Inspiration, as we well know, can come from anywhere. For some, it’s stepping outside to take a walk around the block. For others, it’s taking in an exhibit at a local gallery.
For me, it’s spending time as a student again — an opportunity I get more often than one might think.
I’m lucky enough to be able to sit in an intimate setting with my children’s teachers during their regularly scheduled parent/teacher conferences. And during a recent meeting with my son’s middle school principal, she gave us a recommended parent reading list. On the top of this list was a book called "How Children Succeed — Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character" by Paul Tough. This book argues that what actually matters most is character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism and self-control. Not just intelligence.
She told us that this was obviously a departure from what we’ve often been taught — where cognition and intelligence have been prized above all and measured with rote memorization and rigorous exams. She aimed to inspire us to cultivate students at a much younger age — molding, early on, a generation with a backbone, with dedication, with tenacity.
Leaving that meeting, I couldn’t help but think about how this focus on character applies to the industry in which we work. And I thought about how searching for talent in adland often places a premium on intellect — looking for those with the "smarts," above all else, to maneuver through tricky situations.
But in light of this interaction with my son’s teacher, I wonder if we aren’t missing a larger point – that all the intellect in the world doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has the commitment to see his or her way through those tough and tricky situations, or the grit to continue to push despite all number of challenges — from clients to competitors to the culture at large.
Ultimately, grit is about how to keep working, keep pushing, keep failing, and learning to get back up again. It seems that the lessons of middle school and adulthood aren’t quite as far apart as we may think, and continuing to incorporate them into our current reality can only make us better prepared for what comes next in this ever-changing world and continuously evolving industry.
After all, learning never grows old …
Kirsten Flanik is managing director of BBDO New York.