Pete Holmes and Penn Jillette

A comedian and a magician discuss growth mindset

In a recent episode of the You Made it Weird podcast is an interview with magician Penn Jillette. For over two hours, Jillette and the host Pete Holmes jump around from topic to topic during the conversation but they spend a healthy amount of time sharing their thoughts and perspectives on learning. I recommend listening to the entire episode but you can hear the parts on learning at 36:14 to 58:56. (Note: the show is NSFW – they swear and talk about some adult situations.)

Without saying it, I think they touch on the subject of growth mindset several times. For example, Jillette recalls his early beliefs about The Beatles and how they changed after hearing some not-so-polished bootlegs of the band. Here is a link that takes you to the beginning of this clip.

Earlier in the show, Jillette explains to Holmes that being tall (both the guest and host are tall men) teaches you something.

I met Penn once at a conference. He doesn’t remember.

Jillette explains that, “tall teaches you not to buy into, completely, that you can do anything that you set your mind to. Because we know we’re not going to be jockeys.” The clip begins here.

I like the point that Jillette makes here. Growth mindset is a positive thing unless it is reduced to a poster, a meme, or bulletin board. I think growth mindset is far too nuanced for Pinterest. Hard work and perseverance (fine, call it ‘grit’ if you must) can get you a long way but we know there is more to the story of how we learn.

Our resilient efforts must be balanced with the reality of our limits. A great teacher or coach helps the learner find this balance. Without a balance, too many learners will live in a fixed state of delusion.

Back to the episode of You Made it Weird; it has a lot more to offer. Holmes explains what he means when he says “education is shoplifting” and Jillette talks about what he thinks the word ‘genius’ really means with examples that reference magic tricks and Bob Dylan. Give it a listen.

Note: Holmes does yell “that’s Dale. That’s Dale being Dale” at the end of the show. This had no bearing on my interpretation of the episode but it sure was freaky!