Category Archives: Growth

Skills that Innovative Leaders Have in Common

Source: HBR, Dec 2016

  • Manage Risk
  • Demonstrate Curiosity
  • Lead Courageously
  • Lead Opportunities

Getting Cosy: Danish Hygge

Source: The New Yorker, Dec 2016

hygge,” a Danish term defined as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Pronounced “hoo-guh,” the word is said to have no direct translation in English, though “cozy” comes close. It derives from a sixteenth-century Norwegian term, hugga, meaning “to comfort” or “to console,” which is related to the English word “hug.”

Helen Russell, a British journalist who wrote “The Year of Living Danishly,” defines the term as “taking pleasure in the presence of gentle, soothing things,” like a freshly brewed cup of coffee and cashmere socks.

the true expression of hygge is joining with loved ones in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.

Hygge shares lagoms reverence for measured experience: indulging in a piece of cake, but not outright gluttony; a dinner with friends at home, but nothing fancy.

Louisa Thomsen Brits, a British-Danish writer, casts hygge as a state of mindfulness: how to make essential and mundane tasks dignified, joyful, and beautiful, how to live a life connected with loved ones. Her “Book of Hygge” focusses on the concept’s philosophical and spiritual underpinnings rather than its quirky objects.

Dweck on Growth Mindset

Source: The Atlantic, Dec 2016

Dweck, now a psychologist at Stanford University, eventually identified two core mindsets, or beliefs, about one’s own traits that shape how people approach challenges:

  • fixed mindset, the belief that one’s abilities were carved in stone and predetermined at birth, and
  • growth mindset, the belief that one’s skills and qualities could be cultivated through effort and perseverance.

my graduate students and I realized that a student’s mindset was at the foundation of whether [he or she] loved challenges and persisted in the face of failure.

When students had more of a fixed mindset—the idea that abilities are carved in stone, that you have a certain amount and that’s that—they saw challenges as risky. They could fail, and their basic abilities would be called into question. When they hit obstacles, setbacks, or criticism, this was just more proof that they didn’t have the abilities that they cherished.

In contrast, when students had more of a growth mindset, they held the view that talents and abilities could be developed and that challenges were the way to do it. Learning something new, something hard, sticking to things—that’s how you get smarter. Setbacks and feedback weren’t about your abilities, they were information you could use to help yourself learn. With a growth mindset, kids don’t necessarily think that there’s no such thing as talent or that everyone is the same, but they believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others.

as educators, it is our responsibility to create a context in which a growth mindset can flourish.

The mindset ideas were developed as a counter to the self-esteem movement of blanketing everyone with praise, whether deserved or not. To find out that teachers were using it in the same way was of great concern to me. The whole idea of growth-mindset praise is to focus on the learning process. When you focus on effort, [you have to] show how effort created learning progress or success.

Many parents and teachers who themselves have growth mindset aren’t passing it on because they are trying to protect the child’s confidence, focus on the child’s ability, and kind of boost the child’s view or protect the child from a failure. They’re conveying anxiety about ability.  

But we have a new line of research (with my former graduate student, Kyla Haimovitz) showing that the way a parent reacts to a child’s failure conveys a mindset to a child regardless of the parent’s mindset. If parents react to their child’s failures as though there is something negative, if they rush in, are anxious, reassure the child, “Oh not everyone can be good at math, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,” the child gets it that no, this is important, and it’s fixed. That child is developing a fixed mindset, even if the parent has a growth mindset.

But if the parent reacts to a child’s failure as though it’s something that enhances learning, asking, “Okay, what is this teaching us? Where should we go next? Should we talk to the teacher about how we can learn this better?” that child comes to understand that abilities can be developed.

So, with praise, focus on “process praise”—focus on the learning process and show how hard work, good strategies, and good use of resources lead to better learning. Be matter-of-fact, with not too strong or too passive a reaction.

the more praise was process-oriented—not a ton, just where the greater proportion of the praise was process praise [versus outcome praise]—the more those children had a growth mindset and a high desire for challenge five years later, when they were in second grade.

how the teenage brain is especially open to learning. We talked about how it’s a time of great plasticity, a time they need to take advantage of, and that they can grow their brains through taking on hard tasks in school and sticking to them.


Cultural Evolution Contributes to Creativity

Source: Medium, Dec 2016

the leading theorist on how cultural and biological evolution interact.

Psychologists have now shown when you cooperate, when you participate in communal rituals, you become more cooperative and you have greater social solidarity with other members of your group.

another feature of your model, if I understand it correctly, is that you get more rapid or more complex or more interesting cultural evolution when you have a larger number of moving parts: more people, or more wealth, or more complexity. Is it kind of increasing returns to scale to cultural evolution?

the collective brain. This is simply the idea because we’re so dependent on learning from each other in order to do innovations and to construct increasingly fancy technologies, larger and more interconnected populations tend to have fancier tools and technologies.

Humans really don’t think as individuals. We don’t innovate as individuals. We innovate as groups. Groups that, for whatever reason, are able to create more social interconnections produce fancier tools and technology, and they’re able to maintain larger bodies of know-how.

what does your model predict, if only in broad terms? What effects will the Internet have on society given that genetic and cultural evolution are interacting and the number of permutations has gone up a lot quicker than we expected? Is this a train wreck waiting to happen or the greatest thing since sliced bread but 10,000 times better?

HENRICH: Certainly in the short term, it should increase the rate of innovation. It’s easy to exchange ideas amongst very diverse minds.

COWEN: In which ways does culture make us dumb?

HENRICH: It removes a lot of need to think because it gives us prebuilt solutions to problems. It gives us protocols so that we don’t have to figure out things for ourself. Just lots of prebuilt solutions. It tells us what we need to think and what we need to know in order to survive in the world.

HENRICH: Right. The case that I’ve made for this particular is that in order to make markets work, we need particular social norms for how to deal with strangers and interact with them in a mutually beneficial way. In the smallest-scale human societies, you have social norms for dealing with different kinds of relatives and people you have a certain kind of relationship with.

Most of the increase in the Flynn effect is due to the three subtests. There’s 10 subtests on the IQ test and three of them are about analytic thinking. Those are the three that have really dramatically gone up over the last hundred years.

The way I think about it is you want to think about natural selection as investing either in bigger brains that make you better at figuring stuff out by yourself — better at individual learning — or better at cultural learning, at learning from others.

When there’s not very much interesting things, interesting tools, techniques, ideas in the minds and behaviors of other members in your social group, individual learning is better because learning from others doesn’t get you anything because nobody else in the group has anything.

What you need is a situation where you’re able to have useful ideas in the minds of other members of your social group. In the book, I make the case that when humans are on the savanna as bipedal apes, the predator guild was probably much larger.

COWEN: If you’ve watched Star Trek and thought about space, let’s say someday, whenever, we encounter intelligent aliens. How intelligible do you think they will be to us?

HENRICH: I wouldn’t be very optimistic.

COWEN: Wouldn’t be very optimistic?

HENRICH: I can imagine an evolutionary track that is so different from anything we can comprehend.

HENRICH: I would see it as a great loss because languages contain rich ideas about the culture. When people learn languages they may actually come to think about the world differently.

Languages contain all these kind of different things like the spatial reference systems that I mentioned. Different ways of partitioning up the group.

People can be bilingual. You don’t have to necessarily impede communication. You can learn one language, the traditional language that you speak with people in your community, and also learn a kind of lingua franca so you can speak to the wider world.

HENRICH: I think when people use different languages, they can think about things in different ways and it’ll highlight different features of the problem. I think it’s still valuable. I would encourage people to learn multiple languages.

HENRICH: One thing that’s interesting about the maverick question is we tend to think of the maverick as the individual learner, the person who comes up with their own idea, their own new idea. But my take on the history, at least of invention (that’s something I’ve spent a little bit of time on; it could be different in other domains), is great ideas actually come from a recombination.

If you’re a cultural learner and you learn a little bit from this guy and a little bit from this guy and a little bit from that guy and recombine them, you get a brand-new thing. But you actually didn’t. You actually were just cultural-learning from three different people. Knowing people in very different domains of knowledge that normally don’t meet is a great way to be an innovator.

Funny People Are More Likely to Be Smart

Source: The Atlantic, Nov 2015

Funny people are more likely to be smart. (In one of the many New Yorker studies, the students who scored higher on intelligence tests also generated the funniest captions.) Humor “signals a kind of ability to put yourself in someone else’s mind and understand what someone else will find funny,” David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist, explained. “It requires social intelligence, and it takes social verve or confidence.”

On average, women tend to use their laughter to lure in potential mates, while men use their jokes to attract as many women as they can.

the sex difference became clear. Women want men who will tell jokes; men want women who will laugh at theirs.

Liana Hone, a psychology postdoc at the University of Missouri, came to a similar conclusion in a study earlier this year: “Men prefer women who are receptive to their humor, whereas women prefer men who produce humor.”

In a 2007 study that asked 200,000 people in multiple countries to rank their preferred qualities in a mate, women ranked “humor” first. Men ranked it third.

If men try harder to be funny, women do their best to show their appreciation, laughing more enthusiastically and frequently in male company. One study found that when men and women are talking, the amount that the woman, but not the man, laughs can predict whether the pair wants to date each other.

Christopher Hitchens presents humor as an essential tool men can deploy to break a woman’s defenses:

If you can stimulate her to laughter … well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression.

Being Confident

Source: Fast Company, Dec 2016


The truly confident always try to learn about the perspectives, thoughts, and feelings of the people around them, for the simple reasons that they like people and want to do good by them. They possess an “I can and will learn from everyone” attitude, with the belief that everyone has something to bring to the table.

Next time you’re in a group setting, take note of who guides the conversation and how: Who asks the most thoughtful questions, and who listens more than they speak? Confident people don’t need to control a conversation. They know their own agenda; they want to learn about yours.


Confident people are connectors. They know their goals and do what they can to help others achieve theirs. How do you feel when someone introduces you like, “You have to meet Tom, he was the guy I was telling you about earlier who is great at _____”? Pretty incredible, right? (Much better than just, “Oh, and this is my colleague Tom.”) Confident people intuitively seek out how they can add value to their circle and extend it every chance they get.


What separates the truly confident from the overconfident is their ability to seek out advice from people with varying points of view.

confident people tend to have the wherewithal to act when presented with a better alternative that challenges their own opinion. It’s not a question of who’s right or wrong. If there’s a better idea, confident people adopt it, then thank the person for their advice and pay the favor forward.


Confident people check in on the progress of the people in their lives, because they truly care about their success. They listen attentively, recognize what’s important to others, and then they follow up.


When spending time with confident people, you’ll not only see that they’re being attentive, you’ll feel it—in the way they position their bodies and make eye contact. They lean in when they sense something means a great deal to you and touch you when they feel a connection. Researchers have found that this congruence—between what’s said out loud and what’s communicated without words—is crucial for establishing trust. A very subtle touch, like a tap on the shoulder, can go a long way in reinforcing verbal support.


Attention feeds the human appetite on some level for everybody, but the truly confident, as Kareen Abdul Jabbar once put it, just want “to play the game well and go home.”

sharing the spotlight is far more satisfying than going it alone.


If you know what you want and are on a path to achieving it, what’s stopping you from truly being happy for somebody who fought hard to achieve one of their goals? Confident people take real pleasure in seeing other people succeed and recognize the importance of supporting others. They remember how they, too, are empowered by others at key times in their lives. After all, being truly happy for other people has this funny way of adding to your own happiness.

Performance Reviews for Married Couples

Source: QZ, Oct 2015

Increasingly, marriage counselors are recommending that couples conduct regular performance reviews with each other, according to the Wall Street Journal. Therapists say the reviews are a constructive way to revisit relationship goals, confront obstacles, and prevent small problems from ballooning to insurmountable ones.

… the short, practical, list she offers up (pdf). And I like the intentionality.

Dr. Cordova and his colleagues asked 216 married couples about the biggest strengths and weaknesses in their relationship. Half the couples then saw a therapist for two sessions to discuss their assessments and tackle the issues that arose. The other half did not. Here is what they found:


The researchers, who followed up with the couples after one and two years, found those who had performed the checkup saw significant improvements in their relationship satisfaction, intimacy and feelings of acceptance by their partner, as well as a decrease in depressive symptoms, compared with the couples in the control group who didn’t perform a checkup. In addition, the couples who had the most problems in their marriage before the checkup saw the most improvement.

There are rules to how you do a performance assessment:
  • couples must address behavior, not character (this is not a free-for-all bitch session);
  • explain yourself,
  • empathize,
  • be consistent and
  • identify what you want to change.

Designed properly, a review neutralizes the emotions of day-to-day fights (who didn’t take out the trash) in an attempt to frame goals (let’s share the housework), recognize issues (we are not sharing the chores) and implement solutions (let’s get the kids to do it!).

John Gottman, the genius marriage guru, says couples need to minimize “regrettable incidents” or the things you say about her mother that can never be taken back.