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.

Kobe Bryant – Sports Inspiration

There are good reasons why the world has long looked to top achievers in the field of sports as inspiration for success, whether in personal life, business or any other pursuit.

The willingness to focus and put in more effort than peers is something that’s very transparent when there’s a sportsperson who takes it to a level beyond others. There can always be risks associated with putting individuals on pedestals, but there are some who hold up to scrutiny. One such athlete is NBA basketball player, Kobe Bryant. His commitment to practice and preparation above and beyond other players is legendary.

Business Insider – Kobe Bryant’s Insane Work Ethic

Sagarika Ghose Editorial on 3 Idiots in Hindustan Times

First off, I need to say I haven’t seen the film 3 Idiots and I’m not likely to be rushing to do so any time soon. However, couldn’t help commenting when i saw the editorial in this morning’s HT paper.

HT Sagarika Ghose Editorial

The gist of the piece seems to be that instead of inspiring debates about how and why education needs reform (even if accentuated a bit with caricatures), people should be expressing pride in that system. Her argument appears to hinge on the fact that she can name some successful people who were educated in that system. Interestingly, most of us would name the same handful of people if asked to do so. To me, this suggests two things;
a) The number of successful products coming out of that system are not high enough,
b) There’s no proof that the IIT system made them successful. maybe they would have been regardless of education system. Really, we could suggest that the best that can be said is that the system didn’t prevent them from being successful.

She also applauds the existing education system because nobody should be afraid of ‘hard work’. I could put children to work for 8 hours a day filling a barrel with water from another barrel with a leaky cup (and then transferring the water back again. That would be hard work! It would also be meaningless and a waste of energy. In fact, in such a situation, who would be the real “idiots” – the people who blindly consented to do this when i instructed them to, or the people who dare to stand up and say that the system is at fault.

How long would a company last if they declared their mission to be “no worse than our competitors”? Their days would be numbered and so should the days be numbered for moribund education systems all over the world. However, unfortunately, because those systems enjoy the privilege of government monopoly in their respective countries the bad and the wrong get perpetuated.
(On this point, please check out the film trailer in this earlier blog post from November last year:
We are the people we’ve been waiting for )

A couple of years ago I saw a report of a survey of HR Heads who were asked whether, given the choice, they would rather recruit the intake batch of IIM Ahmedabad or the graduates. Their response should have made everyone in education sit up and take note. They wanted the youngsters with the drive, passion and fearlessness to battle to get in to that institute as raw material that they would then teach what they needed them to know.

I really worry when people suggest that we should somehow shrug our shoulders about the woeful state of most of the education available in the country, instead gloating and feasting on the elite IIT and IIM institutes. In today’s age only providing anything approximating a decent education to a mere tiny elite carries the seeds of social, political and economic disaster for the future.

In the ‘knowledge age’ what is needed is a system that ensures plenty of self-motivated hard work driven through a system where learning is meaningful, relevant and based on developing skills for the rest of a person’s life (See the UNESCO, Jacques Delors committee report from 1996).

Yes, I can agree with Sagarika Ghose that there are some wonderful educators either working in isolation or in a handful of high quality institutions, striving to inspire students to fulfill their potential and doing great work – but, they should be the norm, not the exceptions. Instead, even most professors admit that a student daring to express opinions different to those expressed to them by the professor are doomed to academic misery and damnation.

Frustration with the status quo is often expressed through literature, art, film and other media. And thank goodness for that, as it sets the scene for opportunities for real and genuine reform. Instead of wanting to hang on to some old fashioned ideas of what good education might have looked like when we were young, we owe it to the younger generation to be open minded, to recognise that they need an education that is very different to ours – one they would willingly want to work hard at.

%d bloggers like this: