Tag Archives: success

Scaling Success and Bright-Spot Analysis

When there is a large-scale and wide-ranging problem that needs a solution, we shouldn’t attempt to solve it with an equally large solution but instead attempt to break the issue down and find outlying successes to replicate.

That’s the wisdom of Dan and Chip Heath–authors of Made to Stick and Switch–saying that to solve complex problems we should change our way of thinking to ‘bright-spot’ analysis and attempt to scale small successes.

That’s the first step to fixing everything from addiction to corporate malaise to malnutrition. A problem may look hopelessly complex. But there’s a game plan that can yield movement on even the toughest issues. And it starts with locating a bright spot — a ray of hope. […]

Our rational brain has a problem focus when it needs a solution focus. If you are a manager, ask yourself, What is the ratio of the time you spend solving problems versus scaling successes?

We need to switch from archaeological problem solving to bright-spot evangelizing. […] Even in failure there is success. […]

These flashes of success, these bright spots, can provide our road map for action — and the hope that change is possible.

via @Ando_F

The New Nature-Nurture Argument

As it stands, the nature-nurture debate is wrong, proposes David Shenk in his book on the subject, The Genius in All of Us. Shenk submits the idea that we overestimate the effect genes have on many heritable traits, especially intelligence (or that ever-elusive ‘genius’).

According to Shenk, and he is persuasive, none of this stuff is genetically determined, if by “determined” you mean exclusively or largely dictated by genes. Instead, “one large group of scientists,” a “vanguard” that Shenk has labeled “the interactionists,” insists that the old genes-plus-environment model (G+E) must be jettisoned and replaced by a model they call GxE, emphasizing “the dynamic interaction between genes and the environment.” They don’t discount heredity, as the old blank-slate hypothesis of human nature once did. Instead, they assert that “genes powerfully influence the formation of all traits, from eye color to intelligence, but rarely dictate precisely what those traits will be.”

The Hacker News discussion on this article is as erudite as ever, and through it I discovered the story of László Polgár and his three daughters:

[Chess grandmaster Judit Polgár] and her two older sisters, Grandmaster Susan and International Master Sofia, were part of an educational experiment carried out by their father László Polgár, in an attempt to prove that children could make exceptional achievements if trained in a specialist subject from a very early age. “Geniuses are made, not born,” was László’s thesis. He and his wife Klara educated their three daughters at home, with chess as the specialist subject. However, chess was not taught to the exclusion of everything else. Each of them has several diplomas and speaks four to eight languages.

Shenk’s book sounds like a scientifically-rigourous version of Gladwell’s latest.

via Intelligent Life

Perceived Complexity and Will Power

While willpower and dedication matter considerably in sustaining a resolution and reaching a desired goal, the perceived complexity of the process can have a big influence on whether we are likely to achieve that goal or not.

This conclusion comes from a study showing how the subjective “cognitive complexity” of a diet was a major factor in whether people successfully managed to stick to a diet.

“For people on a more complex diet […] their subjective impression of the difficulty of the diet can lead them to give up on it,” reported Peter Todd, professor in IU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

[…] This effect holds even after controlling for the influence of important social-cognitive factors including self-efficacy, the belief that one is capable of achieving a goal like sticking to a diet regimen to control one’s weight.

“Even if you believe you can succeed, thinking that the diet is cognitively complex can undermine your efforts.”

This agrees with the conclusions drawn from separate research showing how some simple tricks to making successful resolutions include reducing our “cognitive load” and accepting the limitations of willpower.

Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource.

Given its limitations, New Year’s resolutions are exactly the wrong way to change our behavior. […] Instead, we should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year. […] A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn’t what we need.

Entrepreneurial Success Not Correlated to University Prestige

An analysis of the educational backgrounds of tech company founders has shown that an elite education  does not provide as much of an advantage as many expect. In fact the results seem to show that where one studies has no correlation to entrepreneurial success, as long as one actually does study.

The 628 U.S.-born tech founders [surveyed] received their education from 287 unique universities. Almost every major U.S. university was represented. The top ten institutions in this group accounted for only 19 percent of the entire sample. In other words, 81% of the tech company founders came from “regular” schools. […]

The average sales revenue of all startups in one of our samples was around $5.7 million, and these companies employed an average of forty-two workers. Startups established by tech founders with Ivy League degrees had average sales and employment of $6.7 million and fifty-five workers, respectively. The success of these two groups markedly contrasted with startups established by tech founders with only a high school degree. Those founders had average revenues and employees of $2.2 million and eighteen, respectively. […] In other words, it didn’t matter so much if you graduated from an Ivy. What made the greatest difference was having a higher degree.

Similar results were uncovered in an analysis of company founders from India and China.

The analysis also challenges the belief that entrepreneurs start their ventures fresh out of full-time education, with the following results shown for how long after graduation different graduates found their companies:

  • MBA graduates: 13-15 years
  • Computer Science/IT graduates:  13 years
  • Bachelor’s degree holders: 17 years
  • Applied science majors: 20 years
  • PhD holders: 21 years

The crux of the argument: “The Ivy-Leaguers may be able to get their buddies from [big-name VC firms] to return emails, but they aren’t going to be any more successful at building companies.”

Determination, Long-Terms Goals, Success

Determination and long-term goal-setting may be more contributory to success than intelligence, suggests research being conducted by Angela Duckworth and her contemporaries.

These two traits (perseverance and keeping long-term goals in mind) are affectionately called ‘grit’ by researchers in the field and—according to a 2007 paper on the subject (pdf)—play an important role in many academic achievements.

Researchers are quick to point out that grit isn’t simply about the willingness to work hard. Instead, it’s about setting a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes until the goal has been reached. It’s always much easier to give up, but people with grit can keep going.

[…] These new scientific studies rely on new techniques for reliably measuring grit in individuals. As a result, they’re able to compare the relative importance of grit, intelligence, and innate talent when it comes to determining lifetime achievement. Although this field of study is only a few years old, it’s already made important progress toward identifying the mental traits that allow some people to accomplish their goals, while others struggle and quit. Grit, it turns out, is an essential (and often overlooked) component of success.

“I’d bet that there isn’t a single highly successful person who hasn’t depended on grit,” says Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who helped pioneer the study of grit. “Nobody is talented enough to not have to work hard, and that’s what grit allows you to do.”

Duckworth created a survey to measure this “narrowly defined trait” (which you can take online), and it was actually found to be a better indicator of success than an IQ score in the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

For more on this topic In Character‘s short interview with Angela Duckworth is worth a read, as is Cal Newport’s excellent take on ‘grit’:

Maintain a small number of things that you return to, and do hard work on, again and again, over a long period of time. Choose things that actually interest you, but don’t obsesses over choosing the perfect things — as perfect goals […] probably don’t exist.