Think about a person you truly admire in business. Leadership. Education. Public service. Any field.
Whom you choose to be inspired by -- because it is a choice -- often says more about you than about that person. We tend to admire certain people because we think we see something of ourselves in them. We like to think that what they do, and how they do it, reflects some (as yet) untapped aspect of ourselves.
Which is great, unless your choice of people who inspire you actually holds you back.
According to a study published this March in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, people whose success is based on hard work are more inspiring than those who succeed through "innate genius."
First, researchers broke participants into two groups: One learned about Albert Einstein, widely characterized as having been successful largely because of natural talent, and Thomas Edison, a legendarily hard worker whose success was often based on a foundation of repeated failures.
But here's the thing: The actual stories participants were told about each scientist -- challenges, difficulties, roadblocks, etc. -- were the same. The only difference was the name attached.
Then they gave each group an identical math test. Those who heard about Edison performed better, leading the researchers to feel they had benefited from a small jolt of motivation due to learning about a scientist known for hard work and perseverance.
The researchers then pitted Einstein against a made-up scientist (to take the "name" factor out of the equation), with the same result. The non-famous, hard-working scientist was more motivating than the famous genius.
Then the researchers included all three in a third study. The result? Reading about Einstein was less motivating than reading about the fictitious, non-famous scientist. Reading about Edison was even more motivating.
Why? The researchers theorize that having a "genius" as a role model implies natural or innate talent is a requirement for success. Seeing a prodigy as inspiration leads to a fixed mindset: that we are what we are.
But most people don't see themselves as prodigies. Most of us feel decidedly average. In that case, seeing someone who works and struggles and grinds as a role model is inspiring.
And leads to developing a growth mindset: that we can be what we work to become.
While it would be great to choose to possess natural talent, we don't get to make that choice. But choosing to apply effort and discipline and perseverance is a choice we can all make.
And, according to the researchers, seeing success in those terms makes us much more likely to try. And then keep trying.
You can always control how hard you work. You can always control whether you stay the course.
And that's especially true if you choose role models whose success is based on effort and application.