The 2nd Biggest Problem in Nigeria, Part 2
IT is interesting to note that Albert Einstein said, “If I were given one hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute solving it.” Then Don Shaughnessy nailed it when he said, “With few exceptions, we start solving problems before we have rigorously defined them. Sometimes that works but most times not.” To solve the monumental challenges that we face, we need to first correctly decipher them.
The first part of this article unequivocally made the assertion that: “The second biggest problem in Nigeria is that loads of our youth are lazy and casual about their lives. There is pervasive laziness and casualness amongst youths across the country. Like the huge deposits of untapped mineral resources under the earth, so lies large, wholesale, but untapped creative and economic power within our youth…but for laziness and casualness.” We fail to utilize natural advantages fate bestows on us such as size (most of the world’s population are youth); strength; passion, faith and ignorance.
For it was Dr. J. A. Holmes who said, “Never tell a young person that something cannot be done. God may have been waiting for centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that thing.” Let me share some research to give perspective to this discussion.
Why greatness eludes many
Fortune magazine conducted a research many years back in a bid to find the Secrets of Greatness, captured in an article titled, What it takes to be Great? You can still find the report on the internet. They found out that a lack of natural talent is irrelevant to great success. What’s the secret then? It has to do with painful, demanding practice and hard work. Let me quote that article copiously, so you get the vivid picture of what they said: “What makes Tiger Woods great? What made Warren Buffett the world’s premier investor? We think we know: Each was a natural who came into the world with a gift for doing exactly what he ended up doing. Well, folks, it’s not so simple. For one thing, you do not possess a natural gift for a certain job, because targeted natural gifts don’t exist.
You are not a born CEO or investor or chess grandmaster. You will achieve greatness only through an enormous amount of hard work over many years.” And it’s not just any hard work, but work of a particular type that is demanding and painful.
The article shows a picture of Golf champ Tiger Woods pictured at 3 years old with a golf club. In another picture of 2001, he continues to devote hours to practice. Buffett, for instance, is famed for his discipline and the hours he spends studying financial statements of potential investment targets. The good news is that your lack of a natural gift is irrelevant – talent has little or nothing to do with greatness. You can make yourself into any number of things, and you can even make yourself great.”
Nobody is great without work
The article continues, “Scientific experts are producing remarkably consistent findings across a wide array of fields. Understand that talent doesn’t mean intelligence, motivation or personality traits. It’s an innate ability to do some specific activity especially well. British-based researchers Michael J. Howe, Jane W. Davidson and John A. Sluboda conclude in an extensive study, “The evidence we have surveyed … does not support the [notion that] excelling is a consequence of possessing innate gifts.”
To see how the researchers could reach such a conclusion, consider the problem they were trying to solve. In virtually every field of endeavor, most people learn quickly at first, then more slowly and then stop developing completely. Yet a few do improve for years and even decades, and go on to greatness.
The irresistible question – the “fundamental challenge” for researchers in this field, says the most prominent of them, Professor K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University – is, why? How are certain people able to go on improving? The answers begin with consistent observations about great performers in many fields.
The first major conclusion is that nobody is great without work. It’s nice to believe that if you find the field where you’re naturally gifted, you’ll be great from day one, but it doesn’t happen. There’s no evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice [did you hear that?]. Reinforcing that no-free-lunch finding is vast evidence that even the most accomplished people need around ten years of hard work before becoming world-class, a pattern so well established researchers call it the ten-year rule.
Deliberate practice beyond one’s level of competence
What about Bobby Fischer, who became a chess grandmaster at 16? Turns out the rule holds: He’d had nine years of intensive study. And as John Horn of the University of Southern California and Hiromi Masunaga of California State University observe, “The ten-year rule represents a very rough estimate, and most researchers regard it as a minimum, not an average.” In many fields (music, literature) elite performers need 20 or 30 years’ experience before hitting their zenith. So greatness isn’t handed to anyone; it requires a lot of hard work. Yet that isn’t enough, since many people work hard for decades without approaching greatness or even getting significantly better.
What’s missing? The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice.” That is activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance; that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results, and involves high levels of repetition. For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day – that’s deliberate practice. Consistency is crucial. As Ericsson notes, “Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends.”
Practice makes perfect
All this scholarly research is simply evidence for what great performers have been showing us for years. To take a handful of examples: Winston Churchill, one of the 20th century’s greatest orators, practiced his speeches compulsively. Vladimir Horowitz supposedly said, “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don’t practice for three days, the world knows it.” He was certainly a demon ‘practicer’, but the same quote has been attributed to world-class musicians like Ignace Paderewski and Luciano Pavarotti. Many great athletes are legendary for the brutal discipline of their practice routines.
In basketball, Michael Jordan practiced intensely beyond the already punishing team practices. (Had Jordan possessed some mammoth natural gift specifically for basketball, it seems unlikely he’d have been cut from his high school team).
In football, all-time-great receiver Jerry Rice – passed up by 15 teams because they considered him too slow – practiced so hard that other players would get sick trying to keep up. Tiger Woods is a textbook example of what the research shows. Because his father introduced him to golf at an extremely early age – 18 months – and encouraged him to practice intensively, Woods had racked up at least 15 years of practice by the time he became the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Amateur Championship, at age 18. Also in line with the findings, he has never stopped trying to improve, devoting many hours a day to conditioning and practice, even remaking his swing twice because that’s what it took to get even better.
What about the business side?
The evidence, scientific as well as anecdotal, seems overwhelmingly in favor of deliberate practice as the source of great performance. There is just one problem: How do you practice business? Many elements of business, in fact, are directly practicable. Presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, and deciphering financial statements – you can practice them all. Still, they aren’t the essence of great managerial performance.
That requires making judgments and decisions with imperfect information in an uncertain environment, interacting with people, seeking information – can you practice those things too? You can, though not in the way you would practice a Chopin etude. Instead, it’s all about how you do what you’re already doing – you create the practice in your work, which requires a few critical changes.
The first is going at any task with a new goal: Instead of merely trying to get it done, you aim to get better at it. Report writing involves finding information, analyzing it and presenting it – each an improvable skill. Chairing a board meeting requires understanding the company’s strategy in the deepest way, forming a coherent view of coming market changes and setting a tone for the discussion.
Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill. Armed with that mindset, people go at a job in a new way. Research shows they process information more deeply and retain it longer. They want more information on what they’re doing and seek other perspectives. They adopt a longer-term point of view. In the activity itself, the mindset persists. You aren’t just doing the job; you’re explicitly trying to get better at it in the larger sense. Again, research shows that this difference in mental approach is vital.
For example, when amateur singers take a singing lesson, they experience it as fun, a release of tension. But for professional singers, it’s the opposite: They increase their concentration and focus on improving their performance during the lesson. It’s the same activity with a different mindset. So what does it take to be great? The secret is painful, demanding practice and hard work. Let real work begin!
Why success eludes many
In a more recent research, Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist, also stumbled on the keys to success. While Fortune set out with the question “What does it take to be great?” Angela set out asking, “Who is successful here and why?”Here is how she put it: “So I left the classroom, and I went to graduate school to become a psychologist. I started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super challenging settings, and in every study my question was, Who is successful here and why? My research team and I went to West Point Military Academy. We tried to predict which cadets would stay in military training and which would drop out. We went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which children would advance farthest in competition. We studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods, asking which teachers are still going to be here in teaching by the end of the school year, and of those, who will be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students? We partnered with private companies, asking, which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs? And who’s going to earn the most money? In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit”.
What is Grit?
Grit is firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger (merriam-webster.com). “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. …what I do know is that talent doesn’t make you gritty. Our data show very clearly that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments. In fact, in our data, grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent. Doesn’t it seem like these two studies (Fortune magazine and Angela Lee Duckworth) are saying the same thing? I think they are. They are both saying that we need to have grit to be successful or even great. The key to success and greatness is hard work deployed passionately with perseverance over long-term goals.
It is thus a national tragedy and a socioeconomic cul-de-sac when the people who have the advantage of size, strength and faith, the youth, are uninvolved, loosely involved or uninterested. The youth are potentially the biggest political, economic, and social force on Earth.
Only we can deliver ourselves. Only we can deliver Africa. Only we can deliver the future. Today we call a divorce between us and casualness and laziness. Instead, we embrace hard work, passion and grit, for therein lies the opportunity to lead the change we seek.