Does a high IQ contribute to success? Certainly. But not without hard work, experimentation, failing forward, and an undying devotion to self-improvement.

Take Elon Musk, one of the smartest people on the planet. The driving force behind Tesla, SpaceX, and OpenAI is never satisfied with where he is, and he knows that there's always room for improvement -- whatever the challenge he's tackling at the moment. But he takes the cake with this quote from a 2014 interview:

You should take the approach that you're wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.

To Musk, being wrong (and failing) is always an option because if you're not, he says,  you're not innovating enough.

This is what we call a growth mindset -- the ability to fail, learn something new, and then approach the problem from a different angle until you find a solution that works. 

The unfamiliar road to self-improvement

But the more unfamiliar road to growing and learning isn't suitable for everyone. It requires a humble character, a thirsty curiosity, and incredible resilience to bounce back from setbacks. 

Those poised to fail to success place these growth strategies in their playbook.

1. They soak up the wisdom of others.

Sure, books help, but a growth mindset stretches its knowledge beyond intellectual pursuits by seeking advice through connections and appointments to learn new things. As the saying goes, "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room." 

2. They value the role of a "reverse mentor."

Taking that last point to a whole new level, in this multi-generational knowledge economy, a person with a growth mindset takes advantage of learning from younger and less experienced people who view the world differently. By being open to reverse mentoring, more mature contributors can gain technical expertise, and a younger perspective on how technology and the world works. Conversely, smart people-oriented bosses leverage reverse-mentor relationships as an employee engagement strategy to get fresh ideas on the business. 

3. They don't view themselves as "rock stars."

People with a growth mindset reject the perception that they are rock stars since rock stars supposedly know it all and hog the spotlight. Instead, they show interest in the other person by initiating conversations to learn about what they do, how they do it, why they do it. People love to talk about themselves, and smart learners show up with the humble gesture of "I want to learn from you." 

4. They never assume they know more than the people they lead.

Today's leaders are a different breed. They are servant leaders who recognize the power of shared status and shared decision-making. They don't pretend to be "the expert." They leverage the skills and education of their knowledge workers on the frontlines, and enable them to contribute great ideas that lead to great customer experience.

5. They look for constructive criticism.

Want to improve yourself? It may be painful. In that same video interview, Elon Musk stressed the importance of constantly seeking out criticism. He says, "A well thought out critique of whatever you're doing is as valuable as gold." He adds that you should seek
that from everyone you can, but particularly your friends. They typically know what's wrong and can tell you--straight on--where your weaknesses are and what you need to do to improve.

Published on: Jul 3, 2018
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