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As 80 million students prepare to go back to school, Pigeonholes, an application with powerful educational uses, is turning it’s attention to education for this blog post. One of Dartmouth College’s unique traditions is the “sophomore summer.” During the break after their second year, students at Dartmouth have obligatory additional quarter of classes – the so-called “sophomore summer.” In 2010, Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim, himself a sophomore, addressed the students in a series of lectures.

Based on the work of Doctors Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, there are sixteen habits of the mind. They are as follows:


  1. Persisting – Do stick to it.
  2. Communicating with clarity and precision – Be clear.
  3. Managing impulsivity – Take your time.
  4. Gathering data through all senses – Use your natural pathways.
  5. Listening with understanding and empathy – Understand others.
  6. Creating, imagining, innovating – Try a different way.
  7. Thinking flexibly – Look at it another way.
  8. Responding with wonderment and awe – have fun figuring it out.
  9. Thinking about your thinking (metacognition) – Know your knowing.
  10. Taking responsible risks – Venture out.
  11. Striving for accuracy and precision – Find the best possible solution.
  12. Finding humour – Laugh a little.
  13. Questioning and problem posing – How do you know?
  14. Thinking interdependently – Learning with others.
  15. Applying past knowledge to new situations – Use what you learn.
  16. Remaining open to continuous learning – Learn from experiences.

These behaviors define the abilities of our mind, and, according to recent studies, they are much more plasticine as was once thought. In fact, the mind may be constantly building and rebuilding its’ neural connections throughout the early twenties and your entire adult life.

A Dartmouth study of college students observed MRIs taken before freshman year, after 6 months and one year in college. They found that there was a very significant increase in voxal intensity.

What does this mean?

The brain is constantly forming new neural connections. This is true, even to the extent that an adult brain can grow significantly in the regions of the brain associated with, for instance, empathy. Likewise, persistence, as a mental exercise, will breed persistence as a trait. The balance of power between the nucleus accumbens and the orbital frontal cortex determines ones’ ability to make decisions based on responsible risk-taking and impulsivity. The control of the prefrontal lobe over the more basic animalistic parts of the brain is developed over time, and can continue to develop given the right environment.

How does this apply to you?

Running a business is as much about getting the most out of yourself and your employees as it is about technology, opportunity and the market. How can you get the most of your employees and their brains? Think about this:

Another study, performed by Carol Dweck at Stanford, divided two groups of general chemistry students by their ‘theories of the mind.’ One group subscribed to the belief that the abilities of one’s mind were fixed, and referred to this group as the “fixed mindset” students. Others were convinced, correctly, that the way the brain worked was very pliable. Over the course of the class, the “growth mindset” students received better grades, and rebounded faster and better to poor grades than the “fixed mindset” students.

What is your theory of mind? Do you think in terms of who is smart and who is not? Are you confident in your understanding of your own cognitive capacity?

When considering education and abilities, you must have the right ‘theory of mind’ to approach challenges.

President Kim encouraged his student to take their education into their own hands, never stop developing the habits of mind, and take on the world’s problems as their own. He ended with a quote from famous anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said,

“Never doubt that a small group of committed souls can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

A video of the lecture is available here.

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