Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 6 June 2014

The Secret Sauce for Success

To sum up all of what follows if you don't have time to read - the next evolution in healthy people and a healthy society is going to be redefining mental health from being about managing illness to fostering fitness.

Angela Lee Duckworth is an amazing speaker.  She has executive presence; from the moment she opens her mouth, you're hooked.  She gesticulates just enough to be engaging, she speaks in a confident tone at a solid pace and above all, she makes it abundantly clear that she knows her stuff.

This last one is what interests me the most.  Lee Duckworth talks about bouncing between careers, studying completely dissimilar groups - all the kinds of scattered, unfocused activity that is generally seen as traits of failures.  

What do we tell youth or job-seekers today?  Pick one subject, narrow in on it and do just that.  Find your "critical path" and pursue it, accepting no deviation.

The same mentality is increasingly true for politics, as best exemplified by the Political Right (Stephen Harper, Tim Hudak and Rob Ford come to mind) with their one-point plans and dismissal of everything else.  We want simplicity, sound-bites, one-dimensional narratives and quick wins.

It makes sense, right?  Simple sells.  Functional fixedness and message repetition sell.  We intuitively recognize that people don't want to have their brains stretched, they don't have the time to study complexity, so we continuously aim for "the low hanging fruit."

When it comes to failure, it's three strikes and you're out - if you're lucky.  If you can't get it right in a very narrow timespan, you're clearly never going to win and are therefore not a good investment.

Imagine if this was the approach we encouraged in our students.  "Look, you're clearly not a math whiz, so give up on it.  Science?  You're not bright enough, so move on.  The only think you'll amount to is manual labour, so forget all this learning and develop on your critical path to getting your foot in that door."

Education is about challenging our kids to expand their minds.  Learning to read, write, do math, think critically - these are all tough activities to undertake, like training for a marathon.  They're not easy; they take effort.  They are meant to take effort.

At some point along the way, though, we give up on this concept of a growth mindset and switch to functional fixedness.  "Don't confuse me with facts," our policy makers will tell us, "I know my plan is the only one to get the job done."

Bosses work the same way - "I have the answers, your job is to implement them.  Do what you're paid to and leave the rest to me."

Cognitive development, myelination of neuropathways has something to do with this, but again, that's complexity.  We don't want complexity, because we're too important or too busy to have to actually learn any more.

Sales, not growth, becomes the fixation.  How we feel shapes our behaviour, without us exploring the reason why.

We ask "what's in it for me?" or "what's my ROI?" or "why should I care?" putting our selfish best-interest first.  We focus on pushing content and taking what we can get, not on what we can contribute or what we have to learn.

Go back, watch Angela Lee Duckworth again.  Listen to what she says and how she says it.  She makes sense, she provokes thought, she engages - and she does it all in the span of six minutes.

Chuck Berry once said that it should take a long time to craft a great song - but only two minutes to sing it.  Songs are sourced from experience, from listening to music, from thinking about life - all activities that provide no immediate ROI, but that you can't innovate without.

It's really hard to write a great song for money, on the fly - songs are art, an expression of complex thoughts and feelings in digestible formats.

Like Lee Duckworth's presentation.  She's up there on stage, captivating an audience and inspiring people like me to share her story not because her primary objective is to make a buck or sell a book, but because she's twigged on to something that, in her mind, is so critical for people to understand that it would be wrong not to share.

Angela Lee Duckworth is an amazing speaker because she believes what she's telling.  She has dug deep and searched far, doing all the things we're told not to do in pursuit of answers to the questions that challenged her.

She has grown, she has come to see how her exploration has facilitated her cognitive growth and, through multiple iterations, she has excelled.

In short, Angela Lee Duckworth has done what all successful people do, throughout history - she has put the Why before the What or the How.  Her question has become her mission and that mission keeps driving her to greater heights.

Had she stopped at some point along the line, no one would have heard about her.  She'd be considered an abject failure.

The same holds true for people like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs.  

It's interest to note that these three men, like most successful, world-changing leaders, spent more than a little time exploring their own minds and their own motivations, as well.  They were driven to push past themselves and truly become agents of change.

What, then, is the secret?

It's the exact opposite of what we are taught, what we are told and what the marginally successful people we are told we should emulate represent.

Don't focus on selfish interest, a simple path over a short distance and get there as fast as possible. That may bring you wealth, it can even bring you fame, but these are passing things.  

The people that change the world think broadly, see failure as a teachable moment rather than an endgame and look far down the road to where we can and need to go.

They're not interested in scoring wins or beating opponents - history's actors are committed to understanding the world and making it a better place.  They are perpetual students, constantly learning, constantly iterating, constantly honing their message, drawing new connections and filling in the dark spaces of their understanding.

And every single last one of them circles back to cognition.

Angela Lee Duckworth is fascinated with how motivation works, how the mind functions and how we might develop grit through the educational process.  This is the same challenge CEOs, policy makers, managers, mentors, parents, health care providers, everyone is butting against.  Tried-and-true methods aren't working, but few know why.  They should work - carrot and stick financial motivation has been successful throughout the age of the Manufactured Economy, so it should work now, right? 

But it doesn't.  Why?

We generally come to understand a given process, but not the underlying mechanics.  Attack ads work because they do; bonuses work because they have; people that don't succeed are failures and are therefore not worth investing time or money in.  That's just how we think things work.

The way we used to think the world was flat, or the earth was the centre of the universe.  The way we think sales determines success now.  Or the way we think it's bluster that leads to success, or that success is an individual achievement.

Cognitive science is proving all of our assumptions wrong.  It's doing this by going beyond what we know and accept as true and asking why it might be the case.  People like Angela Lee Duckworth no longer accept the notion that some kids are failures, some people are just bad seeds and that people have personal plateaus that they reach and cannot surpass.

The way we understand the world is changing.  With this growing knowledge of why, new tools, technologies and processes are being developed that are fundamentally going to change our world.  

Open Government, Social-Emotional Learning, work culture, employee engagement programs, changes in metrics, new economic sectors, nudge theory, it goes on and on.

The successful people who will shape tomorrow are active today.  Many are flying under the radar, others are being dismissed entirely.  That doesn't bother them, because recognition isn't their motivation.

They are driven to know and as they learn, they see an emerging picture of where we are going next.  It's daunting, but very cool.  They want to be part of that world.  

This is the secret to success, which is the exact opposite of what we are taught.  

Understanding, not messaging.

Communication, not sales.

Be what we can contribute to, not take what we can.

Altruism is selfishness that plans ahead.

The only barriers between what we are and what we can be are in our mind.

When we are conscious of these barriers, we can tear them down.

When that happens, everything is possible.

You just have to believe it.

Angela Duckworth does - it's working pretty well for her so far.

No comments:

Post a Comment