Craig Silverstein knows a lot about innovative thinking and big ideas.
He joined Google as its third employee — or its first if you don’t count cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin — and helped build the company for 14 years. In 2012, he left the search giant to join Khan Academy, an online learning nonprofit that aims to make free, high-quality education available for anyone, anywhere.
Silverstein told Business Insider that a simple, important fact about the human mind is one of the big ideas driving the company.
“You can always learn more,” Silverstein says. “Intelligence isn’t fixed.”
Your brain is like a muscle, Silverstein explains. Whenever you try to learn something — when you practice it or struggle with it — it’s like giving your brain a workout. You make it stronger.
“Most people are held back not by their innate ability, but by their mindset,” he says.
The idea is rooted in research, largely out of Stanford, that showed that students who viewed a presentation about the brain’s malleability got better grades. When students believe that they can get smarter, they are less likely to give up when they’re struggling with a subject, because that struggle grows their brains. Stanford Professor Carol Dweck coined the terms growth mindset, when students believe their abilities can be developed, versus fixed mindset, when they think they are born with a certain amount of ability and that’s it.
Silverstein says embodying and promoting this “growth mindset” is one of Khan Academy’s tenets.
The site offers classes in a wide range of subjects, including maths, sciences, arts and humanities, economics and finance. Working with Dweck, Khan Academy offered “growth mindset interventions” before maths problems and found that kids did better better. Praising the process — a learner’s strategy, ideas, and perseverance when working on a problem — versus the outcome — whether they got it right or wrong — encourages people to believe they can learn anything.
Check out Khan Academy’s video that sums up the growth mindset: