There is a terrific article in yesterday’s WSJ titled “The Power of Unsolvable Problems” – it describes the many benefits of working on seemingly unsolvable problems, including helping to develop resiliency and “grit” (a much-discussed concept for parents, like me, of adolescents and teenagers). Northwestern University’s school of engineering is harnessing this power by giving students a design-build assignment to create a simple medical device. Working with actual patients and limited budgets, the projects are having surprising – and positive – results.
An interesting note in the article points to “fear of failure” as one of the biggest inhibitors to student performance. In fact, research indicates that this attitude can severely hamper learning and growth. An old friend of mine, John Connors, is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, was the New England Mixed Martial Arts Coach of the Year, owns Connors MMA in Norwood, MA, and has taught martial arts to kids and adults of all ages for over 10 years. He knows something about coaching resiliency. Recently, he recommended a great book: Mindset by Carol Dweck. Dweck is a well-know Stanford psychologist who has done extensive research into what she terms “growth” vs. “fixed” mindsets – the benefits of one, and limitations of the other. Although a bit repetitive and with some questionable examples, her thesis is compelling. As my son succinctly put it after reading: “a fixed mindset is like a puddle that will eventually dry up…a growth mindset is like a spring welling up”. By working to create simple medical devices, engineering students at Northwestern are learning this same, valuable lesson.