Persistence Tops Talent, Education or Genius

Manu try

For the penultimate article in the series I wrote for Gulf news 6 years ago I focused on persistence and the reasons why it’s far more important in the journey to success than basic talent, genius or education.

(I couldn’t resist using a picture of England winning the Rugby World Cup Semi Final for this article! Swing Low, Sweet Chariot on Saturday for the final ………………)

In emphasising persistence I took three particular examples of people whose persistence I have respected.

gulfnews-article 6-29092013
(To read the article, click on the link above. It will open in either a new browser tab or window)

 

Cheats Pay a Heavy Price in the Long Term

cheating boxes

Many of us will have seen these recent images from a college exam room, as students were made to wear cardboard boxes on their heads to prevent cheating and copying (did anyone consider the scope for writing notes on the inside of one’s box?)

Whilst many were shocked at such inhumane and demeaning treatment of students, there were also no shortage of weary shrugs as people reflected that it’s really little surprise if this is what the system has been reduced to.

For my fourth article written for Gulf News 6 years ago, I turned to the issue of cheating and an aspect that doesn’t get enough attention – the long term effect and impact on the cheat themselves. In the article i highlighted three examples that had happened in some of the finest seats of learning in the world. Six years later we have new examples, including the collusion between well-heeled parents and agents to secure seats in top Ivy League universities in the US which have already seen one TV actress sent to prison with more to follow.

gulf-news-article 4-15092013

However, I’m still an optimist on the nature of humans. I do believe that as educators we need to be prepared to have the hard conversations with young people – to help them understand that it’s not consistent to believe in a right to high and lofty goals to be achieved by short cuts and acts of low integrity. High goals are great, if we’re prepared to put in the hard work, accept the tough journey for its own intrinsic value as well as the outcome. Young people need to be reminded that the people they put on pedestals have often been hurt, even scarred in the processes that took them to the top.

For proof that the journey is as important as the destination we need only look at all the lottery winners who declare bankruptcy later, failing to make the critical life changes of their new gains because they didn’t travel the road to their wealth. Their acts weren’t dishonest, but they lacked the learning of the journey that would enable them to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

Setting Goals That Drive Success

Goals

The third of my articles 6 years ago written for Gulf News built on the second article. My argument was simple – if young people want to live exceptional lives, achieve and fulfil their potential then they need to be willing to stand out.

Next, they need to set goals, but to learn from what’s known in the world about the best ways to make goals that work. Not all approaches to setting goals are as effective as others.

gulfnews-article-3-992013
(Click on the link above to open the pdf document in a new tab or page of your browser)

 

For Better Learning, Teach Children How Their Brains Work

I’ve long advocated that if we want children to ‘own their learning’ and develop the inclinations and habits to become lifelong learners, then its important that the learning process be as rewarding, satisfying and effective as possible. I’ve gone as far as to say that it’s my belief that in our schools there are no bad learners, only learners with bad  or weak learning styles and approaches.

This is not at all surprising when we consider that generally children have been taught little or nothing about their brains, how they work and how that impacts learning. It’s like all the attention has gone on outcomes, with zero effort to address issues of the process. The result is that vast numbers of learners finish up with weak or inadequate outcomes simply because their methods weren’t the best.  All ‘what’ and no ‘how’.

This short video from Stanford University shares insights from a collaboration project with an innovative school to address some of these issues and to explore the results.

Machiavelli

Machiavelli

Few figures in history have got a harsher rap than Mr Niccolo Machiavelli. In today’s language we use his name as a pejorative label for all the worst characteristics we see in leaders.

However, I believe he’s been harshly judged, especially when one considers the historical context of the time when he was writing. This was a man who understood that when you are in a position of power, or aspire to power (even if with the best of intentions), you’re going to catch dirt and cannot naively sit back and believe that the rest of the world will benignly orient itself around your goals.

The following is one of my favourite quotes from Machiavelli. Reading it I’m reminded so frequently of the benchmarks I always sought to apply when there were failures or mistakes in a team i was leading. What type of mistake was it? Was it a first, or was there a pattern? The last line is also a valuable reminder to me that I had better not ever be tempted to settle for self-pity or acceptance of status quo. It’s my life and my duty to do bold things with it. A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are built for.

I also believe that as educators we have to ensure that students spend time immersed in thoughtful contemplation on such writings, exploring their applicability in their own lives.  Only through the exploration of such ideas can they develop the inner compass that will equip them to thrive in a world that changes ever more rapidly.

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger
(it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively.
Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength
to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”

Niccolo Machiavelli
16th Century Philosopher

 

New Year Habit Changes

New Year’s resolutions are essentially commitments to change a habit that we realise consciously is not serving us well. It’s true that the evidence on such habit change isn’t good. We can find lots of surveys that show that the vast majority of people have broken their commitments to themselves before the end of January.

In my experience, this is incredibly important. We all live with regrets about aspects of our pasts, decisions made or not made, things achieved or not achieved. For many years in my life, starting way too young – I was a smoker. When i look back now I marvel at the mental kidology I was capable of in my 20s and 30s to convince myself that this wasn’t a problem in my life. I played rugby, went running and was very physically active. So, I used to tell myself that this meant the smoking wasn’t harming me as much as it might harm a sedentary person. Looking back now, I wonder how much better I might have been at those sports if I hadn’t been lighting up before and after training or matches.

Slowly, the health effects were creeping up on me so that by my mid thirties I knew ‘something needs to be done’ I started giving up! And I was successful – every time, sometimes for as little as a couple of hours. Maybe one of the biggest low points was when I agreed with a doctor that I needed to do something after a string of repeated chest infections. I was still in England at the time. The doctor put my name down for a hypnosis session. One session was meant to be all you needed to give up. It cost me 50 pounds. I had a nice rest – I think i actually went to sleep. 5 hours after walking out of the clinic i lit up again!

When I moved to India, I was still in the process of regularly giving up. I did bring about a fairly significant reduction in my smoking, but I still wasn’t giving up. The longer this went on, I now realise, the more my self esteem and belief in myself was wearing down.Every day I was doing something to myself that I hated, that in my conscious mind I was so clear I wanted to stop and that desire should have been enough. It ate away at me to think that I was someone who apparently had so little self-control. I felt condemned by own lack of effective willpower.

What I realise now and wish I had known then was that the more I fixated on the habit I wanted to stop, the less it was likely I would be successful. I needed to realise that willpower alone was not going to get me there. What I should have been doing was;

a) Seeking to understand the benefits that smoking gave me – the secondary gains, wrapped up in self-image of myself as a smoker, keeping my hands busy while anxious or preoccupied,
b) Figuring out a new, less harmful habit that I wanted to put in its place,
c) Enlisting accountability partners – people to whom I would give undertakings and who would call me out when I failed. I came across a great idea of promising to a friend to give money to a cause you vehemently disagree with every time you fail. That focuses the mind, because every failure hurts at a personal, visceral level.
I’d certainly have my mind focused if I was obliged to give money to Nigel Farage and UKIP every time I failed in changing my habit!
d) Maybe the biggest and most fundamental issue is how to deal with failures when they happen. Too many of us see habit change or resolutions as a zero sum game. The result is that as soon as we have a lapse of any sort we start putting ourselves down, condemning ourselves. Failing at a habit change has to be something we do, not something we are. It is not all-defining in terms of who we are and it’s rarely terminal. All too easily, we treat a failure as evidence that we were foolish to want to change the habit, to believe that we could.

We start to identify ourselves as a person who can’t change habits. Yet, if we stop and think for a moment and ask one simple question – can I think of a habit I had in the past that I don’t have today, we’ll all be able to think of at least a few. Once we do, we can understand how we have been successful at giving up past habits and believe that we can be successful again.

So, if like me, you’ve got some commitments you’d made to yourself to address a habit, to change something in your life – and so far your performance on the change has been less than stellar, it’s time we cut ourselves a bit of slack, stop beating up on ourselves and reevaluate to see whether we can get the change habit back on track.

When we are able to change a habit, however small, there’s enormous power to create momentum that we can channel to taking on bigger challenges and changes. My belief is that humans are rather like bicycles. We’re not stable when standing still and not very effective in that condition. We’re meant to be in movement, perpetually moving towards progress. When moving in a line, as straight as possible, towards meaningful goals that’s when we humans are at our most effective and powerful.

Onwards.

More Evidence on Performance Management

Continuing with a recent theme here are some further thoughts regarding Performance Management systems and processes in companies and organisations, after I read this article today;

Entrepreneur – The 3 Performance Management Mistakes You Need To Stop Making

To my mind, the frequency of such articles about ‘fixing’ performance management are a measure of the problems and challenges that exist, as I’ve highlighted in my earlier articles. When i was in Delhi, initially there was no performance management system. The HR and senior team did considerable research in to what was done by other organisations. We polled our teachers and other staff and had endless hours of meetings and discussions looking at different models that we could adopt.

Ultimately, though, we came to a point where there was a crunch question we had to answer – will introduction of this system raise engagement, employee motivation and delivery of the vision, mission and values to a higher level than being achieved with no PM system? Every time we asked the question, we failed to have an answer about which we could be really confident. And so, for over two years we went around and around the issues. We genuinely feared that we could finish up with something that was worse than nothing – and we couldn’t accept that.

One of the other questions that had us all stumped was – could we arrive at a scenario where every individual in the organisation was being told that their performance was at least satisfactory, if not better, and yet be failing to achieve the organisation’s overall objectives. To my knowledge, there is no process by which you can add up all the sum total of implications of all employees’ performance management objectives to determine whether they add up to the collective goals of the organisation.

A further issue raised by a number of teachers was – you say that you want us to work with a team focus, to function in teams and work for each other – yet you talk of a performance system that will judge and rate us individually. I have to say, I think they had a very valid point.

I have also sometimes worried that if performance management discussions are focused on the negative and weaknesses, this is potentially demoralizing, but if they focus on the positive staff will extrapolate that this justifies bigger raises etc. Ultimately, we want to be stimulating dialogue and discussion that ensures all team members understand where the organisation is going, their role in that progress and the standards/ metrics for individual performance within that collective performance.

The four mistakes highlighted by the article for correction are; Ignoring signs, Setting vague goals, Using subjective scoring and Delays/ Putting Off PM meetings.

The first is a fundamental of leadership and management – one needs to determine what measurables enable you to guage the health and direction of effort, track them relentlessly and be ready to take corrective action when things are not happening the way they need to. In fact, rigidly timed PM systems can get in the way of the timely intervention. If an individual needs to be redirected, that needs to happen sooner, not when their PM meeting next comes around. For the third point, the article advocates rubrics. However, I really wonder just how many different sets of these rubrics would need to exist and what this would amount to in time commitment. In addition, to be good a rubric has to be very carefully drafted and educators consider this a specialised skill. Any rubric is only as good as the common shared understanding of the words used in it. Differing understanding will lead to differing interpretations of expectations.

The article doesn’t address what I consider (see yesterday’s article) to be the biggest weakness of PM systems – that they are inherently backward looking. I feel the way forward does lie through structures of dialogue that are formative, forward focused and strongly aligned to the goals and aspirations of both the individual and the organisation.

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