Willing to Fail: Reflections on Ian McClaren Wallace’s Masterclass

Last Wednesday, psychologist and entrepreneur Ian McClaren Wallace delivered a lecture entitled “Fantastic Boasts and How to Fund Them” (a stroke of titular genius, in my opinion). In his entrepreneurial journey, Ian informed us, he has gone from oil worker, to pilot, to mountain guide, to dream psychologist—and, finally, to entrepreneur. This meandering career path reflected Ian’s fascination with overcoming his own limitations and learning new things. For example, he decided to become a pilot because he was afraid of flying. He decided that the best way to overcome this fear was to put himself up in the air.

Ian demonstrates what psychologist Carol Dweck refers to as a “growth” versus a “fixed” mindset. [1]  People with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and abilities are innate and preordained. Because they imagine that they have an unchangeable amount of intelligence, athleticism, extroversion, musical talent (or whatever), they avoid tasks that they are not yet good at, thinking that making mistakes is likely and would reflect badly on them.[2] People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, view talents and abilities as capacities that can be developed. As Dweck states, “They don’t believe that everyone has the same potential or that anyone can be Michael Phelps, but they understand that even Michael Phelps wouldn’t be Michael Phelps without years of passionate and dedicated practice.”[3] People with a growth mindset want to challenge themselves—even if it means they will fail at first.

Moreover, a growth mindset isn’t just an attitude—it actually predicts whether individuals will experience more or less personal growth. A 2007 study by Dweck found that the grades of students who believed that intelligence is malleable showed a greater upward trajectory over their subsequent two years of school. By contrast, the grades of students who believed that intelligence is fixed had a flat trajectory.[4]

So, what does the “growth v. fixed” mindset mean for our entrepreneurial journeys? Well, it means that the areas we see as our weaknesses—for example, fear of public speaking, lack of artistic talent, or dislike of data—don’t have to be permanent attributes. If we make a conscious choice to view our shortcomings as opportunities for growth, then we are will be much better able to overcome them. Those skills which make for successful entrepreneurs can be cultivated and developed. People with a growth mindset may even be more likely to try to become an entrepreneur in the first place, because (like Ian Wallace) they accept that they may not succeed. Thank you, Ian, for showing us how to succeed by being willing to fail!


[1] Dweck, Carol S. "Mindsets: Developing talent through a growth mindset." Olympic Coach 21.1 (2009): 4-7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Blackwell, Lisa S., Kali H. Trzesniewski, and Carol Sorich Dweck. "Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention." Child development 78.1 (2007): 246-263.