Who is More Intelligent: Tiger Woods or Lee Iacocca?

This is just a little bit of a trick question. I have no idea who is more intelligent, but I do know who is more committed to growing their intelligence and their ability. The answer is Tiger Woods.

In her brilliant new book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford professor Carol Dweck uncovers paradigms about ability and intelligence about which many of us are unaware. An understanding of these paradigms can dramatically increase our effectiveness as leaders or managers, as educators or students, or as parents, in sports or business or just about any activity that we undertake.

Dweck’s research shows that an individual holds one of two basic paradigms about intelligence. One paradigm about intelligence is what Dweck calls a fixed mindset and the other paradigm she calls a growth mindset. If your views about intelligence are of the fixed mindset, you will believe that your ability is set in stone. If you have a growth mindset, you believe that abilities can be developed and are built over time.

The two beliefs have dramatically different implications. A person with a fixed mindset will have a need to prove themselves over and over. Challenges become frightening to a person with a fixed mindset. Dweck writes that every situation is evaluated: “Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”

Dweck observes that people with a fixed mindset make very little effort in what they do; they believe their work should be effortless. When things do not go right, they quickly lose interest. When things go wrong, they tend to blame others.

Individuals with a growth mindset have a completely different attitude about abilities and effort. They don’t believe anybody can do anything. However, they do understand that one must devote continuous and ongoing effort to develop their abilities.

Back to Lee Iacocca and Tiger Woods. Iacocca is a classic example of a leader with a fixed mindset. For an individual with fixed mindset, everything is about how they look. Iacocca endlessly promoted himself, even claiming that the job of running Chrysler was tougher than the job of being President of the United States.

While manufacturing substandard cars, such as the K car, Iacocca spewed endless, vitriolic hatred towards the Japanese. Blaming others for problems that you have created yourself is a classic mark of a leader with a fixed mindset. Chrysler’s problems were caused not by Japanese cars, but by their own poor cars and Iacocca’s poor leadership skills, which he refused to improve. Not being willing to improve oneself is another characteristic of an individual with a fixed mindset.

Tiger Woods is of course the polar opposite. Despite arguably being the greatest golf champion of all time, he endlessly works to improve his golf game. He has been quoted as saying that even more important than being a champion is being the “best me.” In Tiger Woods’ world, there is endless room for improvement.

Dweck provides a simple diagnostic test. Read each statement and decide whether you mostly agree with it or disagree with it:

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things but you really can’t change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, your can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
  5. You are a certain kind of person and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
  6. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
  7. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
  8. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.

A person with a fixed mindset will agree with statements 1, 2, 5, and 7, while a person with a growth mindset will agree with statements 3, 4, 6, and 8.

There is no need for specific instructions as to how to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. By becoming aware of our own beliefs of which we were formally unaware, we automatically begin the process of change. Since this process of change is different for each of us, there can be no specific instructions.

Beliefs we hold of which we are unaware, bind us. Dweck helps to remove our chains.


2 Responses to Who is More Intelligent: Tiger Woods or Lee Iacocca?

  1. Ariel says:

    Thanks for the great reminder of how important a flexible mind set is for success and to look at ourselves before we place the blame elsewhere!

  2. Barry Brownstein says:


    One indication of a great leader is that he/she is aware of the ego’s game of blame. Such a quality in a leader is a necessary condition for building a healthy organizational culture.

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