Those who play the marks game do fine, but they are too con­form­ist for im­pact

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - @jay­robb serves as di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Mo­hawk Col­lege and lives in Hamil­ton.

Your son wasn’t named class vale­dic­to­rian.

Your daugh­ter didn’t get straight As on her re­port card.

Don’t panic. This actually bodes well for their fu­ture suc­cess and hap­pi­ness.

A re­searcher at Bos­ton Col­lege tracked 81 high school vale­dic­to­ri­ans and salu­ta­to­ri­ans. Nearly all went to col­lege and grad­u­ated into high-pay­ing pro­fes­sional ca­reers. They’ve proven to be reli­able, con­sis­tent and well-ad­justed. But ac­cord­ing to the re­searcher, not one of these aca­demic all-stars has gone on to change, run or im­press the world.

“Re­search shows that what makes stu­dents likely to be im­pres­sive in the class­room is the same thing that makes them less likely to be home-run hit­ters out­side the class­room,” says Eric Barker, au­thor of the “Bark­ing Up the Wrong Tree” blog and book.

“Schools re­ward stu­dents who con­sis­tently do what they are told. Grades are an ex­cel­lent pre­dic­tor of self-dis­ci­pline, con­sci­en­tious­ness and the abil­ity to com­ply with rules,” says Barker.

But con­form­ists don’t change the world. They play by the rules. They pay their dues and rise up through the ranks. They don’t rock the boat.

Yet some­times boats need rock­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tions need steer­ing into un­charted waters by trans­for­ma­tional, rule-break­ing lead­ers.

“School has clear rules. Life of­ten doesn’t. When there’s no clear path to fol­low, aca­demic high achiev­ers break down,” says Barker.

Along with re­ward­ing con­for­mity, schools train our kids to be gen­er­al­ists. Your daugh­ter or son may have a pas­sion for math or the cre­ative arts but they’re spend­ing most of their year learn­ing other sub­jects.

The Bos­ton Col­lege re­searcher found that smart stu­dents who en­joy learn­ing strug­gle in high school and find it sti­fling. Vale­dic­to­ri­ans saw it as their job to get good grades and give teach­ers what they wanted.

Yet a ca­reer where you’re great at do­ing one thing will be more re­ward­ing and sat­is­fy­ing than a job where you’re as good as every­one else at do­ing many things.

“This gen­er­al­ist ap­proach doesn’t lead to ex­per­tise,” says Barker. “Yet even­tu­ally we al­most all go on to ca­reers in which one skill is highly re­warded and other skills aren’t that im­por­tant.”

So a re­port card with straight As of­fers no clues about your kids’ sig­na­ture strengths. A range of grades would help flag where they shine and should in­vest more of their time.

“Con­sider the peo­ple we’re all en­vi­ous of who can con­fi­dently pick some­thing, say they’re go­ing to be awe­some at it, and then calmly go and actually be awe­some at it. This is their se­cret: they’re not good at ev­ery­thing, but they know their strengths and choose things that are a good fit.”

Know thy­self is one of the keys to suc­cess and hap­pi­ness, says Barker. The other is to pick the right pond.

“Con­text is ev­ery­thing. If you fol­low rules well, find an or­ga­ni­za­tion aligned with your sig­na­ture strengths and go full steam ahead. So­ci­ety clearly re­wards those who can com­ply, and these peo­ple keep the world an or­derly place,” says Barker.

“If you’re more of an un­fil­tered type, be ready to blaze your own path. It’s risky, but that’s what you were built for.”

Along with ques­tion­ing the wis­dom of play­ing it safe and do­ing what we’re told, Barker dives into the re­search to dis­cover if nice guys fin­ish first or last, if quit­ters never win and win­ners never quit and if who we know mat­ters more than what know. He also ex­plores the thin line be­tween self-con­fi­dence and self-delu­sion and how to strike the right work-life bal­ance.

“Much of what we’ve been told about the qual­i­ties that lead to achieve­ment is log­i­cal, earnest and down­right wrong. Some­times what pro­duces suc­cess is raw tal­ent, some­times it’s the nice things our moms told us to do, and other times it’s the ex­act op­po­site.”

Bark­ing Up the Wrong Tree: The Sur­pris­ing Sci­ence Be­hind Why Ev­ery­thing You Know About Suc­cess is (Mostly) Wrong By Eric Barker $33.50

JAY ROBB

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