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Secret Ingredient for Success

Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield, authors of the forthcoming book The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well, with an op-ed in the times. According to them, the key to success is brutal self-assessment.

What happens to organizations and people when they find obstacles in their paths?

Professor Argyris called the most common response single loop learning — an insular mental process in which we consider possible external or technical reasons for obstacles.

LESS common but vastly more effective is the cognitive approach that Professor Argyris called double-loop learning. In this mode we — like Mr. Chang — question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals.

In interviews we did with high achievers for a book, we expected to hear that talent, persistence, dedication and luck played crucial roles in their success. Surprisingly, however, self-awareness played an equally strong role.

The successful people we spoke with — in business, entertainment, sports and the arts — all had similar responses when faced with obstacles: they subjected themselves to fairly merciless self-examination that prompted reinvention of their goals and the methods by which they endeavored to achieve them.

This isn’t new. In Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin writes:

Excellent performers judge themselves differently from the way other people do. … critical part of self-evaluation is deciding what caused those errors. Average performers believe their errors were caused by factors outside their control: My opponent got lucky; the task was too hard; I just don’t have the natural ability for this. Top performers, by contrast, believe they are responsible for their errors. Note that this is not just a difference of personality or attitude. Recall that the best performers have set highly specific, technique-based goals and strategies for themselves; they have though through exactly how they intent to achieve what they want. So when something doesn’t work, they can relate the failure to specific elements of their performance that may have misfired. (more)