I’ve long been interested in what makes some people higher-achieving than others. It’s an interesting science filled with debates about nature vs nurture, the relevance of IQ scores, parenting skills, and social status. Add in some racial opinions and you are bound to have a discussion capable of ruining any dinner party!
But at Tivix, all I care about is how we select for high-achievers in our recruiting and hiring process.
I’ve written before about the research done by Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, which indicates that some students have what she calls a “Fixed Mindset” (they believe that their intelligence is fixed; if you’re not good at math you’re not good at math) and some students have a “Growth Mindset” (they believe anything can be learned and improved-upon, that their personal ability to grow is unlimited). Not surprisingly, her research clearly shows that students with a growth mindset are the ones who succeed in school and in life.
This is not a new observation, of course. In 1933 Henry Ford said “Whether you believe that you can or you believe that you can’t, you are right”. But Carol Dweck puts a helpful research framework about that.
Meanwhile, Angela Duckworth, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, has devoted her career to the topic of what makes for high-achieving individuals. She’s conducted research on West Point students, National Spelling Bee participants, successful CEO’s, and professional athletes, trying to find the patterns that predict high-achievement.
She’s found that perseverance matters more than anything. A low IQ person who perseveres consistently outperforms a high IQ person who doesn’t. High performing individuals make personal commitments and then follow-through on them – and that doesn’t require IQ. She calls the key ingredient “grit”, which she defines as passion + perseverance.
Her research also shows that successful people – people who have grit – naturally engage in continuous self-improvement, and that continuous self-improvement requires a willingness to be wrong. Because there’s no way to improve yourself if you always think you’re right.
So there you have it. If you want to hire high-performing people for your team, all you have to do is scan CV’s for “grit”, “continuous improvement”, “willing to be wrong” and “growth mindset”.
It’s not that simple, of course. Figuring out which job applicants will succeed and thrive on your team is an art and science of its own. But knowing what you are looking for is an important first step.
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Angela Duckworth: Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance, 2016