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This May Be Holding You Back

original image courtesy of Gaetan Lee

But They’re The Same!

Two guys that pledged the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity together back in college now work at the same company a decade later. They both have their B.A. in Business from the University of Texas, they are both equally attractive and intelligent, both from similarly wealthy neighborhoods in Dallas, both drive very nice cars, married beautiful girls from back home, and even go to the same church as their boss.

At their company, one continues to succeed- he always seems to be the one with the big idea, he is always the one invited to golf, he tends to be the one who gives the presentations, everything just seems so easy for him and he just continues to grow in his role. Are his leadership skills better? Is his face more attractive, his voice more commanding, his background more enticing or his body language more dominating? No.

Then Why Aren’t They Equal?

It has nothing to do with their physical being according to Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist who has studied for three decades to conclude that the key to one’s success while the other remains less innovative is in how people think about talent and intelligence.

Those who believe they were born with all the smarts and gifts they’re ever going to have approach life with what she calls a “fixed mind-set.” Those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time, however, live with a “growth mind-set.”

Guess which ones prove to be most innovative over time.

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“Society is obsessed with the idea of talent and genius and people who are ‘naturals’ with innate ability,” says Ms. Dweck, who is known for research that crosses the boundaries of personal, social and developmental psychology.

“People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

Smarts Vs. Talent, Which is Better?

Dr. Dweck calls the person who’s always at the top of their class or corporation the “appointed one” who dreadfully fears falling from grace. We all know the person who is used to being on top and their fear of not being Numero Uno makes it difficult to be on a team with them, most of their time is spent on attempting to dominate and be the biggest star. This personality is most likely to believe in the power of talent and rely on grooming their talent as a means of advancement. The other personality is the one to jump at the chance to stretch their experiences, to try new things and take risks that might lead them to failure but will inevitably lead to growth.

Neither personality is better than the other, but this study made me take pause to examine which I personally am so I better know my strengths and weaknesses. At one point in my life, I was most certainly focused on being the biggest star and believed that talent trumped whatever smarts I was born with, but now I personally believe that God gave me wonderful gifts and they’re mine to use or to ignore regardless of the people around me.

Can I Change?

If you identify yourself in one camp and want to be in the other, Dr. Dweck says this phenomenon is nurture over nature and it’s not an inherent genetic trait… it can be changed! Dr. Dweck says, “it’s not easy to just let go of something that has felt like your self for many years.”

Why Does it Matter?

If you are open to growth, you are more likely to grow. It’s ideal to choose team members who are open to growth because they are more willing to take risks, brainstorm effectively and function smoothly as a team member. But don’t forget those seeking stardom, they often make great leaders because they have pressure on themselves not to let anyone down and not to stop shining.

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What does this mean for your team, your business relationships, your blogging efforts or even your interpersonal relationships?

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. Cheryl Allin

    August 4, 2008 at 10:00 am

    I gravitate more towards the growth mindset as I get jazzed when I pick up new knowledge, but I must also have a bit of the ‘star’ in me being a ‘brand’ and all. Change is hard, but if you look back on those times where you had to pick up something new (like computers or blogging) you’ll quickly remember how tough it was at first but your perseverance always pays off – look how far you’ve come, so don’t be afraid of something new. Everyone can learn anything if they’re willing to put in the work and the time – some are just faster than others. Many of the ‘star’ types of personalities in my experience will often avoid taking risks and listening to the growth types – they’re so afraid of failure that they fail to innovate. I think an excellent key to success is finding harmony between both types in your personality – just as it’s critical to have ‘ambivert’ characteristics, be both an introvert and an extrovert depending on the situation.

  2. Derek Overbey

    August 4, 2008 at 10:39 am

    This is a great post Lani because those two men you speak of remind me of the difference between top producing and middle of the pack agents. Now I will agree that some agents are just natural born salespeople. But I have seen my fair share of agents who didn’t have that “natural talent” but still kicked some serious butt with their business. Why you may ask? Because these agents were constantly growing and evolving. They used technology to bring efficiencies to their business. They went to seminars to become better speakers. They took the time to learn and make themselves better, which in turn made their business better. So don’t think for a moment that just because you may not have that salesperson “it” factor that you can’t elevate yourself and your business to another level.

  3. Vance Shutes

    August 4, 2008 at 10:43 am


    Terrific article! It’s encouraging that we can change – but only if we want to. “it’s not easy to just let go of something that has felt like your self for many years.” Maybe it takes a change of scenery – moving, job change, or even simply a vacation – to bring this about.

    I’m reminded of the story of those who see the glass as half-full or half-empty.

  4. Lisa Sanderson

    August 4, 2008 at 10:50 am

    Don’t you HAVE to have a little of both in order to succeed in this business long term?

  5. Marissa Louie

    August 4, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Very interesting post, Lani. One of my business partners is more on one side, and I’m more on the other. It’s worked well so far ;-> Maybe we can be included as subject matters the next go round!

  6. Jonathan Washburn

    August 4, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Great post on success. Very much in line with what Joshua Waitzkin says in his book: The Art of Learning.

    Watch this video:

  7. Bob

    August 4, 2008 at 11:25 am

    You see this manifested in athletics all the time, with Tiger Woods the example of how to do both.

  8. Dan Connolly

    August 4, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes.

    This is a critical point in people who are successful vs. people who aren’t.

    I was talking to a friend recently about this very thing. She claimed to be shy, I said most shy people IMHO are viewed by most people as being stuck-up and in some ways they are. I think they don’t want to say anything that makes them look bad, so they never speak. They aren’t afraid of speaking they are afraid they may not look perfect. (She got mad at me, so I guess I was hitting close to home)

    I think the only way anyone can change a bad habit is by understanding where it comes from, and when you really do, the change is sudden, complete and permanent.

  9. Chris Lengquist

    August 4, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Can we also throw in adaptation with growth? You have to be willing to continue your education and to go where that leads. Having a fixed mindset about who you are and where you are going can sometimes be worse than “going with the flow” and adapting to what is offered. That’s my $.10 offering with all my psychological expertise.

  10. Missy Caulk

    August 4, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Lani, I agree but in my years on planet earth I have found that have potential and using it are all together different. I have seen people with great, God given potential just be lazy and others not as gifted be able to work hard and succeed in life by their drive and ambition. Same with singers, look how many don’t “make it” that have better voices than some of the big ones that don’t. Not mentioning any names.

    You use it or you lose it, IMHO.

  11. first time home buyers loan

    August 5, 2008 at 2:51 am

    really motivational post, thanks a lot

  12. first time home buyers loan

    August 5, 2008 at 2:55 am

    Balance Must be There in order to achieve Success in Business

  13. Eric Blackwell

    August 5, 2008 at 6:09 am

    Do the posts above #11 & #12 look like spam ir it is just me?


  14. Ruthmarie Hicks

    August 5, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Folks – it’s BOTH!!! Hard work and a strong plan will only get you somewhere if you have the ability and a certain amount of luck.

    Everyone has their limitations. Perhaps I see this because I come from a field where there were quite a few people who simply didn’t have the raw ability to get past a certain point. Sometimes luck plays a role as well. I think that it is the height of hubris when successful people think it was “all them.” My grandfather was a very successful business man with his own company and he never assumed that he could do anything and everything. He attributed his success to several factors:

    1. Having business smarts – which he learned on his own.
    2. Being organized and having a cohesive plan – and being flexible with this plan should circumstances change.
    3. Being recognized as an honest person who’s word was his bond.
    4. Treating his employees the way he himself would like to be treated.
    5. Sheer dumb luck that things went his way on several occasions when he could have faced ruin.
    6. Being smart enough to know he was fortunate so that arrogance didn’t creep in.

    There are two things I don’t believe in… one is that everyone can do everything…that’s garbage. I was a good scientist in my day – but if I had degrees in immunology, microbiology and molecular biology. That doesn’t mean I would have made a good nuclear physicist! Fact is, I would have been a disaster. Yet I have a Ph.D. from a major institution in a very difficult field. Oh….and in spite of my background in medicine – don’t ask me to do anything surgical! My sense of 3-D is poor – and that could easily cause me to kill someone.

    The other thing I don’t believe is that fortune, both good and bad does not play a role in success. It does.

    Example: My grandfather was a cigar manufacturer. One of his friends was (as I recall from his stories) a furrier. The great depression hit when they had been in business just a few years. My Grandfather survived because he was selling something small and was able to shift his business plan to deal with lean times. Someone selling fur coats – well that’s a business that’s not going to hold up well during a prolonged depression. He went under. The man ended up making jigsaw puzzles -no joke. The only reason I know this is that I played with the puzzles as a kid. Being the way he was, my Grandfather bought as many puzzles as he possibly could and they were all over their house. I used to play with those puzzles as a kid. The pieces were very unique and had unique shapes (animals, initials etc.) so I asked about them – and he told me the story. It was a sad story of someone who did all the right things but wound up very poor.

    There is risk to having your own business. You can work to minimize the risks, but that risk remains. Granted good fortune tends to smile on the diligent, but one can’t count on that. Conversely, those that fail should not be regarded as lazy or unmotivated. Bad things can happen to good people.

  15. Mark Eckenrode

    August 9, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    this is probably off topic but your post intro is totally reminiscent of this famous wall street journal ad that ran as a control for 28 years and brought in billions (yeah, B) for the paper:

    there’s a marketing lesson in psychology here, too 😉

  16. kare anderson

    August 11, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    With that in mind, what parts of a face most influence first impressions?

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