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Archive for May, 2016

Dolly_Parton_2011Dolly Parton once said, “Above everything else I’ve done, I’ve always said I have more guts than talent.”

I suspect Dr. Angela Duckworth might well endorse Dolly’s intuition that guts trumps talent.

I was doing some routine work at my desk last Tuesday and was listening with half an ear to the Brian Lehrer morning show on the local PBS radio station here in New York. He was interviewing Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a MacArthur “Genius” Grant winner. Duckworth has just written a book called Grit:  The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  I got fascinated listening to her and, when Lehrer mentioned she was speaking and signing books in person that very night at Chappaqua Public Library, I immediately made a reservation and trundled up there.  Well worth it.

Duckworth’s essential thesis is that the key differentiator for achieving success in business and in life is simply something she calls “grit.”  She defines grit as a combination of “passion and perseverance for achieving long-term goals.”  For Duckworth, it is the real key to why some people succeed and others don’t. Passion she defines as falling in love with something and staying in love. Per perseverance, she says, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  (By way of illustration, she had Will Shortz, the puzzle master for the New York Times and NPR stand up from the audience.  51aje84UleL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_She cited him personally as a perfect example of grit [impassioned perseverance]—who against all odds and discouragement, made a great success for himself in a field most folks would find just plain silly.  He actually is the only person in the world to hold a degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles.  Shortz said, “If you are tired of puzzles, you are tired of life!”  Passion, indeed.)

Her book is rich with case studies that are counterintuitive to popular assumptions about success.  She reports a study she did early on about army cadets at West Point.  (As a great admirer of modern military management and leadership, I was particularly interested in this.)  West Point accepts about 1,200 of the over 14,000 applicants they receive each year, but 20% drop out before graduation.  A great many of the dropouts occur in the first two weeks during a process called “Beast Barracks” which seems to be (intentionally) hell on earth.

West Point rates its plebes on what is called a Whole Candidate Score, which is basically a measurement of innate abilities. It turns out those who ranked highest on the Whole Candidate Score were not the ones who best survived “Beast” (as “Beast Barracks is called at the Academy.)  Duckworth developed instead what she calls a “Grit Scale” which grades the plebes on statements like, “I finish what I begin” or “New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.”  Those who score highest on grit survive Beast Barracks best—and are the ones most likely to excel at West Point.

imagesDuckworth came by her initial intuitions working as a middle-school math teacher in NYC. She noticed that her math “stars” were not her brightest students but simply the most determined.  This observation inspired her to get her Ph. D. in psychology and to begin her ongoing research on grit.

Much like Malcolm Gladwell’s, Dr. Duckworth’s research often surprises.  She challenges preconceptions about how far our talent and innate potential really carry us. For example, she cites a study of Ivy League undergraduates which shows that the smarter the students were, as measured by SATs, the less gritty they were. Her case studies of gritty people include Jamie Dimon of Chase Bank, Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks, Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and many more known and less known.

Grit  is certainly a useful read for any entrepreneur. Its research seems convincing.  However, a lot of what Duckworth talks about is preternaturally baked in to most successful small business founders already. They might find themselves (like my daughter) saying, “Well, duh.”  If I have a personal quibble with Grit it is that I would have liked to have heard a bit more about how grit can create meaning, happiness, and morality, as well as success. It is perhaps a bit spiritually thin.

11791573_91bde70979If one wants to winnow down Duckworth’s message it is much like the guy in New York who asks how he gets to Carnegie Hall. The answer being, of course, “Practice.  Practice.  Practice.”

Not profound, but usefully true. Dr. Duckworth’s conclusions are somewhat similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s in Outliers.  Note Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule”  for the achievement of mastery.

Writer John Ortberg puts the essence of grit pretty succinctly.  He says, “Over time, grit is what separates fruitful lives from aimlessness.”  Angela Duckworth would certainly agree.

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8f660045b769fbafcc505416bef89b4eWhy Athletes Can’t Have Regular Jobs

The danger of having sports stars as role models for kids….

1. Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson on being a role model:  “I want all them  kids to do what I do, to look up to me.  I want all the kids to copulate me.”

2. New Orleans Saint RB George Rogers when asked about the upcoming season:  “I want to rush for 1,000 or 1,500 yards, whichever comes first.”

3. And, upon  hearing Joe Jacobi of the ‘Skin’s say: “I’d run over my own mother to win the Super Bowl!”  Matt Millen of the Raiders said: “To win, I’d run over Joe’s Mom, too.”

4. Torrin Polk, University of Houston receiver, on his coach, John Jenkins:  “He  treats us like men.  He lets us wear earrings.”

5. Football commentator and former player Joe Theismann: “Nobody in football should be called a genius.  A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”

6. Senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh : “I’m going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes..”

7. Bill Peterson, a Florida State football coach: “You guys line up alphabetically by height.”  And, “You guys pair up in groups of three, and then line up in a circle.”

8. Boxing promoter Dan Duva on Mike Tyson going to prison: “Why would anyone  expect him to come out smarter? He went toprison for three years, not Princeton.”

9. Stu Grimson, Chicago Blackhawks left wing, explaining why he keeps a color photo of himself above his locker: “That’s so when I forget how to spell my name, I can still find my clothes.”

10. Lou Duva, veteran boxing trainer, on the Spartan training regimen of heavyweight Andrew Golota: “He’s a guy who gets up atsix o’clock in the morning, regardless of what time it is.”

11. Chuck Nevitt, North Carolina State basketball player, explaining to Coach Jim Valvano why he appeared nervous at practice: “My sister’s expecting a baby, and I don’t know if I’m going to be an uncle or an aunt.

12.  Frank Layden, Utah Jazz president, on a former player: “I asked him, ‘Son,  what is it with you?  Are you ignorant or apathy?’  He said, ‘Coach, I don’t know and I don’t care.”

13. Shelby Metcalf, basketball coach at Texas A&M, recounting what he told  a player who received four F’s and one D: “Son, looks to me like you’re spending too much time on one subject.”

14. In the words of NC State great Charles Shackelford: “I can go to my left or right, I’m amphibious.”

Ah, but they all ride to the bank in a Mercedes…

(and they vote!)

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urlMahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” (He also said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”)

Anger. Revenge. Forgiveness. Hmm. Brings together thoughts about my ex-wife, my ex-business partner, my father, my insurance company, and the guy in the BMW who cut me off on the freeway this morning.

Last week my friend Kris Slava sent me a link to a 2013 TED Talk in Amsterdam given by Manfred Kets de Vries on forgiveness, based on his paper, The Art of Forgiveness: Differentiating Transformational Leaders. It’s worth taking a look at, if you get a chance.

Kets de Vries says, “Truly transformational leaders are accutely aware of the cost of animosity.” He sees executive anger and holding of grudges as kinds of arrested development and narcissism that are damaging to leaders themselves and to their companies. These sorts of leaders create atmospheres which are closer to gulags than to healthy, vital business communities. A company with an unforgiving culture creates paranoia and fear of making mistakes. And people who don’t make mistakes often don’t do anything. They become too busy covering their asses to truly try anything.

To illustrate his point, Kets de Vries contrasts the results of two very opposite leadership approaches to forgiveness in Africa. He says, “When you fly over Zimbabwe you see a wasteland. When you fly over South Africa you see something different. Two leaders with very different attitudes towards forgiveness. If I ask my class which political leader do you most admire, 95% say Nelson Mandela. When you ask why, the answer is forgiveness.”

He notes that after 27 years in prison in apartheid South Africa, Mandela forgave his oppressors and encouraged his followers, who were screaming for revenge, to do likewise, telling them, “Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That’s why it is such a powerful weapon.” South Africa is now a lush and successful country

In contrast, Kets de Vries offers the example of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who opted for bitterness, vindictiveness and hatred against white Zimbabweans and anyone who opposed him. By encouraging supporters to forcibly occupy white-owned commercial farms, Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa, became poverty stricken. Unemployment rose to between 70-80% and life expectancy fell. Zimbabwe’s currency became worthless.

10209_thumb2_220x244For command-and-control, “tough” leaders forgiveness ain’t easy. Traditionally, this type leader does not apologize and does not forgive. Yet lots of research has pretty much proved that bitterness and focus on getting even causes stress disorders, damages the immune system and is associated with depression, anxiety, and a shorter life.

Anger triggers fight or flight reactions. Adrenaline and noradrenaline surges through the body and the amygdala goes nuts. An unforgiving leader will spread this emotional poison and fear institutionally. She will create a corporate and emotional wasteland. A corporate Zimbabwe.

Anger, vengeance, and blame are simply unproductive and impractical emotions for corporate leaders to act on. Leaders need to forgive, not because it is the “nice” and “good” thing to do, but because it is objectively the selfish thing to do. It creates a forgiveness culture that is practical and efficacious. Which do you prefer: the results of South Africa or the results of Zimbabwe?

Rosebeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School says the following: “One of the most courageous acts of leadership is to forego the temptation to take revenge on those on the other side of an issue or those who opposed the leader’s rise to power. Instead of settling scores, great leaders make gestures of reconciliation that heal wounds and get on with business.”

The more I learn about anger, the more I believe forgiveness is a crucial business skill. We create diminished, dystopian companies to the extent we nurture and hold on to grievances. So the price for holding a grudge is high.

Manfred Kets de Vries notes that we cannot change what has already happened, that there is no delete button for the past. So a leader only has the choice of how to react to perceived transgressions and how to effectively metabolize those feelings in setting the most effective tone for herself personally and thusly for her whole company.

gallery-movies-the-lion-king-mufasa-1As Mufasa says to his son Simba in the Walt Disney film The Lion King, “Think of forgiveness as giving up all hope for a better past.”

Jodi Picoult, in her novel Nineteen Minutes, puts it this way: “When you begin a journey of revenge, start by digging two graves: one for your enemy, and one for yourself.” Thanks, Jodi.

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