Sunday, April 12, 2015

Thinking positive is thinking different

This post is more for fun as I don't really have any specific evidence for any of the insights I present. However, I recently read Noah Smith's post on "growth mindsets" (the windmill Carol Dweck is tilting at) and had a thought based on the information equilibrium model. The original idea posits that people who think they can move beyond their circumstances typically do better.

In the information equilibrium model, economic growth comes from uncoordinated human activities -- coordination typically brings recessions. Another way to put this is that when people follow others (specifically, buy into the same pessimism), the result is a disastrous loss of "economic entropy".

Applying this to the individual, it recommends "breaking the rules", being a weirdo, being a freak. It is when we follow "what we're supposed to do" that our behavior becomes coordinated and entropy falls. All of us need to dither to explore the space of possibilities.

The thing is that growth mindsets, the idea that your abilities are not inborn, but can be achieved from hard work may actually have more to do with just having the courage and fortitude to be yourself. Being yourself is hard work and since yourself is the result of a random scrambling of your parents' DNA, being yourself is being different from other humans. You are born with a bit of dither and the growth mindset is really about keeping that dither -- not letting coordination capture you.

You hear the stories from CEO's that didn't take no for an answer and believed in themselves. They had the dither. But that sample suffers from selection bias, because the dither can lead you up or down. I'd say the classes of people contributing the most dither is represented among both CEO's and the homeless population.

So growth mindset is probably not the best term. I use the term dither here after Jaynes -- it captures what is going on a bit better. It's not believing in your potential; it's believing in your own way of doing things. That should be supported -- our societies should help those that think differently especially when they fail.

Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with the great line: 
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way
I'd like to borrow this, but maybe we should turn this on its head ...
All growth-minded people grow in their own way; those without this mindset are held back alike

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