Ann Andrews’ inspirational online series has just published my chapter. The series as a whole has various writers, speakers and experts talking personally about watershed events in their lives and the lessons to be learned. Many are quite deep, heavy and personal with real and heartfelt meaning. Mine is quite a counter-weight in that it’s about how I got into comedy so I do wonder how it’s going to be read by the audience that by now has been exposed top stories of surviving illnesses, loss, trauma, etc. I think it’s personal and heartfelt but it’s upbeat.
Regardless of its reception, I just re-read it myself having written it early last year and it did vividly remind me that one of the defining qualities of an engaged person is that they do what they do for its own sake, not just for the money or results. So, even if no one else reads it or, if those that do read it don’t dig the lack of pathos, it’s done me the world of good.
My most popular post to date has been on what factors drive success in people. If you found that interesting, you’ll probably also get a lot from Angela Lee Duckworth’s work on grit and perseverance.
The idea that our education ended once we left school was an accurate and helpful one – for factory owners in the industrial revolution. Since then, not so much. Many people quote the saying from Mark Twain, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” (I suspect that it’s more likely Twain said, “Schoolin’.”)
One of my kids heard a reference to an encyclopedia on a TV show the other day. She asked me, “What’s an encyclopedia?” Wow! My mum back in my childhood to any kind of “What’s a widget” kind of question would automatically respond, “Look it up.” Of course, today it’s inherently ironic that the looking up would almost certainly not occur using an encyclopedia. Things change, the rate of change is increasing and the ongoing need to learn will only increase. What we’re learning and how is going to change. We need for ourselves and our kids, and we need to cultivate in the people that we lead, the ability to learn faster, more effectively and more often.
Quite apart from the likely positive impact on the quantity and quality of our lives as reported in this Guardian article amongst many others, there is a positive correlation between ongoing development and increased success. The noted psychologist Carol Dweck wrote a fascinating book called ‘Mindset’ that’s also an entertaining read. Broadly, she proposes that there are two mindsets – the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. I paraphrase crudely but the difference seems to be mainly that the fixed mindset folks see that we’re all dealt some cards and our life will turn out depending on the cards we’re dealt. We’re smart or we’re not and our results will reflect that. The growth mindset folks think they can get new cards or more cards or play some other game that doesn’t involve cards. These mindsets are a choice and the beliefs the mindsets represent focus and filter our behaviours which dramatically impact our results.
To those with fixed mindsets, working hard is unnecessary as the talent they have is the talent they have.
Jerry West, is the former NBA Manager who drafted Kobe Bryant into the NBA for the Los Angeles Lakers who went on to lead L.A. to five championships. As a player himself, West won a championship. Have a look at the NBA’s logo which includes a player’s silhouette. That player was Jerry West. His business was selecting talent for a multi-billion dollar industry. What sort of player, what sort of person does he look for? He says, “I think you have to look beyond the resume sometimes. It’s easy to look at a kid in college who scores a lot of points and plays on a great team. But can he get better? Can he progress? Or is he not going to get any better?” Jerry West believes in the growth mindset.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the talent mindset in the corporate culture especially citing the Enron failure. Hire the best and brightest and get out of their way led to what happened there.
The number 1 skill I recruited for was the ability to learn, evidenced by ongoing personal development, not necessarily formal education. People toss around the old chestnut, “Hire for attitude, train for skill” for a reason. It makes sense. What are useful indicators of a desirable attitude including success-oriented traits such as perseverance and resilience? Ongoing personal development overcoming challenges along the way preferable in a team-based environment. If you don’t know what any of those words mean, look them up, in an encycl… on Wikipedia…
This longitudinal study has been tracking the progress of hundreds of children through the New Zealand educational system. Its latest findings (summarised nicely in this Radio NZ news item only this morning) reveal how the kids have achieved (or not) at NCEA – New Zealand’s high school qualifications. Broadly speaking, they break down the participants into their strata of success and look at the associated characteristics within each band. What are the common traits of those who succeed versus those who do not succeed (or, at least, haven’t succeeded yet)?
The answer is hard work! Don’t you hate it when your parents are right? I paraphrase but the soft / people skills are more correlated to success than inherent braininess: Perseverance, curiousity, resilience. That’s good news, as those are behaviourial choices we can make and encourage our kids to make. It’s not like “tall.” That’d be a tough one. Though, if you manage to convert your short kid to tall, it may well prove their resilience!
I don’t write about education. I write about improving results through engaging your people – employees, customers, whoever your people are. What do educational success factors have to do with that? If they ever even existed, long gone now are the days when we went to school & learnt then left to work and stopped learning. That kind of industrial revolution, people-as-cogs-in-the-machine thinking is archaic. Lifelong learning is the way of the future, it is the way of the now. Whatever machine you’re operating today, whatever software you’re an expert in today will be obsolete soon enough. Obsolescence is accelerating. The last company in the world (in India) that manufactured manual typewriters just got out of the typewriter manufacturing business. Whatever abilities you have today, the number one ability needed in future is the ability to learn.
So, the success factors driving success at high school academically are going to be needed after high school – in the workplace and in everyone’s life outside work. Perseverance, curiousity, resilience can be taught and learnt and they can be recruited and supported in the workplace. I’ve heard for years the mantra from HR folk and managers in the hiring frame of mind, “Hire attitude, train skill.” I mostly agree. This latest research certainly reinforces that philosophy. I bet it becomes even more important outside of school. Schools provide a lot of support and structure. The big bad world does not. People with perseverance, curiousity, resilience that they either naturally possess or have chosen to develop are far more likely to be these ‘motivated, self starters’ all these employees are always looking to hire. They’re more likely to be the innovative entrepreneurs that our economies actually desperately need.
So, the next time you’re hiring or looking to spend some training budget, give some researched-backed thought on the best way to invest that time, energy and money. Improved results and success are built with the building blocks of perseverance, curiousity, resilience. And maybe email the link to that news item about high school success to your kids. Or tweet it. Or send it by whatever means they’re using today because they stopped using the previous latest best app because you started using it…