Whenever you read about the secrets of success, you’ll no doubt come across that well-known quote from Thomas Edison, that “genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration”.
While inventing the lightbulb, we are told, he tried 3,000 attempts before finally finding a suitable filament that would glow without immediately burning out. The story is meant to be the inspirational reminder that things like natural creativity are often much less important than dogged determination.
There’s no doubt that passion and perseverance are essential to reaching your long-term goals. But it’s important to remember the strategic process that Edison went through to reach his goal. He didn’t just haphazardly move from one failed design after another, after all, but constantly adapted and refined his ideas. “I would construct a theory and work on its lines until I found it was untenable,” he told Harper’s magazine in 1890. “Then it would be discarded at once and another theory evolved.” At each step of the journey, he was making intelligent decisions that learnt from the failures and built on the small successes.
As I explained in a recent piece for BBC Worklife, this represents a “strategic mindset” – which describes the tendency to question and refine your current approach in the face of setbacks and challenges. While others diligently follow the same convoluted path, people with the strategic mindset are constantly looking for a more efficient route forwards. You can read more about this cutting-edge at by Patricia Chen at the National University of Singapore here.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the warm response to this article (including an enthusiastic discussion on LinkedIn). If you are interested in other ways of improving perseverence and self control, you can read my other recent articles on character development – all for the BBC’s international website:
The ‘Batman Effect’: How having an alter ego empowers you
Thinking of yourself as a separate entity can reduce anxiety, while also kicking up some major benefits for your confidence and determination.
The strategy that turns daydreams into reality
Psychologists have found a single habit that sabotages most goals – and the way to correct it
How self-control can unleash your dark side
People with great willpower are often lauded over their peers with less self-control. But having strong character may not always be a good thing
In other news, I was delighted to appear on the Parlia podcast with Turi Munthe. Here’s the blurb:
S1 E8: How Intelligence Works
“Rationality is trying to find the truth by weighing up the evidence. People with high intelligence alone don’t do that so you need something else to encourage you to use your intelligence. Curiosity… The more curious someone is, the more likely they are to escape motivated reasoning”
Turi speaks to science writer and author of The Intelligence Trap David Robson about what intelligence is, why it’s different to rationality, and what its value is in our everyday lives.
Together, they discuss:
What is intelligence? How does it create inequality? Do IQ tests favour the rich? Is intelligence a form of propaganda? What is the growth mindset? Where do rationality and morality intersect? And why do very clever people make incredibly stupid decisions? You can listen here: How Intelligence Works.
For context, Parlia is a fascinating new project that aims to “map the different world’s opinions” by offering an even handed discussion of the different sides of complex questions. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.