Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Jim Lovell on Failing

Neil deGrasse Tyson on failure and experimenting:

…it’s not only admitting or celebrating when you don’t know something, but also recognizing the value of failure. You don’t want to fail doing something that has already been done where people succeeded. You want to be able to fail at something that has never done before and recognize that the day you never fail is the day you are no longer on the frontier of anything. So we should celebrate the experiment.

Jim Lovell on Appollo 13’s legacy:

Not landing on the moon was probably the best thing that ever happened to NASA. …it looked like it was so routine that people were not getting interested any more and not realizing the amount of technology and work that had to be done to make those flights safe…. 


COVA and Maker Mindset at Google

Brian Basgen of Emerson College sparked a great discussion on of one of my learning networks (Educause CIO Constituent Listserv) about what people are reading , and Luke Fernandez’s response really got me thinking. He recommended The History of Google from the Internet History Podcast , which is a terrific exploration of the origins and history of the internet behemoth Google. As I read it, I picked up on a lot of themes related to the maker mindset  and the COVA (choice, ownership, voice, authenticity) model .

Because Larry and Sergey were given choice in their authentic learning experiences, they took ownership of their ideas and created a company imbued with their unique voice. They are icons of the maker mindset and as a result were able to make an impact by building arguably the most influential internet company of all time.

Following are a few selected quotations from the article, but it’s well worth a full read (or listen):


Larry and Sergey both grew up to respect research, academic study, mathematics and, especially, computers. And it turned out they both had inquisitive minds that believed in the power of knowledge to overcome any obstacle, intellectual or practical. Each had been inculcated into this spirit of intellectual fearlessness at a young age.


“You can’t understand Google,” early Google employee Marissa Mayer has insisted, “unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids. It’s really ingrained in their personalities. To ask their own questions, do their own things. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In a Montessori school, you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They’re always asking, why should it be like that? It’s the way their brains were programmed early on.”


“It wasn’t that they [Page and Brin] sat down and said, ‘Let’s build the next great search engine,’” said Rajeev Motwani, who was Brin’s academic advisor. “They were trying to solve interesting problems and stumbled upon some neat ideas.”


Part of this was simple frugality, a habit that would serve them well when the dotcom bubble burst in a few short years. But a lot of it was Page and Brin’s ingrained Montessori philosophy: they never met an engineering problem they couldn’t solve themselves. Google didn’t take pages from the established Silicon Valley playbook because, in a way, they had never bought into it. They didn’t try to Get Big Fast. Instead, Page and Brin were almost manically focused on endlessly iterating and improving upon their Big Idea, making sure it was the most comprehensive, reliable and—most importantly—speedy search engine in the world. 


Grand Prix Cars and Growth Mindset

It’s Awana Grand Prix time, so that means it’s the time that I need to become an amateur (very amateur) woodworker. I’ve always tried to make sure the kids are as involved as possible, but every now and again it comes back to bite me.

This year, my oldest’s design included a “t” with a slant. It was fun to work through it with him as we tried to figure out what tools to use and how to make the cuts. After I’d made the initial cuts, I asked him again if he really wanted those slants.

“Is it going to be too hard for you?” was his response.

Hit me right in the ego, he did. “Well, it’ll be hard, anyway,” I replied. The challenge had been issued.

Maybe it was because I was trying to hurry up to get it done in time for class, but it made me think of the growth mindset we’ve been talking about. A fixed mindset approach would’ve just said, “I don’t know how to do that” and been done with it. But, even though it was primarily ego-driven, I had an opportunity to show my son an example of growth mindset.

“It’s hard, but I can figure it out” may be one of the best lessons I can teach my kids.

Growth Mindset Plan

Growth mindset is Dweck’s idea that people are better able to learn and adapt to learning environments when they believe they can learn as opposed to a fixed mindset, where people believe they have a limit to their intelligence and ability to succeed . There are several ways I can help to encourage growth mindset in myself, my department, and my college and community.

In Myself

I often find myself in an inner dialog, where part of me is still stuck in a fixed mindset or slips back into it, even momentarily. “You aren’t a ____.” “____ is just something you’ll never be good at.” “That person won’t ever change.” In those cases, applying Dweck’s four steps essentially amounts to countering those thoughts with positive statements that affirm a growth mindset. The most important thing I can do for myself is to be alert and watching for those fixed mindset attributes so I can address and counteract them with growth mindset alternatives.

In My Department

In my department, I can help my team work together by fostering a growth mindset. I have noticed on a number of occasions some signs of fixed mindset, for example:

  • “I’m just not not good at that,” or “I can’t do that,”
  • Struggling with changing because they just don’t think they can, or
  • Always focusing on someone else’s faults and refusing to accept their progress

In these cases, again, I will directly counter these kinds of statements immediately with growth mindset rejoinders, perhaps just by adding the word “yet,” to reinforce that change is possible.

I can also be proactive about promoting growth mindset by taking time to promote and even watch and discuss resources that promote or are in keeping with growth mindset. For example, we could have a monthly TED Talk, and I could email an article of the month to keep growth mindset and ideas compatible with growth mindset.

Perhaps the greatest contribution I can make for my team, however, is to create a failure-tolerant environment . I will do this in the following ways.

  • Praising employees for well-planned risks, even if they aren’t successful.
  • Redeeming failures by analyzing them to find what went wrong and learn from them.
  • “Taking the heat” myself for failures while praising team members individually to my superiors.
  • Being transparent about my own failures to set the example.

In My College/Community

In my current position, the most direct connection to students at my college is in my ability to advocate for and help provide positive learning environments. I will help to encourage growth mindset in my college and my community in the following ways.

  • I will coordinate with our instructional technologists and learning commons areas to create computer labs and collaborative areas that remove barriers to learning or force students into an inauthentic approach. For example, our computer labs tend to be rows of computers lined up, factory-style , which can subtly reinforce fixed mindset ideas in students by intimidating and alienating students. Even something as simple as exploring other ways to arrange furniture to make spaces more inviting and comfortable can help create an environment where growth mindset won’t be stifled.
  • I will pursue creating a maker space at the college and/or in the community. The maker movement is closely tied with growth mindset , allowing students—and non-students—access to a community that encourages “can-do” thinking.
  • Related to the maker space, I will work on starting some robotics/maker youth clubs. This is a way I can help foster growth mindset in area children and help to counteract the many forces reinforcing a fixed mindset.


Applying the Growth Mindset as a Supervisor

My most direct application of most of the principles from my coursework will be related to my position as a director of the IT department at a community college. Though it is not a classroom-style teaching position, these educational and leadership principles can make me a better supervisor.

I think the first step will be to look for signs of fixed mindset among my team and to look for opportunities to encourage them toward a growth mindset. Perhaps I can also take one of our weekly meetings every month to show a video from one of these courses to help encourage teamwork and growth as a department.

Applying the Four Steps

So I’m sitting here, staring at a blank screen, and having the growth/fixed mindset argument in my head now.

“You’re not a writer.”

“And I’ll never become one if I don’t write.”

“You’re too busy for this.”

“I will be tomorrow night, too.”

“You work better under pressure, you can get it done right before the deadline.”

“Perhaps. But then I will miss out on a chance to learn to apply the growth mindset.”

And on, and on. Until I finally decide to start typing. As Stephen King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” (p. 296)

I have a feeling that I will be having this conversation with myself a lot during the next few months, so I think my first approach will need to be to just suck it up and get started. I just need to refuse to listen to the inner critic, which I guess is another way of saying the second of Dweck’s steps to change.

King, S. (2000). On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Simon and Schuster.

How can you change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2017, from