Can We Train Ourselves to Become Smarter?

In Bob Sutton’s blog, “Work Matters,” he presents the idea that cognitive ability is malleable and that if people believe in the malleability of intelligence actually work to become smarter.  I do agree that as managers we should be promoting this notion that intelligence is something that can be worked on rather than some innate ability that is fixed and unchangeable.  Promoting the idea that intelligence is stagnant provides little to no motivation for people to continue learning, which is a sad thought because if we can’t learn then we can’t grow.

Similarly, Carol Dweck’s article, “Can Personality Be Changed?”, discusses the notion that although there are some aspects of personality that cannot be changed, there are also many facets of personality that are flexible and can be changed.  Personality is shaped by beliefs, thus a change in one’s beliefs can have an impact on one’s personality. Therefore, if people believe that intelligence is not fixed, they are more willing to learn to increase their cognitive ability.

I’ve been in work environments over the years where people were aware of the low expectations managers had set for them, so they had low expectations of themselves.  I think when people are taught that intelligence is fixed, they figure there is nothing they can do about so why bother.  This attitude has the effect of stunting one’s desire to learn.  Instead they convince themselves to be happy with the status quo because that is all they are capable of achieving.  I do believe in the power of motivation and I think promoting the message  to employees that they can increase their intelligence through continued learning serves as a motivator that if they are willing to learn they can become smarter even if it involves some initial failure.

The bottom line is that if we do not set high expectations of ourselves and others, then what is the incentive to try to reach and even exceed those expectations?

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