One of the most successful public marketing slogans of all time, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” introduced by the United Negro College Fund to encourage African-American youth to consider attending college, shifted the narrative from “at risk youth” to “minds to be developed.” In today’s competitive workforce, where tech leaders clamor for “innovators, not technicians,” I contend that while a mind is a terrible thing to waste, a mindset is an essential thing to gain. In fact, three mindsets are better than one.
A growth mindset is the foundation for student success. In her book Mindset, Stanford University’s Carol Dweck contrasts the fixed mindset with the growth mindset, illustrating how the latter improves learning outcomes and student performance. This message is so important that as dean I give a copy of this book to the entire incoming class of first-year engineers to ensure their undergraduate studies are oriented in the right direction.
With a growth mindset and a technical skillset, students learn to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset, a set of approaches to problem solving—how to select problems, define and frame them, ideate creatively, and iterate solutions—that enables them to be agents of change, empowered to solve some of society’s most challenging problems.
But to operate in the reality, complexity, and diversity of today’s world, students need to adopt what I call a stretch mindset. They must be able to think logically and comprehensively, interpret facts, reason with clarity, address ambiguity, respect other viewpoints, and draw conclusions without emotion. A liberal arts education is central to this.
When it comes to mindsets, three are better than one. A growth mindset promotes a willingness to tackle challenges, an entrepreneurial mindset produces more innovative solutions, and a stretch mindset is key to the health, peace, and prosperity of our shared future.
School of Engineering