I visited with IDEO San Francisco last week in order to work on two new projects with them. As always, it was great to be in their offices and meet various team members. I am really excited to be working with them again. As you may remember, we developed the Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators with them a few years ago.Even though the work is inspiring and interesting, the most interesting thing of working with them are the “meta-lessons” I take away from experiencing their way of working and thinking about things. Here are a few of my inspirations provoked by my recent visit:
permission…permission to think creatively, permission to act naturally and be oneself, permission to dream…
creativity…they are willing to let down the barriers and just be creative…I think about how many of our workplaces, schools and homes are not supportive of creativity, and yet, developing creative people is one of the greatest challenges we face…”Yes, and…”-the core of improvisation is at the core of the spirit at IDEO
optimism…cynicism, irony, unpleasantness are jus too present in our lives. I work in a school because the optimism of young people is contagious…it makes you want to get up every morning and work. This is the spirit of IDEO and positive psychology-frame thing optimistically-you will not only be happier, but you will handle decisions, work and life better…
wicked problems…no problem is too big to be taken on…world hunger, creating great schools, improving the lives of older people…we should all take on challenges and turn them into “How might we…?” challenges…
design thinking…when I first learned about design thinking, I thought it was a methodology, a set of steps one uses to solve problems. Now I think of it much more as a mindset, a way of thinking and living…of course, one has to learn about design thinking to practice it well, but one also has to “bend” one’s mind to design thinking…
openness to learning…a lot of us think that learning stops with school or university…we need to be lifelong learners and places like IDEO support that idea of bringing a “beginner’s mind” to everything that we do. It is not that expertise is not important, but intellectual humility is just as important…
innovation…I sometimes think that we conceptualize innovation as something grand, something complex and sophisticated, and yet, it can be simple, elegant and modest…read/listen to this inspiring story that is a great metaphor for this idea…
IDEO is a worthy example of a place, a space that we should emulate. It is more than a firm or a design company. It is an experience and mindset. Lots of people want to work there, but the most important lesson is how to take the spirit of IDEO and apply it to our working, to our thinking and to our living.
“We treat, in our culture now, learning as a very academic exercise—the objective is to suck in a ton of information about this thing whether or not you’re going to use it. And I think education in our culture now has been seen in the academic sense and less in the sense of practicing something with the eye of using it to do some particular cool thing.” - Josh Kaufman
In the video below, Josh Kaufman highlights the five step process to learning anything in twenty hours which he details in his book, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast! These five principles of accelerated learning apply to all quality of skills you may be trying to acquire, whether motor of cognitive.
What will you learn?
1. SET A PERFORMANCE TARGET LEVEL
The first step in this process, and this is something that applies to every skill—could be a motor skill like learning how to fly an airplane, or skateboard, or something like that; could be a cognitive skill like language or programming— so the first step is deciding exactly what it is you want. If you’re able to really clearly define what it is you’re trying to get—it’s called setting a target performance level—the more clearly you can define that, the easier it is for you to look out into the world and find ways to get there in the most direct way possible. So for example, one of the things I wanted to be able to do was programming. And so, instead of just saying, “I want to be a programmer,” —right, doesn’t give you any information whatsoever—it’s: “here is this idea of a program that I would like to sit down and create from nothing; and it looks like A, B, C, D, E, F, G. When I make this thing, I’ll have developed the skills that are necessary in order to get the particular result. So instead of learning everything in the world about programming, I decided this is the sub-segment of that skill I’m interested in first so that’s what I’m going to focus on.
So what is it going to look like when you’re done? What are you going to be able to see or experience that will let you know you’ve reached the level that you were going for?
2. DECONSTRUCT THE SKILL INTO SMALLER SUB SKILLS
After you decide what you want, you do what’s called deconstructing the skill. And the idea behind that is a lot of the things that we think of as skills, like for example playing golf, or speaking French, or learning how to program, those aren’t exactly skills; they’re really kind of general topics that contain lots of smaller sub-skills. So it’s really hard to practice being a good golfer. It’s way easier to practice hitting off of the tee with the driver. So you take the global skill and you break it up into much smaller parts. And if you’re clear about what you want, it becomes very easy to find what are those sub skills, what are those smaller parts that are actually going to help you get to that target performance level as quickly as possible.
3. RESEARCH SMARTER & TRANSITION TO ACTION FASTER
Go out into the world and find sources of information that help you do this deconstruction. If you, for example, pick up five books on whatever it is you’re trying to learn how to do, don’t read them cover to cover, skim all of them one right after the other. And what you’ll see are the two or three sub-skills that you’re going to be using most of the time are the ones that come up over and over again. So you just practice those first. And if you spend your time practicing those things and avoid a lot of the distractions or things that aren’t going to help you, you save a lot of time and energy as you’re practicing.
You know the whole idea of researching the topic is something that I had to actively train myself out of. I love doing research. Programming was a good example of this for me. It’s like, “I want to learn how to program: I’m going to get ten books; I have these courses; I’m going to go through all of this stuff and then I’m going to sit down and write a program. It’s like no, you use the research to do just enough research to help you do the deconstruction and find the most important sub-skills first and then get out of research mode and into practice mode as quickly as you can. When you start practicing what it is you’re actually trying to do, that’s when you see the performance improvement.
4. HACK YOUR ENVIRONMENT FOR BETTER ENERGY MANAGEMENT & INCREASED MOTIVATION
This is where the behavioral psychology elements of this come in —it’s how can you make it easier to do the thing that you want to be doing instead of getting distracted by some shiny object and then going and doing something else. So instead of relying on exerting a lot of willpower to force yourself to do this thing that you’ve decided you want to do, you spend a little bit of willpower, a little bit of time and energy, altering the structure of the environment around you, just to make it easy as possible to do the thing that you want to do.
Removing barriers to practice, so things that are preventing you from doing work. Sometimes those things are environmental distractions, like turning off the TV or blocking the Internet, or closing the door—you know all the things you can do to make sure that in those early hours of practice, which are frustrating, you don’t get so frustrated that it’s easy to stop focusing on whatever it is you’re doing and start to pay attention to something else. Likewise, anything that you can do to make sure it takes as little energy as possible to start practicing is super helpful at that point. So, you know, instead of keeping your guitar in the case in the back of the closet on the other side of your house, take the guitar out of the case, get a stand and put it right next to your couch—anything that you can do to make it easier on yourself to get those early hours of practice, the better
5. PRE-COMMIT TO PRACTICING AT LEAST 20 HOURS
So all the things that we’ve talked about so far is getting set up to sit down and do the work of actually practicing. The pre-comittment and the idea of practicing at least 20 hours, there’s a lot of behavioral psychology behind that. The two big things is, first it’s a really important check on your reasons for learning this thing in the first place. Is it worthwhile for me to rearrange my schedule and stop doing other things? Is this something that I’m expecting to get enough benefit from to make the effort worth it? If it’s not, don’t do it. So if you’re willing to set aside at least 20 hours, what the pre-commitment does is make sure that you practice long enough to push through that early frustration to actually start seeing results.
So 20 hours is roughly forty minutes every day for a month–give or take–and I usually break my practice sessions into about 20 minutes a piece so two twenty minutes practice sessions every day for about a month can get you there. And so, if you’re able and willing to do that, pre-committing the time makes sure that you practice long enough to see that really good result but it’s also, psychologically, it doesn’t feel like that big of a hurdle to say, “ok, this is important to me, I can set aside at least that amount of time.” So it’s just enough that you’re going to see dramatic results but not so much that it prevents you from making the pre-comittment in the first place.
I have always been fascinated with synesthesia – a neurological condition present in 2-4% of the population (with a 6:1 female to male ratio) where one perceives information coming in through one sensory modality in an additional sensory modality. For example, when one type of synesthete hears auditory tones, she perceives vivid colors, specifically corresponding to each tone. One of my friends from college is a grapheme-color synesthete. For these types of synesthetes, numbers and letters evoke colors. While she goes by “Emily” in spoken tongue, she prefers “Temily” in written text because the color is more pleasing.
For my neuroscience course, I read a paper about the potential evolutionary benefits to synesthesia called Survival of the Synesthesia Gene: Why Do People Hear Colors and Taste Words? by David Brang and V.S. Ramachandran. The authors proposed that synesthesia is caused by an excess of neural connections in the brain. Furthermore, measures of brain activity suggest that individuals are truly experiencing the sensation of a color connected to a grapheme at the bottom-up processing level, rather than applying colors with our higher level cognition.
Synesthesia and creativity…*
Currently, a number of different avenues of research suggest that, yes, there are clear evolutionary benefits to being a synesthete. An interesting hypothesis is that synesthesia enhances creativity, particularly because the cross-activation of different sensory modalities may facilitate greater ability related to metaphor.
Research has confirmed that there is an increased incidence of synesthesia among artists and synesthetes have reported that these abilities are facilitative of creative endeavors. From a layman’s perspective, this makes sense. If you have heightened and more nuanced sensory perceptions of your world, you will be able to perceive things that others cannot, and is art not the act of seeing things in a different, unique way? As Oscar Wilde once said, No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist. The authors presented research showing enhanced sensory processing abilities specific to synesthetic modality. Individuals who experience colors have heightened color perception, those who experience tactile sensations have increase tactile acuity, and so forth.
Synesthesia and Memory …*
Another potential benefit of synesthesia involves memory. Synesthetes have better memories than the average person, likely due to the aiding of their synesthetic experience. As a learning scientist, this is fascinating because it matches with research related to multimodal learning, whereby we are better at learning things when we experience them in more than one mode because it provides multiple memory traces to the information in our brains.
I love studying abnormal psychology, because by looking at unique conditions, we are able to better understand how the average brain works. Research on synesthesia demonstrates the importance of experiencing the world in as many sensory ways as you can, and brings more credence to work on using multiple modalities in education.
“Fear of the unexplainable has not only impoverished our inner lives, but also diminished relations between people; these have been dragged, so to speak, from the river of infinite possibilities and stuck on the dry bank where nothing happens. For it is not only sluggishness that makes human relations so unspeakably monotonous, it is the aversion to any new, unforeseen experience we are not sure we can handle.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Magritte once said: “I want to create a mystery, not to solve it.” Still, without trying to “solve” these compositions, we can at least examine their construction. It’s noticeable that many of the techniques Magritte uses for creating his mysterious images are to be found in comedy writing. His pictures are frequently structured like jokes.
A good comic can take something mundane and familiar and make you see it an unexpected way, whether it’s Dave Chappelle talking about “grape drink”, or Louis CK ranting about his four-year-old daughter. Magritte will do the same by sticking a silk mask on an apple. Or having a cloud enter a room by a door. Magritte “transformed the everyday” says Professor Elza Adamowicz of Queen Mary University, London. He “created a world of irrational juxtapositions, which shake us out of our comfortable expectations”. These irrational juxapositions have the stripped-down clarity of a one-liner. “His style is neutral in a way,” says Camu. “He wanted to make surreal propositions without distracting the viewer with style or painterly surfaces.”
For Magritte, all the world’s a stage, and existence is throughly absurd. His aim is to make us see the absurdity, to jolt us out of dumb acceptance – “to make us think and imagine outside the box”, as Adamowicz puts it. To stop seeing the world as one uncomplicated thing. With Magritte, everything is something else as well. Owls are plants. Balustrades are people. Shoes are feet. And paintings are jokes. Knock knock. Who’s there? A cloud.
This focus on shifting our frame of reference and its ties to comedy reminded me of Tina Seelig, who has often mentioned jokes as a fun and effective way to practice reframing one’s perspective to enhance creativity and innovation capacities:
There are some entertaining ways to practice changing your perspective. One of my favorites is to analyze jokes. Most are funny because they change the frame of the story when we least expect it. Here is an example:
Two men are playing golf on a lovely day. As the first man is about to tee off, a funeral procession goes by in the cemetery next door. He stops, takes off his hat, and bows his head. The second man says, “Wow, you are incredibly thoughtful.” The first man says, “It’s the least I could do. She and I were married for 25 years.”
As you can see, the frame shifts in the last line. At first the golfer appears thoughtful, but he instantly turns into a jerk when you learn that the deceased person was his wife.
Another classic example comes from one of the Pink Panther movies:
Inspector Clouseau: Does your dog bite? Hotel clerk: No. Clouseau: [bowing down to pet the dog] Nice doggie. [he dog bites Clouseau’s hand.] Clouseau: I thought you said you dog did not bite! Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.
Again, the frame shifts at the end of the joke when you realize they are talking about two different dogs. Take a careful look at jokes, and you will find that the creativity and humor usually come from shifting the frame.
Reframing problems takes effort, attention, and practice, and allows you to see the world around you in a brand-new light. You can practice reframing by physically or mentally changing your point of view, by seeing the world from others’ perspectives, and by asking questions that begin with “why.” Together, these approaches enhance your ability to generate imaginative responses to the problems that come your way.
A “failure resume” is not a document of personal missteps that you send to potential employers or post on your LinkedIn profile. Instead, it’s a private exercise is meant to make students, job-seekers, employees, and others confront, acknowledge, and learn from their mistakes in order be wiser when the next challenge arises.
My students have to look at their mistakes from different angles, and to prepare for next time they face a similar challenge,” said Seelig. “It’s important to mine your failure in order to learn.”
In her blog “CreativityRulz,” Seelig explains that items listed on a failure resume can include professional, personal, or even social blunders. Students are supposed to outline what they learned from the experience in order “to extract important lessons from them.” Seelig told Boston.com the failure resume is a helpful way to get students out of their comfort zones.
“Students are used to looking at their lives through the lens of success,” said Seelig. “But if you’re only looking at your success, then you’re missing an opportunity to learn from your failures. You’re also being disingenuous, since the road to success is riddled with failure.”
The Commitment Contract concept is based on two well known principles of behavioral economics:
1.People don’t always do what they claim they want to do, and 2.Incentives get people to do things
A Commitment Contract is a binding agreement you sign with yourself to ensure that you follow through with your intentions—and it does this by utilizing the psychological power of loss aversion and accountability to drive behavior change.
By asking our users to sign Commitment Contracts, stickK helps users define their goal (whatever it may be), acknowledge what it’ll take to accomplish it, and leverage the power of putting money on the line to turn that goal into a reality.
I was intrigued by the idea and since my last mostly self-devised motivation strategy (eating one (or several) donuts as a reward for each time I went running) had completely backfired and turned me into a bona fide sugar addict, I decided to give StickK a try.The service is very simple to use– you create an account on StickK.com; select a commitment; decide how much money you will pay each week if you fail to fulfill your commitment; select either a charity or anti-charity for your money to be donated to; add friends to your network of supporters and are given the option of nominating a referee to report your progress. A referee is someone who will report whether you have indeed fulfilled your commitment each week, but since I couldn’t think of who could reliably vouch for me, I opted to self-report on the honor system. Finally, you pick a day of the week to report whether you’ve met your goal for that reporting period and each week StickK sends you an email prompt to remind you to report your performance. That’s pretty much it, all that’s left is to actually go out and fulfill your commitment.
You can set as many commitments as you like but I decided to try this out with a single goal: to exercise three times a week. I like this goal, it’s achievable, has big payoffs for mental, emotional and physical well-being but it’s also one of those things that I tend to forgo when I feel stressed or overwhelmed by other commitments. I figured StickK would help me reframe this goal as a top priority and give me the little nudge I needed to transform this goal into a lifelong habit. I selected an anti-charity that I despise and set my weekly fee at $10. It’s not much, but the thought of giving so much as a penny to this organization makes my skin crawl with disgust.
It all went well for the first two weeks, and riding the high of new resolve, I fulfilled my weekly commitment with gusto. It all went well, until it didn’t, and I failed to meet my goal one particularly busy week. Sunday afternoon (my reporting day) arrived and I realized with horror that I had only exercised once that week. All those “tomorrows” on which I’d promised myself to exercise had flown by unnoticed and I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment. I considered exercising twice that day. And yes, I considered lying. What if I said I’d met my goal, and then promised myself to exercise six times next week and never again mess up? What would be worse? Lying or donating to this organization that stands so directly against what I believe in and value. This wouldn’t be a big lie, no one would be harmed by it and in fact no one would ever know that I lied, other than me. The problem with integrity, of course, is that you can’t opt out when doing the right thing is inconvenient. After having spent most of the day going over this, (time I probably could have used to exercise twice…however shady a strategy that may have been), I finally decided I wouldn’t lie on my report, it just felt too dishonest. And so I reported that I had failed and $10 went to that dreadful organization.
I felt guilty and disgusted with the idea that I had donated to this organization, and in an effort to assuage my guilt, I donated another $50 to the counter charity. Bringing my total that week for not exercising to $60 on top of my regular gym membership, plus about three hours of my Sunday trying to do mental (moral) gymnastics over how to resolve this issue, plus–and by far the heaviest cost–the sense that I had really let myself down. It wasn’t so much that I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment–I’m convinced exercise is good for me physically, mentally and emotionally and I hold it as a value, but I’m also not a fanatic about it and missing two work-outs is not catastrophic by any means. What made me feel really disappointed was the idea that I donated to this anti-charity even though avoiding that ‘punishment’ was really quite simple and only required exercising three times a week. Yet, that week, I somehow didn’t make what I value and believe in a priority, and as a result, I gave money to a cause I find abhorrent. It wasn’t the missed exercise, it was the ethical dissonance between what I believe in and my failure to act on it that I found crushing.
This all took place about three weeks ago, and I’m glad to report that since then, I have fulfilled—even exceeded—my commitment every single week. Whenever I try to find a way to talk myself out of exercising I Just remind myself how dreadful that Sunday felt and then I’m practically running to throw on my sneakers.
If you need a little nudge to keep you committed to your long-term goals, I’d definitely encourage you to give StickK a try. Have you tried it? What did you think? Let me know …*
Screen shot of the Roadtrip Nation website homepage
Roadtrip Nation is a brilliant and much needed movement that aims to “support, empower, and encourage individuals who want to define their own roads in life.” I think the last statistic I came across on the subject predicted that people of my generation would have up to fourteen jobs in the course of their career. Meanwhile, babies born today will likely be performing jobs we have not yet imagined. The old framework for success is crumbling and this massive paradigm shift is generating a lot of uncertainty about how to create authentic, salient and fulfilling futures for ourselves and our children. With this uncertainty comes great possibility but also great fear. Everything is being questioned, from what the university of the future might look like to whether or not college degrees are even relevant anymore? Is it possible to create a future which fulfills our financial needs as well as our existential needs for meaning, purpose and passion? What might that future look like? How might we begin to create it? What does the concept of a career mean in the twenty-first century? How might we rethink it?
Roadtrip Nation began in 2001 as an idea Mike, Nathan, Brian and Amanda, four friends fresh out of college, formed when they were not sure what to do with their lives. Initially, the scope of the plan was relatively small – climb aboard an old RV, paint it green, and traverse the country with the purpose of interviewing people who inspired them by living lives that centered around what was meaningful to them. Along the way, the four realized that the conversations that they were having on the road could not remain within the confines of their own RV, but held relevancy that could be shared with a world that was losing the know-how of living lives that pulse on personal passion rather than someone else’s expectations.
These days, Roadtrip Nation has grown into a full fledged movement whose continuing mission is “to get people to participate in the Movement by empowering them to find what they love, contacting people that live a life that inspires them, gather a team to interview those people in order to learn from their stories, and to share these experiences with others.” Their website is a veritable treasure trove of excellent resources for the seekers and uncertain amongst us. Head over to browse their blog posts, watch their video series, explore the interview archives with fascinating, inspiring thinkers and doers and learn how to participate in the Roadtrip Nation movement.
Educators delight, Roadtrip Nation has a splendid (!) education initiative, The Roadtrip Nation Experience, which aims to empower students to map their interests to future pathways in life.
The Roadtrip Nation Experience was launched in 2008 to help students more effectively engage with their futures and view education as relevant and important in their lives. Developed through ethnographic study of thousands of hours of footage from the Roadtrip Nation television series and documentary film, this school-based program provides a framework for students to “define their own roads in life” through 12 online multimedia lessons, access to the web-based RTN Interview Archive, companion workbook activities, guided classroom discussions, and a culminating Roadtrip Project in which students work in groups to identify and interview leaders in their own communities. To date, over 100,000 students from 22 states have participated in the Roadtrip Nation Experience.
This welcome antidote to the fusty, no-longer-relevant career guide answers an old question—”So, what are you going to do with your life?”—in a groundbreaking way. From the team behind the inspirational TV series and campus and online resource, it is presented in a motivational format that gets young people excited to think deeply about how they want to enter and thrive in the workforce by detailing how to take Roadtrip Nation’s interest-based approach and apply it to one’s life. Prompts for write-ins are interspersed throughout, making the reading process interactive and the discoveries personally impactful, and full-color charts and graphs offer a unique visual learning experience. With actionable, realworld wisdom on every page, it’s an essential tool for today’s young professionals and the parents, educators, and advisors seeking to inspire them.
In this lovely animated short, Brené Brown, gives us a simple hack based on her research to enhance relationships, become a better listener and grow your empathy muscle: stop blaming. Sounds easy enough, and to some extent, it is.
How many of you go to that place—when something bad happens, the first thing you want to know is whose fault is it? I’d rather it be my fault than no one’s fault. Because why? Why? Because it gives us some semblance of control. […] But here’s what we know from the research: blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process. It means me calling you and saying, “hey, my feeling were really hurt about this,” and talking; not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger. People who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expend all of our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. And blaming’s very corrosive in relationships. And it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy. Because when something happens and we’re hearing the story, we’re not really listening, we’re in the place where I was, making the connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. – Brené Brown
Dwelling on trespass and the expression of anger produces more cardiac diseases and more anger. Anger is another domain in which the concept of emotional hydraulics was critically examined. America, in contrast to the venerable Eastern cultures, is a ventilationist society. We deem it honest, just, and even healthy to express our anger. So we shout, we protest, and we litigate. “Go ahead, make my day,” warns Dirty Harry. Part of the reason we allow ourselves this luxury is that we believe the psychodynamic theory of anger. If we don’t express our rage, it will come out elsewhere—even more destructively, as in cardiac disease. But this theory turns out to be false; in fact, the reverse is true. (69)
The overt expression of hostility turns out to be the real culprit in the Type A-heart attack link. Time urgency, competitiveness, and the suppression of anger do not seem to play a role in Type A people getting more heart disease. In one study, 255 medical students took a personality test that measured overt hostility. As physicians twenty-five years later, the angriest had roughly five times as much heart disease as the least angry ones. In another study, men who had the highest risk of later heart attacks were just the ones with more explosive voices, more irritation when forced to wait, and more outwardly directed anger. In experimental studies, when male students bottle up their anger, blood pressure goes down, and it goes up if they decide to express their feelings. Anger expression raises lower blood pressure for women as well. In contrasts, friendliness in reaction to trespass lowers it. (70)
Since learning about this, I have made it a point to be more aware of the emotions I express and focus on. It’s not that I suppress or ignore negative emotions–I still get angry, frustrated, sad or whiny–but I try to be aware of what I’m feeling and when I notice one of these emotions, I ask myself what I can do about it; what I can learn from the experience that triggered the emotion? Then I fix what I can, make a mental note to avoid repeating any identified mistakes and I move on. If I’m having a really bad day or difficult time with something, I make myself move– either at the gym or I go for a long walk, which I’ve found really helpful in getting rid of the way negative emotions feel in one’s body. I also try not to complain to others. Whereas before I might have sought out a close friend to vent to after encountering some setback or upsetting situation–“can you believe this?!”–I now avoid such conversations; and, it turns out, I don’t miss them (and neither do my friends, it would seem).
I have noticed feeling markedly more serene overall and I’ve been surprised by how much easier it was to choose not to dwell or express my negative emotions than I had anticipated. Now, I’ll add blame to my list of negative emotions to let go of.
Try it for yourself and let me know how it works out for you …*
This past week I had the opportunity to hear Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, speak about her wildly popular construct, grit. As Elsa summarized in a post back in 2013, grit is “passion and perseverance for very long term goals.” More importantly, her research indicates that people who have grit are more successful professionally and academically, and that having “grit” is more important than having mere high ability. In her talk at Teachers College, she discussed the nuances of this term and explained how it leads to success.
image from www.biggestjob.com
What is grit?
To understand what grit is, it is important to understand what it is NOT. It is NOT self-control, which is an important ability in momentary conflicts. Grit instead is the disposition to pursue challenging, long-term goals.
Grit involves stamina of both effort and interest. Gritty people persevere in the face of setbacks and obstacles and understand the importance of sustained hard work. However, they also have stamina of interests and passion: their interests are focused and stable. A gritty person will not abandon a goal in pursuit of something new and exciting.
This idea is not new. As Prof. Duckworth explained in her talk, Francis Galton and Charles Darwin were describing a similar thing back in the 1800s. As Darwin explained in a letter to Galton, “…I have always maintained that… men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work…”
How does grit lead to achievement? 80% of success in life is showing up
Duckworth explains the relationship between grit and achievement using the formula:
Achievement = f (talent x effort)
She compares this to the formula for distance, (distance = speed x time), with the idea that some people learn things very quickly (speed or talent) but only through cumulative learning (time or effort) can knowledge be accumulated.
As can be seen in the slide I photographed during her talk, one’s skill at something is a function of deliberate practice, and around 10 years of this sort of practice is necessary to reach mastery levels.
Duckworth finds that people who are gritty do deliberate practice of their craft, which is characterized by:
having a specific stretch goal
immediate, informative feedback
practicing repetitively until fluency
In other words, experts know what they are working on, and they put on their blinders when working on it. Deliberate practice is often hard and rarely fun.
Future directions for this research include looking at various ways to build grit, investigating how social supports relate to grit, and determining whether communities can build a culture of grit.
I’d like to talk a bit more about this idea of grit, and what I like and don’t like about it over the next few weeks. For instance, when do you give up? How long should one doggedly pursue a singular goal if one’s effort are fruitless? Additionally, we should think about times when having a diversity of passion is useful, such as for creative endeavors.
This week, I found myself puzzling about life–puzzling more than usual that is. I lost myself in questions about passion, purpose, action, fear, choices, growing up, courage, art and pain. No need for alarm, this happens every year about a month before my birthday comes around. I find myself undergoing a tiny annual existential crisis, where I question everything, worry that the gap between my actual self (my behaviors, patterns and habits?) and my “ideal” self is widening rather than shrinking and neurotically overthink the connections between thinking, doing and becoming.
The good news about all this mental time travel I undergo each year is that recent studies have found self-projection to be correlated with a greater sense of meaning. What’s a little annual mental anguish over all of one’s life choices in exchange for a meaningful life?
Several lines of work seem to converge on the idea that self-projection is a valuable exercise. Mentally traveling in time, imagining other places, and stepping into other people’s minds can give people a sense of meaning in life. Researchers have found that engaging in nostalgia, the process of sentimentally reflecting on past events, produces reports of greater meaning in life. Projecting oneself forward into the future—whether through hopeful thinking or considering one’s legacy after death—has also been associated with elevated reports of meaning in life.
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In five additional studies, we found that having people project themselves forward or backward in time or into other geographic locations—compared with having people think about the present—boosted their subsequent reports of meaning in life. The reason for this link turned out to be deceptively simple. When our research participants considered life beyond the present moment, they often conjured up events and places that were more profound, meaningful, and awe-inspiring than the current moment. – Step Outside Yourself: Meditation says to focus on the present. But life may be more meaningful if you don’t.
When I start to become overwhelmed by questions, I generally turn to the artists for insight and guidance. I’ve written a lot about the creative process on rethinked …* and shared countless insights from various artists. That’s because an artist, by definition–at least by my definition–is someone who owns, cultivates and deploys his or her own distinctive voice. At the end of the day, I don’t believe someone without a particular point of view and the ability and desire to express said point of view can be considered an artist. So I was excited to see this short video featuring French high-wire artist and general creative “outlaw,” Philippe Petit on what it means to live as an artist:
“Anyone that embarks into the arts, and even if you’re not an artist or a performer, in the art of living as an extension, will have the most difficult life because it’s the opposite of lethargy and laziness and dragging your feet and dying as you live. So if you want your life to be exciting, if you find the motor necessary for a great life, which is passion, you will have a difficult life and at the same time your life will be very easy in a sense that you will not have to struggle to find ways, it is in you, it devours you, you have to do it–using your intuition and your passion. So, for example, well people sometimes ask me, “how can I be creative?” Or. “I am a young artist and I want to develop my art.” And right there, I build a big wall between two concepts that to me are very opposite: the concept of a career and the concept of life. So, if somebody says, “You know, I am starting a career as an actor, do you have any advice?” I say, “Yes, drop the word career from your vocabulary—LIVE as an actor, you know? Don’t try to do things in a strategic way, do things as your heart tells you. If you feel you are a comic character, do not accept any drama, go into the comic and start developing it. The work of art is a perpetual trampoline; it is ephemeral; it is fragile; it is mysterious. There is no rule to describe what an artistic way of life is. So if you want to go in an artistic way of life and you carry the luggage of money and time and strategy and politics, well you will never be an artist. You know? But it’s fine, many false artists are doing that. But the true artist, in my opinion, should not think of a career, you should think of your life.
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When the questions become overwhelming, or when one cannot find an entry way into living one’s life as one wants, Van Gogh has the perfect remedy:
Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.
You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.
Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares—and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t.’
Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.
But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, ‘violates’—they say.
Finally, I think I’ve shared this before, but when I am anxious or puzzled or just generally blue I go straight to the bookstore. Earlier this week, while browsing the children’s books–which I love as I truly believe most children understand very deeply and intuitively a lot of things we forget and unlearn and complicate terribly as we grow older–I discovered Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld (who also coauthored the sublime Duck Rabbit book). It’s the charming story of an exclamation mark who feels out of place amongst the other punctuation marks until he meets a question mark who, through her endless questions, helps him discover his voice!! Enjoy …*
Awesome resource alert –> Cowbird an online repository of human experience. I first discovered Cowbird last week, when it was mentioned in a design thinking workshop I attended, and I haven’t been able to stop browsing this treasure trove of human moments.
Cowbird is a public library of human experience. Our mission is to gather and preserve exceptional stories of human life, so the insight and wisdom we accumulate as individuals can live on in the commons, as a resource for others to look to for guidance. We offer a simple set of storytelling tools, designed to encourage contemplation and depth — for free, and without ads. Currently, 41,908 authors from 183 countries have told 77,523 stories on 27,456 topics. We invite you to join us and contribute your stories.
On Cowbird, you can contribute your own stories; respond to simple storytelling prompts; find guidance on thousands of topics; browse stories by place or date and connect with authors from all corners of the world. And should you feel overwhelmed by all this choice, just hit the “Serendipity” button which will surprise you with a wonderful story. It’s far too cold, in New York at least, to spend much time outside people-watching, Cowbird is the perfect replacement to get your fix of insightful glimpses into the lives of others and our shared human experience.