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What I Learned from Bill Gates, by Jim Kim, president of the World Bank


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2. The importance of grit

Bill is nothing if not dogged. He exudes grit and is convinced that determination, discipline and persistence are the most important determinants of the most successful people he has known. Steven Johnson made this same point, citing Charles Darwin’s years of meticulously gathering data that led to his insights on evolution in 1838.

Our conversation turned to whether parents, teachers and institutions (educational, military etc.) can nurture these qualities in young people. The South Korean educational system in which students, starting at an increasingly young age, go to school from 7 a.m. until 11p.m., produces students that do very well in international tests, such as OECD’s PISA exams. Some observers have pointed out that this level of rigor may be contributing to the overall willpower and grit of the population. On the flip side, this has generated controversy about the collateral damage that this system is having on the mental health of young Koreans. We agreed that this is an area in which evidence is only now beginning to emerge.

We do know from research done by Roy Baumeister that while it is very difficult to reliably and sustainably increase measured IQ in populations, “willpower” can be built, almost like a muscle. Can countries, companies, educational institutions and even families, foster innovation by helping young people (and old people!) become more disciplined and gritty?

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