation to many peoples’ ability (or inability) to overcome the habits that lead to procrastination.

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