Trophies“Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential” (Winston Churchill).

In both life and business there are two views about intelligence; one which believes in the capacity for improvement and another which does not.

Carol Dweck is author of the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” and a leading scholar in the field of human motivation. Dweck conducted a study in which she administered an IQ test to more than a hundred 10-year olds. Following completion of the IQ test, half of the children were told they’d done well and must therefore be very smart. The other half were also told they’d done well, and so, must have worked quite diligently.

Next, each of the children were asked if they would be willing to take another, slightly more challenging IQ test. The children who had been recognized for their intellectual capacity were prone to decline the test while 90% of the children who had received praise for their efforts were actually excited about it.

This isn’t really very surprising; for the student who’s been praised for being smart, why accept a more difficult task and risk looking less intelligent? And on the other hand, for the student who’s been praised for her strategy and effort, a greater challenge simply means greater opportunity for praise… so why not take the test?

Perhaps what I find most noteworthy about Dweck’s study is that those who received praise for their efforts following the first test performed substantially better on the second test than those who received praise for being smart.

It seems clear, simply being told you’re smart, a genius, an expert, or labeled in a way that implies you’re some kind of a guru after an achievement can cause one to become closed off to new challenges—to resist opportunities for growth. And I am convinced, people who focus on and believe they can grow, do grow. Taking that a step further, what you perceive your business is capable of achieving has a profound influence on what you may possibly achieve. So what matters more—that your business appears smart or that you’re taking steps toward running a smarter business?

Dweck said, “We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born differently from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”

Making excuses for why we don’t measure up—saying we just aren’t smart enough… that’s the easy way out. What’s not easy is embracing the struggle of personal and professional growth—because growth requires sacrifice. Often times, it means risking failure and looking stupid in the name of progress.

Clay Shirky said, “The nature of an institution is to preserve the problem for which it is the solution.” I like to modify his statement to say, “My human nature is to preserve the problem for which I am the solution.”

Often times, I mindlessly (or sometimes intentionally) comply with the way things have always been done, even if what I’m doing is becoming increasingly less effective. And if I’m really honest with myself, I do this because I don’t want to risk changing a formula which has historically garnered praise and admiration. One feels resolved and accomplished when told he’s smart, but embracing the struggle of personal and professional growth is painstaking and never-ending.

To stop at being told you’re smart, a genius, or an expert is to discontinue growth—quite a sacrifice for a paltry feeling. It is through hard work and genuine effort, not mere strength or intelligence, that we will unlock our highest and best potential. In your business, where do you see the deceptive power of praise inflicting damage?

Photo by Brad K.

Jason Pantana, Realtor, Speaker, NashvilleJason guides real estate professionals through current and emerging trends in consumer behavior, sales and marketing, and entrepreneurship. To invite Jason to speak or to schedule a consultation, visit: