Friday, March 10, 2017

Smarts or Persistence: Which Is More Important When It Comes To Success?

Over the years I've heard a variation of the saying, "Is it better to be lucky or smart?" It's probably a false dichotomy when we set it up in such a black and white manner. Nevertheless, a lot of success does seem to come more from being fortuitous, from being in the right place at the right time.

This week I was talking with a co-worker about technology and how I've learned something from watching IT people. When they don't know something, they just Google it. And when that doesn;t work, they Google that. They find answers by drilling down through forums and other places where answers to problems are found. In short, they have learned to be persistent.

In contrast, this co-worker said, many people bail as soon as the first thing doesn't work. Are you that way?

The funny thing is, he acknowledged that though he is fearless in this technology arena, he's observed that when working on cars he's exactly the same as his wife with computers. He is afraid to he'll break something so he leaves his engine problem to others.

Smarts or persistence. Which one is the most valuable and problem-solving?

Years ago I heard a multi-millionaire entrepreneur give a talk about his career and the secret of his success. Essentially it boiled down to persistence. He'd always had an entrepreneurial bent, and very early on started a business which ultimately went nowhere. He didn't like the idea of working for others and tried something else. And something else. His fifth business proved very successful, but it was in a technology area that shifted fairly quickly. More new businesses followed until he found one that incorporated everything he'd learned from all his failures. After 28 failures he became very successful, and wealthy. He also enjoyed being his own boss.

The new thought I had after thinking about my friend's story about persistence was this: can the same lesson be applied to relationships? When people encounter problems or discord in their marriages or relationships, do they tend to give up too soon?

Perhaps "smarts" is over-rated. What we need to succeed in business, in relationships, in life, is persistence.

Research seems to support this hypothesis. A 2014 Fast Company article by Vivian Giang opens with this statement: "Studies show smart people shy away from challenges because they fear failure. But those with grit choose to push themselves by working hard." The author cites a series of studies of fifth graders by Carol S. Dweck. Part of the logic behind what they discovered was that the smartest kids in the room preferred success over failure so they chose easier tasks when given the choice. The children accustomed to failure were not afraid to try harder tests because failure did not diminish their sense of self worth.

In the end, "Dweck’s research teaches us an important lesson about success: Smarts can only take you so far. The rest of the way is paved by grit and determination." That is, persistence.

Thomas Edison's achievements are well known, but one of his most famous quotes was about persistence. "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

At this point I could share a hundred quotes about success, failure and persistence, but will close with this one: “Do not fear failure, but rather fear not trying.” ― Roy T. Bennett

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Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it. 

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