Here is a quote from Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test in the early 20th century:

“A few modern philosophers…assert that an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism…With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.”[i]

It is interesting that the Binet-Simon scale was adopted in the US and has come to represent a number that defines a persons “fixed” intelligence.

Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, has written the book Mindset: The new psychology of success.[ii]  She defines two types of mindsets about learning-Fixed mindset and Growth mindset. A fixed mindset is one in which you believe your intelligence or the “way I am” is “fixed” or not changeable, and a growth mindset is one is which you believe that you can develop talent/ability/habits with practice.

Her documented research over many years shows just how much a person’s mindset affects their ultimate ability to learn. When students believe that intelligence is fixed they are set up to need to prove their intelligence, do not want understand the value of working hard, and become fearful of mistakes which would make them look dumb. Their thinking is “If you have to work at something, you must not be good at it” and “things come easily to people who are true geniuses.”

One of the interesting parts of this book is the research on how much praising children about their intelligence negatively affects their performance. She says:

“If success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb…If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence. “[iii]

 How do we “teach” effort and determination? As I said in the last blog, infants and toddlers already have an intense amount of determination and drive. Our job is to preserve it by not praising results which focuses the child on getting praise for being smart or fast, and instead appreciate the process of repetition and effort. Dr. Dweck says:

“When we say to children, “Wow, you did that so quickly!” or “Look, you didn’t make any mistakes!” what message are we sending? We are telling them that what we prize are speed and perfection. Speed and perfection are the enemy of difficult learning.”[iv]

Malcomb Gladwells’ book Outliers: The story of success” [v] second chapter is entitled “The 10,000 hour rule.”[vi]He discusses several breakthrough thinkers/performers/achievers from Mozart to Bill Gates. In each case he approximates it took them 10, 000 hours to acquire “true expertise”. In Mozart’s example he cites the point that his “masterworks” were composed at age 21 and later, after he had been composing full pieces for over ten years. He also points to the variable of opportunity (environment) and shows how each great achiever had the right opportunity at the right time.
Dr. Suzuki says: “Knowledge plus 10,000 times equals ability.”

Last week I attended the Piano Basics Workshop in Phoenix Arizona where I had a lesson. It must seem so odd to think after thirty years of studying and teaching Suzuki piano, I am taking a lesson on Twinkles. Yet each time there is something new to learn and improve, and I come back motivated to continue practicing and working to improve my tone.

There were several students in the workshop who are now graduated from high school and still coming to the workshops to study and perform. One of them was majoring in piano, and the others were not. To me this shows how wonderful the Suzuki method is! The students after all this time are still studying piano because they did not grow up only practicing for the next competition, but instead for their own learning, to participate in non-competitive graduations which are based on skill acquisition, to play together with others in a 10 piano concert, or for a Friendship concert. They have a lifelong love for music and sound they hasn’t ended when they graduated from high school and listed their competitions on their college application.

A growth mindset enables a person to continue to improve even after they are already one of the “best” in their field. It sustains intrinsic motivation by keeping alive the drive to learn for self-improvement and for a sense of contribution and purpose. This is Life Ability – the ability to live life optimally.


[i] Les idées modernes sur les enfants (1909), p. 141.
[ii] Dr. Carol Dweck, Mindset:  The new Psychology of Success
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid
[v]  Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers The Story of Success
[vi]  Ibid., p.  35