Have you ever wondered what makes someone a world-renowned musician or a critically acclaimed novelist? Malcolm Gladwell would say it all comes down to practice — over 10,000 hours of practice, to be exact.But a study by Gary McPherson, discussed in David Brooks’ book The Social Animal, highlights that there is also an important attitude needed for success.
In 1997, Gary McPherson decided to study musicians — namely what exactly contributed to a musician’s success. Was it practice? Genetics? Environment? He studied 157 randomly selected kids as they picked and learned a musical instrument. Some went on to be professional musicians, and others quit playing after they left school. He was looking for patterns. Were there traits or characteristics that all of the successful musicians had?
Amazingly, the commonality was not one of the obvious ones. It was not IQ, aural sensitivity, math skills, natural rhythm, or even their parents that dictated success. There was only one question that provided a clue to indicate which students would be successful and which wouldn’t. Before they even selected their instrument, McPherson asked the budding musicians one question:
“How long do you think you will play the instrument you choose?”
The answer to this question predicted whether or not a student would be successful. If they thought they would play an instrument their whole life, they did better; if they thought they would only play temporarily, they did not play as well. Their success had nothing to do with skills — it was all about their attitude.
Logically, this makes sense. If you think you are going to do something for life, you work harder at and you are therefore better. However, we often do not apply this knowledge to our choices and work. For example, how often do you hear someone say, “I couldn’t be a doctor, I am terrible at science,” or “I can’t do that project, I’m not good at organization.”
We do not need any inherent skills to be able to be good at what we do, we only need an attitude that we are going to stick with it. Our minds and skills set will grow with us as we stick to our goals. How can we use McPherson’s study in our own lives and businesses?
1. Set your mind up for success. When facing a business project or when applying to a job opening, throw away unhelpful mindsets like “I wouldn’t be good at it,” or “I could never.”
2. Forget how and focus on when. When picturing your work or projects, start by adjusting your perception of how long you will stick with it instead of focusing on whether or not you have the right skills.
3. Dependent on others? Don’t forget to tell time. When working with team members on a business project, you can gauge how successful they will be by asking them about their timeline. This is especially good if you are interviewing employees. If you want to know how someone will be at a potential job, ask them how long they expect to do it — this will be a better predictor of their performance than anything else.
Knowing how our attitude affects our performance is an essential aspect of furthering our understanding of ourselves, and the probability of our success.