This is the last of four articles on why we need to change our attitude towards failure, celebrating the launch of our new book Enabling Genius: a mindset for success in the 21st century. The first article covered the global impact of the scientific method, the second outlined the organisational benefits of embracing failure, the third introduced the concept of flow. This final article focuses on the personal characteristics of ‘grit’ and mindset.
A characteristic of top performers is something called ‘grit’. This is defined as someone’s capacity for setting long term challenging goals, and sticking to them. People with high levels of grit persevere despite the barriers blocking the path to their objectives. Over a long period, it is inevitable that we will make mistakes. So what marks the best people out is their attitude to these failures. They do not given in, they learn from them and come back fighting even harder.
A measurement of ‘grit’ has been developed Angela Duckworth, a US psychologist. She showed that grit was closely correlated to US measures of intellect and whether you survive at the US military academy, West Point. This institution has embraced the measurement culture. They gather a whole slew of metrics to help predict who would likely be the best students at the end of training. However the grit measurement was far more accurate at predicting the best students, than all the combined West Point metrics.
The second related characteristic is mindset, a term coined from Carol Dweck’s research. Her work is based on an experiment where students were initially asked to tackle a series of challenging problems, some well beyond their current capability. Having run this first test, the same group were asked whether they wanted to try more ‘hard’ problems or a more achievable set, based on their current capability. This answer split the group into those with a ‘fixed’ (went for easier questions) and ‘growth’ mindsets (went for more hard questions). Long-term follow-up studies have shown the latter are more successful, even though their initial capabilities were no better going into the tests than the fixed mindset group.
The theory suggests that those with a fixed mindset believe their basic abilities, intelligence and talents, are fixed, inherited characteristics. They can go up to a limit and no more, so they try to appear clever all the time by never tackling something they might get wrong. Those with a growth mindset believe their talents can be developed through persistence and see failures as opportunities to learn. They don’t necessarily believe they can be Einstein, but this does not matter, they still believe can improve if they work at it. So aside from the lesson that those with a growth mindset will work hard despite setbacks, the work also suggests, we should praise effort, not results when providing feedback.
So we have four elements showing we can enable our genius if we change our attitude to failure: