Can a growth mindset help you recover from setbacks?

I just finished reading Carol Dweck’s tour de force, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

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In a word, her book is mind blowing. How can a little thing like mindset make a difference? Can changes in thinking & attitude really have a profound impact on success?

I think it most definitely can. Here’s my story & more excerpts from the book.

1. My own story with the growth mindset

If your memory stretches back to 2008, you will like recall when the market took a dive. Everybody was nervous about default. Big banks were failing. The hiring climate became like a nuclear winter. For a good six to twelve months, things were frozen.

As an independent consultant, that felt like a real shock. Where once there were a lot of firms hiring me on projects, suddenly everything was quiet.

At first I thought of different options. I could weather the storm from many months, but then what? I decided I was commited to consulting, and didn’t want to take a fulltime role. So what did I do next?

Well I picked up a copy of Alan Weiss’ guide, Million Dollar Consulting. I read it cover to cover in a day, then I took a look at the business.

When the market is climbing, and demand is surging, I experimented with increasing rates. Sometimes they were too high, but often I would read the demand right, and turn a bigger fee. Now it was the reverse. Time to swallow your pride & drop those rates! And so I did. This helped close more deals.

From there I just dig in my heels. I worked my network as best I could. Having worked at hundreds of startups, I’ve met hundreds more colleagues over the years. I started reconnecting with them in emails, at meetups, and over a beer or coffee. I took more calls with recruiters to feel out the market, and keep my ear to the ground.

All of this paid off. Within a year I was rolling again, when for many the market still seemed frigid. A learning experience indeed, about business, but also about the growth mindset. It works!

Related: Why does Reddit CTO Martin Weiner advocate boring tech?

Jack Welsh, Michael Jordan & Setya Nadella vs Lee Iococca & John McEnroe

Dweck overs numerous examples of great personalities, who exhibited different mindsets.

For example take a look at a quote from Jack Welsh. He approached things with a growth mindset. Failures are only an opportunity to learn, not a description of your character…

“He [Welsh] learned to select people: for their mindset not their pedigrees. Originally, academic pedigrees impressed him. He hired engineers from MIT, Princeton, and Caltech. But after a while, he realized that wasn’t what counted. ‘Eventually I learned that I was really looking for people who were filled with passion and a desire to get things done. A resume didn’t tell me much about that inner hunger.'”

Or Michael Jordan. You think he never failed until you look at his own words. We forget how much practice day in and day out, it took to create his mastery.

“Michael Jordan embraced his failures. In fact in one of his favorite ads for Nike, he says ‘I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty six time I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot, and missed.’ You can be sure that each time, he went back and practiced the shot a hundred times”.

Lately I’ve been seeing Carol Dweck everywhere. Take a recent Bloomberg Businessweek interview where Satya Nadella credit’s Dweck’s ideas for the culture he’s created at Microsoft.

Culture is something that needs to adapt and change, and you’ve got to be able to have a learning culture. The intuition I got was from observing what happens in schools. I read a book called Mindset. In there there’s this very simple concept that Carol Dweck talks about, which is if you take two people, one of them is a learn-it-all and the other one is a know-it-all, the learn-it-all will always trump the know-it-all in the long run, even if they start with less innate capability.

On the flip side, here are two examples where the fixed mindset takes hold. In Lee Iococca’s case, it drove him to harm others, and the company he was charged with driving…

“He [Iococca] also looked to history, to how he would be judge and remembered. But he did not address this concern by building the company. Quite the contrary. According to one of his biographers, he worried that his underlings might get credit for successful new designs so he balked at approving them. He worried as Chrysler faltered, that his underlings might be seen as the new saviors, so he tried to get rid of them. He worried that he could be written out of Chrysler history, so he desperately hung on as CEO long after he had lost his effectiveness.”

And another example of John McEnroe. A loss for him wasn’t a chance to learn something. He believed he had innate talent. He was special. So for this fixed mindset, a loss damages his character, and makes him feel humiliated.

“Here’s how failure motivated him. In 1979, he played mixed doubles at Wimbledon. He didn’t play mixed doubles again for twenty years. Why? He and his partner lost in three straight sets. Plus, McEnroe lost his serve twice, while no one else lost theirs even once. ‘That was the ultimate embarrassment, I said. That’s it. I’m never playing again. I can’t handle this.'”

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Learning the growth mindset

Carol’s book provides example after example of the mindsets in action, in real people. Her chapters cover sports, business, and even love & relationships. Towards the final section of the book she talks about how to learn the growth mindset.

Catch yourself and your negative self-talk. Turn things towards a learning opportunity. Don’t allow failures to define you or your character. Always be growing!

Here’s a great page, summarizing the mindsets & how to get there!

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What have I learned in 10 years of blogging?


I was just reading Andrew Chen’s latest posting, where he distills many of the things he’s learned from blogging over a decade.

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This reminded me that I’ve been blogging that long as well. And to be sure it has brought great benefits. In the way that public speaking gives you visibility, but also forces you to communicate better, form your voice, and so on.

All the great things you gain by talking to other people, and getting into the conversation.

1. Understand your audience

I struggled with this when I first started blogging. As any engineer might approach things, I thought I should publish technical material. What better way to show what I know. And further how I can help a customer.

What I didn’t realize is that all of your readers aren’t technical. So it goes a long way if you can appeal to a broader audience.

I found that my readers fell into a few big categories.

1. Fellow engineers & peers
2. Hiring managers & startup CTOs
3. Recruiters & other publishers

This really helped me divide up the types of content I would write, some directed towards each of the different audiences.

Related: Why does Reddit CTO Martin Weiner advocate boring tech?

2. Tell your story

I’ve written often about why I wrote the book on Oracle. In it I outlined a long arc of datacenter evolution which started with the maturity of Linux, and today provides the bedrock of the cloud that is Amazon Web Services among others.

What this also allowed me to do is tell my own history.

Related: 5 reasons devops should blog

3. Form your voice

Forming your voice is different than speaking to specific audiences. It’s about having opinions & getting into the line of fire. Being passionate about a subject, you’re sure to care & sit on one side or the other of a particular argument.

For example I argued the Android ecosystem was broken. Although Google has fixed some of these problems, many remain as a symptom of the platform itself.

I also argued with Fred Wilson’s estimation of Apple being overvalued. At the time in May 2014 the price was at $85. Now it sits comfortably at $177.

Related: How to hire a developer that doesn’t suck

4. Put yourself out there

Putting yourself out there isn’t easy. You’ll be open to criticism. And sometimes you’ll be wrong. But by challenging yourself in this way you’ll grow too. And prospects will notice this. More than engineering might, and power at the keyboard, your perspective of what’s happening in computing generally, and what is on the horizon is invaluable to customers.

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5. Learn & Share

Writing howtos is a great challenge too. By forcing yourself to teach something, you in turn learn the material better. You become better at executing, and formulating solutions.

As you share knowledge, you’ll also learn from others. As the comments on my site can attest. Sure you get much of this same value from having an active account on, but your own real estate carries even more weight for your personal brand.

Related: Why you should always be publishing

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READ: Lanier’s Dawn of the New Everything

Jaron Lanier was the founder of VPL in the 90’s, a pioneering company around virtual reality.

I stumbled onto a recent Interview with Lanier about his new book.

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Lanier is a creative thinker, one who has grappled with ideas like Ray Kurzweil’s singularity. He has even provided a counterpoint against cybernetic totalism.

His original perspectives come at the same time he sits within the circles of esteemed computer science researchers, providing a rare critical perspective from within the adademia.

1. Playing virtual instruments

Lanier wasn’t just a pioneer around virtual reality, but was also a musician. In the 80’s & 90’s he built & even *played* virtual instruments in VR, on stage.

I managed to catch one of these shows in the late 90’s at Knitting Factory back when it was at 66 Leonard street & Tribeca was still a rough area.

Related: Why does Reddit CTO Martin Weiner advocate boring tech?

2. A VR sport for the Olympics

Apparently the Olympics Committee commissioned him to build a sport in VR. Complete with simulated antigravity, and some other neat features.

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3. An antidote to hysteria & pessimism

With all the hype & hysteria around fake news & backlash against the Facebooks & Googles of the world it’s easy to feel like maybe social media is tearing apart society.

With that I would heartily recommend Lanier’s new book, as an antidote to all of that. His writing is & ideas have always been well ahead of their time, and I expect this to be no exception.

I’ll followup with a review in the coming months.

Related: 30 questions to ask a serverless fanboy

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Is Alex Hudson right that software architecture is failing?


I read Hacker News aka Ycombinator’s popular top 100. I never fail to find useful, surprising & stimulating reading there.

I recently stumbled on Alex Hudson’s software architecture is failing.

It’s very good, I recommend reading it.

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But why did it grab my attention, you might ask? Perhaps I’m a naysayer. But I do find there is a lot of hype, and a lot of sex in software today. It’s as though the shiniest, newest, coolest toys are the ones getting the spotlight.

So when I find an alternative view, I sit up and take notice.

1. Are we making systems too complex?

Right out of the gates, Alex makes a great point:

“We’re not delivering quickly enough!”. “Our systems are too complex to maintain!”. “The application we delivered last year is completely legacy now but it’s too difficult to replace!”.

Our industry’s obsession with the newest & coolest toys, means we’re building things that don’t last very long. A real & ongoing problem.

Related: Why does Reddit CTO Martin Weiner advocate boring tech?

2. Smaller enterprises

One thing Alex pointed out that really struck a nerve was this:

For those in tech who are not working at Facebook/Google/Amazon, we’re simply not talking enough about what systems at smaller enterprises look like.

I couldn’t agree more. As a profession, we watch closely at what the big guys are doing. And that’s useful to a point. But for many smaller companies, to use such architectures would be over engineering in the extreme. Not to mention extremely costly!

Related: How I use terraform & composer to automate wordpress on AWS

3. Not bleeding & far from the edge

Another choice quote from Alex’s piece:

“It’s totally legacy, and no-one maintains it – it just sits there working, except for the occasions it doesn’t. The problem is replacing it is so hard, it’s got great performance, and the business doesn’t want to spend time replacing something working”. This is the problem being ahead of the curve – the definition of “success” (it works great, it’s reliable, it’s performant, we don’t need to think about it) looks a hell of a lot like the definition of “legacy”.

We know the term bleeding edge because it’s tough being out there trail blazing. Here I agree that sometimes legacy is also boring, yet eminently reliable.

Related: 30 questions to ask a serverless fanboy

4. Reduce, reuse, recycle

Should we build it or should we buy it? Here’s what Alex says:

I think we’re often getting the build/buy decision wrong. Software development should be the tool of last resort: “we’re building this because it doesn’t exist in the form we need it”.

Well said. Sure we should consider integration costs & testing. And using a service brings other things to balance. But it means we don’t have to own that code.

Better to focus on our business core competency.

Related: Is Amazon about to disrupt your data warehouse?

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