The performance and learning goals contrast

Stanford psychology Carol Dweck talks about her research on performance and learning goals. 

"Performance goals are about “winning positive judgments of your competence and avoiding negative ones. In other words, when students pursue performance goals they’re concerned with their level of intelligence: They want to look smart (to themselves or others) and avoid looking dumb.” A person usually does this by playing it safe.

Learning goals are ones that are about increasing your competence. “It reflects a desire to learn new skills, master new tasks, or understand new things—a desire to get smarter.”

What she has found is that an overemphasis on performance goals – wanting to look good – can foster a helpless response. In a 1988 study they found that “many of the students with performance goals showed a clear helpless pattern in response to difficulty. A number of them condemned their ability, and their problem solving deteriorated.

In sharp contrast, most of the students with learning goals showed a clear mastery-oriented pattern. In the face of failure, they did not worry about their intellect, they remained focused on the task, and they maintained their effective problem-solving strategies."

This has profound implications for schools and work teams. This is why smart teams work from questions. Trying to look good and avoid looking bad doesn't make a team smarter together. Learning their way into the future does.