Greatness is not determined by your grades. While our educational success is primarily measured by grades in school and scores on tests, not all top students go on to succeed in their careers, or in life, for that matter. There is more to achieving greatness than simply presenting stellar transcripts from an Ivy League school.
Glenn Leibowitz wrote recently about the changing landscape of education and careers in his article titled “If robots are going to take our jobs, do grades still matter?” As background to the notion that grades determine ultimate success, Leibowitz cites a study that tracked students from Harvard in the 1940s, comparing their educational accomplishments to their careers.
When 95 Harvard students from the classes of the 1940s were followed into middle age, the men with the highest test scores in college were not particularly successful compared to their lower-scoring peers in terms of salary, productivity or status in their field, nor did they have the greatest life satisfaction, nor the most happiness with friendships, family and romantic relationships. (See Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence.)
Fast-forward to today’s technology-rich AI generation, where “robots” like Leibowitz describes are producing results faster than any human and constantly learn to improve their performance (e.g. IBM’s Watson). Those whom our culture has traditionally identified as “smart” are no longer smart enough. Machines can do much of our work faster and better. Education, and the grades that have given us so much affirmation, must now adapt to these changes that technology has brought upon us. Technology is the train that isn’t slowing down; it’s up to us, not simply to climb on board, but to be the creative, collaborative “engineers” who design better train tracks.
In his HBR article titled “In the AI Age, ‘Being Smart’ Will Mean Something Completely Different,” Professor Ed Hess challenges us to rethink our definition of “smartness” and success in business by changing how and what we learn.
What is needed is a new definition of being smart, one that promotes higher levels of human thinking and emotional engagement. The new smart will be determined not by what or how you know but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning. Quantity is replaced by quality. And that shift will enable us to focus on the hard work of taking our cognitive and emotional skills to a much higher level.
Hess describes how artificial intelligence (AI) is already impacting business operations, which, in turn, is forcing humans to retool their collaborative strategies with our new technological partners.
We will spend more time training to be open-minded and learning to update our beliefs in response to new data. We will practice adjusting after our mistakes, and we will invest more in the skills traditionally associated with emotional intelligence. The new smart will be about trying to overcome the two big inhibitors of critical thinking and team collaboration: our ego and our fears. Doing so will make it easier to perceive reality as it is, rather than as we wish it to be. In short, we will embrace humility. That is how we humans will add value in a world of smart technology.
Greatness is not achieved, however, by simply cooperating with useful machines in the age of IoT (Internet of Things). Great men and women through history, whether learned or not, pursued dreams, leveraged opportunities, took risks, and never became satisfied with the status quo. (That’s pretty good career advice, too.)
Of course, doing poorly in school is not the answer. But obsessing over grades must be replaced by learning for the sake of learning. Preparing for a career must find its motivation in pursuing what we love and acquiring the knowledge, skill, and wisdom that will equip us to reach the greatness we desire.
Technology is not just here to stay; it is driving business to destinations never before imagined. It’s time to prepare future generations to leverage each opportunity, in our schools and in our businesses, to maximize their contributions that will bring greatness to our world.