August 7, 2009

Columbo fragment and the growth mindset

During my vacation in the Czech Republic I ran into some really cheap DVD's of the TV series Columbo (and I bought a lot of them). For you younger readers: Columbo is an American crime fiction TV series starring Peter Falk as homicide detective lieutenant Columbo working at the LAPD. Together with my wife and kids we've been watching many episodes and we loved them. Although the format of the series is a bit formulaic it is wonderful to watch every time. Each episode starts with how a murder is committed. You see exactly how and why the murderer commits the crime and how he or she tries to cover it up. It usually takes quite long before Columbo enters the scene. Columbo is quite a character. First of all, he is rather shabby-looking and he drives a rusty old car which seems and sounds like it could fall apart at any moment. Columbo is a cigar smoking guy who comes across as clumsy and absent minded. When confronted with the person whom we already know to be the murder he presents himself extremely modest and he frequently apologizes for having to ask all of the questions. An example of such an apology might be: "I am sorry sir, but I have a new young boss and he is a little bit over-enthusiastic and he requires me to ask you all of these questions." Another thing is, he always talks about his wife. For instance when he'd interrogate a movie director, he'd typically go on and on about how his wife is his biggest fan. But the viewer never ever gets to see Mrs. Columbo.
In practically each episode the murderer is a confident, high status person. Some examples are: a TV show host, a well-known psychologist, an author of detective novels (!), and an accountant with a sky high IQ. During the episode you see how the suspect at first is very willing to co-operate with this almost pathetic imitation of a detective. Then, after some time as Columbo keeps on asking questions (After walking away, he typically slows down, turns around, looks confused and then says something like: "Oh, excuse me, but there is one more thing I'd like to ask you..."), the suspect usually start to get a bit irritated and arrogant, getting fed up with Columbo's presence and penetrating questions. At the end the balance of power shift more and more in the favor of Columbo, until suddenly, there is a situation in which a chess mate is achieved. Columbo has detailedly reconstructed the murder and presents his evidence.
The fragment below shows the end of the episode in which Columbo has just beaten the aforementioned accountant with the sky high-IQ. What makes this fragment extra interesting from this blog's perspective is that it seems to fit well with concepts which I have written about a lot like Carol Dweck's growth mindset and Anders Ericsson's deliberate practice.

"You know, sir, it's a funny thing. All my life I kept running into smart people. I don't mean smart like you or the rest of the people in this house. You know what I mean. In school, there were a lot of smarter kids. And when I first joined the force, they had some very clever people there. And I could tell right away that it wouldn't be easy to make detective as long as they were around. But I figured, if I worked harder than they did, put in more time, read the books, kept my eyes open, maybe I could make it happen. And I did. And I really love my work, sir."


  1. For some reason, the quote made me think about a quote from the movie "Peaceful Warrior":

    -"I know more than you think."
    - "Ya... what's the difference?"
    - "You know how to clean a windshield, eh?"
    - "Ya..."
    - "Wisdom is doing it."

    What you actually DO is way more important than what you know. :)

  2. Hi Peter, it's like the quote I mentioned earlier from the movie The Matrix: there's a difference between knowing the path and walking it.

  3. Big difference. :)

    I always remember my grand-grandmother. She was a simple woman, a peasant that didn't knew how to read or write. However, from a spiritual point of view, she managed to practice compassion in a way that transformed her.
    I perceived her as Light, always smiling even when she told me about her aching. She always made me feel good by her simple presence. She was the happiest human I encountered.

  4. Hi Herman, I cannot view the you tube account?

  5. Hi John, yes, i saw, they took that video down.
    By the way, who is Herman?


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner