Get Tough

Is intelligence destiny?

That’s the logic behind the “rug rat race,” a comical contest that pits parent against parent vying to get their children into the best preschools, the most competitive grammar schools, and selective traveling sports teams, ballet classes, karate dojos, and music lessons. A pair of economists from the University of California, San Diego has documented the increased time parents now spend on ways to stimulate their pre-schoolers’ early academic achievement. They attribute this trend to increased competition in college admissions. After all, more math drill at age 3 might lead to a math enrichment class in elementary school, an AP-Calculus track in high school and that coveted MIT-admission. Internet executive, here we come!

But Canadian-born education writer Paul Tough is challenging these assumptions. He notes that cognitive skills—reading, writing, math—are only part of what makes people successful. Basic skills are necessary, but what’s done with those skills is equally important. And it turns out that noncognitive skills—curiosity, initiative, self control; character qualities—are the key. Thomas Edison famously noted that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. True success is built by perseverance and grit.

That’s why the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that character is destiny. A person’s ability to handle adversity—to keep going in the face of disappointment, opposition or ridicule—is just as important as intelligence or native talent. Steve Jobs failed and failed and failed before he brought out the iPod. The same was true of the Wright Brothers, Albert Einstein, and even George Washington. Overcoming adversity produces character. And character, more than intelligence, is what leads to success.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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