The Growth Mindset

“You can be who you want to be.” We seem to tell that to little kids. We ask them what they dream of becoming when they grow up. But you know, we’re hypocrites for asking them that if we ourselves don’t keep on asking ourselves the same question.

In today’s society, it certainly seems like we’re hypocrites. How many people still retain the child-like ability to dream? I think I’m a little kid still. I believe to dream you must also act, and to act is to struggle, and struggle leads to growth.

I was hugely motivated after last summer and after reading a book by Khan Academy founder. This blog entry is about my own experiences on the topic.

Reading “One World Schoolhouse”

The period immediately after YC demo day was very vivid for me. It was a whirlwind of epic experiences to remember for life. Not only that, I got to meet Ben Kamens from Khan Academy and checked out the KA office. It was such a cool experience.

During the brief period I was in Toronto before moving to San Francisco, I found out about a book by Salman Khan: One World Schoolhouse. It was a very engaging read so I definitely recommend it. Furthermore, it was like a motivational speech for me and I devoured it.

I’m going to focus on a particular topic from the many topics in the book, and that is The Growth Mindset. I also found Sal’s experience ditching a well paid job and starting something from nothing to be hugely motivational, but that’s the topic for another day.

The Growth Mindset

Sal talked about not praising kids for being “smart” because that makes it seem like intelligence or ability is a static thing. Instead he suggested that parents praise their kids for sticking at something and struggle through the difficulty. I happen to have a story on this to tell.

When I was in grade 9 I had gym classes. One of those classes involved doing chin-up, but rather than doing repetition the goal was to hold yourself up on the bar for as long as you could. My teacher said something to the class that I will remember for life.

I wasn’t an athletic kid, but I somehow came in the top 5 for longest duration if I remember correctly. While I was holding myself up on the bar, the teacher commented on how my arms were shaking and clearly past my physical ability. The teacher commented that I kept persisting due to my mental determination. This comment I still remember and must have had great influence on me.

As I went through school, I remember enjoying struggling through math problems. I took it almost like a challenge. I think having a growth mindset is a huge part of why I started a start-up. Having a growth mindset means believing things are possible. Having a growth mindset means knowing from struggle comes improvement. And if you do not shy away from struggle, then you will act. Now, taking the first step is a must for overcoming inertia, so the growth mindset is crucial to achieving anything.

Artificial Limits

I’m baffled by parents saying something is too hard for their kids. Look. How do you know something is too hard without giving your kid a fair try at struggling through it?

How is anyone going to know that a bunch high school kids could write a speech recognizer? Or a compiler? Or a fingerprint recognizer like many of the students from my high school did? The thing is you wouldn’t know until you try.

Sal talked about tracking people in math doesn’t quite make sense. It’s almost like placing limits on people and giving up on them. Why don’t we encourage them to keep struggle through it? Perhaps the understanding will come just like Sal’s cousin.

As I read the book I wrote down tracking people in math is like judging a startup like a baby. “Oh they’ll never amount to anything” is simply a projection of the commentators’ artificial limits they want to place on other people.

From a random soap opera I saw on Saturday night Chinese channel, there was a saying that translated to “If you think you can, then you can.” It is the phrase I always repeat to myself whenever I’m struggling through something. The battle is lost and won on that split second when you don’t believe it’s possible.

Look, I don’t know if my company Kash can ultimately achieve our mission to change the credit card industry. But I sure think we have as good a shot as anybody. As a team we’ve done so many great feats simply because we don’t give up. If you think you can do it, then you can do it.