The Learning Myth – Why You Should Never Tell Your Child They Are Smart

Frimageom a Post by Salman Khan:

“My 5-year-­old son has just started reading. Every night, we lie on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was “gratefully.” He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, “Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.” I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell­-tale signs of a “growth­ mindset.” But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.

What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed, and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.

However, not everyone realizes this. Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has been studying people’s mindsets towards learning for decades. She has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not, that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure. Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset tended to focus their effort on tasks where they had a high likelihood of success and avoided tasks where they may have had to struggle, which limited their learning. People with a growth mindset, however, embraced challenges, and understood that tenacity and effort could change their learning outcomes. As you can imagine, this correlated with the latter group more actively pushing themselves and growing intellectually.

The good news is that mindsets can be taught; they’re malleable. What’s really fascinating is that Dweck and others have developed techniques that they call “growth mindset interventions,” which have shown that even small changes in communication or seemingly innocuous comments can have fairly long­-lasting implications for a person’s mindset. For instance, praising someone’s process (“I really like how you struggled with that problem”) versus praising an innate trait or talent (“You’re so clever!”) is one way to reinforce a growth ­mindset with someone. Process­ praise acknowledges the effort; talent­ praise reinforces the notion that one only succeeds (or doesn’t) based on a fixed trait. And we’ve seen this on Khan Academy as well: students are spending more time learning on Khan Academy after being exposed to messages that praise their tenacity and grit and that underscore that the brain is like a muscle.

The Internet is a dream for someone with a growth mindset. Between Khan Academy, MOOCs, and others, there is unprecedented access to endless content to help you grow your mind. However, society isn’t going to fully take advantage of this without growth mindsets being more prevalent. So what if we actively tried to change that? What if we began using whatever means are at our disposal to start performing growth mindset interventions on everyone we cared about? This is much bigger than Khan Academy or algebra — it applies to how you communicate with your children, how you manage your team at work, how you learn a new language or instrument. If society as a whole begins to embrace the struggle of learning, there is no end to what that could mean for global human potential.

And now here’s a surprise for you. By reading this article itself, you’ve just undergone the first half of a growth­-mindset intervention. The research shows that just being exposed to the research itself (­­for example, knowing that the brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right­­) can begin to change a person’s mindset. The second half of the intervention is for you to communicate the research with others. We’ve made a video (above) that celebrates the struggle of learning that will help you do this. After all, when my son, or for that matter, anyone else asks me about learning, I only want them to know one thing. As long as they embrace struggle and mistakes, they can learn anything.”



The Good Old Bad Days

In the good old bad days at Windsor Road, we had some tough times. We had roadworks obstructing vehicular access either in front of us, south or north of us the whole 5 years we lived there. My partner would sit by the roadside whittling Noah’s ark animals. We sold a complete Noah’s ark with animals worth $800 for $200 and I intermittently taught marketing at Hawkesbury Community College for a little extra income. We ate a lot of rice.

In those early days the rocking horses were made from truck loads of undressed scrap box timber from the box factory in Wilberforce which would be dumped in our yard. We evolved to buying $2000 slings of kiln-dried NZ radiata pine milled to the correct sizes.

Also from Wilberforce were cow tails from the abattoirs which we would collect and tan ourselves. It was a filthy job and you could not think about food at all on tanning day. We evolved to importing bespoke horse tails in a variety of colours from China – the world capital for horse hair.

Our original stirrups were made from hand bent aluminium bar and pop rivets and were replaced by importing sand cast and hand polished solid brass stirrups along with the brackets and snaffle bits from India. The swing irons which were cut, bent and threaded ourselves evolved to being done piece work by a retired engineer with the correct machinery at one-fifth the price of an engineering shop.

The nail-on pad saddles responsible for my weak wrists were replaced by miniature English riding saddles made in various colours and sizes and imported from India by piggy-backing on the container orders of a major horse accessories importer.

Simply because we did not have the capital, we focussed on incremental change and growth. The first incremental changes involved improving the perceived value of the horses to get the retail price up from $695.00.

Originally there was not a maker’s mark on the horses, so we set to work to design a brass nail-on plaque for the stand. The plaque maker traded a kit rocking horse for the cost of the initial engraving/set up and individual plaques were only $2.00 a piece. We later introduced a “Certificate of Authenticity “ and a “Certificate of Restoration” which were both hand signed by the maker and presented with the horses.

We improved the finish of the stands by routering the edges and sourcing a commercial turner to make the uprights.We turned the pillar uprights for the stands ourselves, which was ridiculously time-comsuming and relied on turning them exactly the same by eye!

Plastic Amber Crystal Eyes were replaced with German Glass Teddy Bear eyes with hand glued lashes – something which other makers have since copied.

During our growth phase it was very important to treat our suppliers well and pay them on time. As soon as we knew there would be a delay in payment, I was on the phone explaining the situation and nutting out an installment plan. At that time even our annual volumes were not large enough to be able to order from some suppliers.

As the improvements kicked in, we increased the retail price of the horses about $100 per year to $1695 for a standard and $3750 for a large horse. These prices were still well below backyard operators and other specialist retailer’s prices of anywhere between $2000 and $6000. So we offered a beautiful product of  excellent value for a great price, what more could a customer want?

Extreme Makeover – 42% More of My Life to Live

9c313-extreme_makeover-showSome years ago, at 40 something I read an interesting statistic that was the trigger for my personal reinvention. It was that “the average Australian woman at 50 years old today still has 42% of her life to live.”

At that time I was 100kgs, always working,always dressing in black, never making time for me.

But perhaps I should step back in time to 1999 when I was stressed out strategic marketer for the largest private hospital in the state. I never imagined that I would be earning a living making and marketing wooden rocking horses to baby boomers.

I had enjoyed nearly 3 years of managing events large and small for Specialists, GP’s, doctor’s secretaries and staff . However, the job was demanding more and more hours and I was newly single with a 4 year old son and there were 25 year olds with the qualifications and no children who would happily put in the hours. So I set about to find my replacement from among those ranks and did so by early 1999.

On a 5 acre property with busy Windsor Road frontage near to Windsor with two, fifty year old houses, a shed and a huge pool, my then partner and I lived in the smaller house, rented out the larger house and made rocking horses in the shed.

By the June of that same year we were making enough money from the rocking horses for me to risk resigning my job at the hospital. In the space of a week I had surrendered my title, my hard won salary and sold my BMW.  After 6 weeks of adrenalin withdrawal migraines and a small identity crisis, I set out to make and market rocking horses full time.

After many years thinking I would never have another child, I had a beautiful daughter in October 2000.  She turned out to be a copy book baby and child, who today loves many of the things her parents do—antiques, rural living, farm animals, all things French, people and making things.

Christmas 2000 in the workshop, she was 3 months old in a front baby pouch on my chest asleep while I was putting the finishing touches on Christmas rocking horse orders.  To her the workshop was just another room of the house.

I was 12 weeks pregnant with her when we did our first 16-day Royal Easter Show. She was 6 months when we did our second Royal Show and 18 months when we did our last. She did the Adelaide Royal Show with us at 3 and has done many Timber and Working with Wood Shows.


My Little Pathological Marketer

To say she is socially adept and a pathological marketer would be an understatement. At one Timber Show in Canberra she boldly informed the Renapur Leather Dressing demonstrator polishing her shoes that she “could make a rocking horse at our place and stay at our B & B and have scrambled eggs, egg in the shell, omelette or flat eggs for breakfast.”


I have shown my porcelain doll and pram collection to many tour groups over the years and had my developed patter which rolled swiftly off my tongue without too much brain-effort. One day when she was about 6, I overheard her explaining the prams and dolls to a school friend – my patter verbatim!

It’s was good to know that when my marketing mouth got tired she could step into the breech.