Being smart only takes you so far in life. You probably know a person (or several) whose level of intelligence seems questionable, yet has managed to achieve a great deal success. That person is not an anomaly. According to a new paper from Dutch and American economists, success is correlated with aspects of your personality.
The results from the study point to personality qualities such as diligence, perseverance and self-discipline as stronger drivers to success than your IQ does. "Personality is generally more predictive than IQ on a variety of important life outcomes," the authors wrote in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That's not to say your IQ is irrelevant. Someone with a below-average IQ would not necessarily be able to achieve success simply through perseverance. What the results do say, however, is that someone who "tests smart" doesn't have a surefire shot to success. They need other qualities to get them there as well.
Why personality is just as important as IQ
This conclusion was based on the examination of several data sets which included the grades, IQs, tests scores and personality assessment results of people in the U.K., U.S. and The Netherlands. In digging into the data points, the study found grades and results from achievement tests were better at predicting success than IQ scores alone. According to one of the study's co-authors, economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman, grades represent more than your pure intelligence; your grades also incorporate your non-cognitive skills.
What the heck are non-cognitive skills? Some people also call them soft skills, character skills or even personal success skills. The Economic Policy Institute identifies some of these crucial success predictors as critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, social skills, persistence, creativity and self-control. This would include how you comport yourself in an interview, how well you think on your feet and how you interact with your colleagues -- all crucial for achieving success in any field.
In a previous paper, Heckman made the case for teaching these non-cognitive skills to help foster success. "Character is a skill, not a trait," he wrote. He supports early childhood development programs that include character skill development curriculum. The earlier we can teach kids these character skills, he says, the better we set them up for success.