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I wish I had read Bob Sutton’s blog post ( on Carol S.Dweck’s article ( just before I wrote about “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” and it’s because in the first place I want to know where exactly the notion of being smart or “not being smart” comes from. Then, having known the characteristics of the so-called smart class, I can better understand why they would behave in a certain way and how different people with different talents and capabilities can perform efficiently, each their own way.

Here’s a narrowed-down version of what each of the above-mentioned thinkers are talking about: Dweck is concluding based on her research that “beliefs” play a central role in the study of “personality”, while Sutton argues whether or not intelligence is “malleable”. Although the two subjects might seem far apart, interestingly enough they have something in common. Here I categorized four types of statements I could imagine people would say about themselves as follows:

–         We believe we are smart and we can thrive.

–         We believe we are not smart but we can still thrive.

–         We believe we are smart but we cannot thrive.

–         We believe we are not smart and we cannot thrive either.

Then, I was trying to draw a 3 dimensional diagram so I can show, somehow the relationship between the three elements in there which were “belief”, “intelligence” and “improvement”. But later to my surprise, I realized something: What do I want the “intelligence” for?

Of course I didn’t come across that question all of a sudden only from the chart I had on my mind. I actually was thinking more about a real diverse workspace. In such a situation, nobody really wants to know who is smarter than who or who is less smart than others unless the hot topic of the day is “What was your IQ test result?” or something of a kind! Ironically, what I am interested in is to see to what extent “how I believe” can impress “I can/cannot thrive” because practically we want our company to do well or better.

In this categorization there are extremes. I do not desire to develop the happy statement of the first group (the ones that are able to double-loop, back to my earlier blog post) because those are -by nature- very positive already. However, are they as positive as one can be? According to Sutton the answer is NO and that’s exactly where he thinks the less smart can outperform the smarter. This second group are the ones for whom Sutton shows the most appreciation simply because they are flexible-minded to a level that they are open to learn new things hence make things better. The other extreme is NOT the worst case scenario either, though it’s still bad. “We believe we are not smart and we cannot thrive either”. We don’t want that to happen although it exists in the shape of myths that unfortunately our society circulates.

Finally, Sutton wants to draw our attention to the third group. The third statement belongs to people who are smart but single-loop. These are going to have a hard time with improvement because they are not cognitively flexible.


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