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Many of my friends have commented that they were surprised at class reunions that the people with the best academic performance were not the most successful.

The Sept. 18, 2011 NY Times Magazine cover page asked "What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?" Paul Tough's article, The Character Test: Why our kids' success - and happiness - may depend less on perfect performance than on learning how to deal with failure talks about how Dominic Randolph, headmaster at Riverdale Country School in NY City, investigated the role of character in long-term success.

He felt character was missing in our education system. It embodies 'those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. "Whether it's the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful," he said. "Strangely, we've now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT's, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they're doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure.'

In 2005 Randolph went to the Univ. of Pennsylvania to talk to Martin Seligman, whose 1990 book Learned Optimism helped establish the Positive Psychology movement. While there he met David Levin, the co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools and superintendent of the KIPP schools in New York City. Together they started investigating the role of character and how it could be integrated into curriculum.

"As Levin watched the progress of KIPP alumni, he noticed something curious: the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class. "

They looked at Christopher Peterson and Seligman's book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, where they came up with a list of 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras. Peterson consulted works from Aristotle to Confucius, from the Upanishads to the Torah, from the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokemon characters to come up with the list.
The list included:
traditional noble traits: bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom and integrity;
the emotional realm, like love, humor, zest and appreciation of beauty;
day-to-day human interactions: social intelligence (the ability to recognize interpersonal dynamics and adapt quickly to different social situations), kindness, self-regulation, gratitude.

Levin and Randolph also turned Angela Duckworth, who at the time was a graduate student in Seligman's department (she is now an assistant professor).
Duckworth's early research showed that measures of self-control can be a more reliable predictor of students' grade-point averages than their I.Q.'s. But while self-control seemed to be a critical ingredient in attaining basic success, Duckworth came to feel it wasn't as relevant when it came to outstanding achievement. People who accomplished great things, she noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take. She decided she needed to name this quality, and she chose the word "grit."

She developed a test to measure grit, which she called the Grit Scale. It is a deceptively simple test, in that it requires you to rate yourself on just 12 questions, from "I finish whatever I begin" to "I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one."

Duckworth's research convinced Levin and Randolph that they should try to foster self-control and grit in their students. They asked Peterson if he could narrow the list of 24 down to a more manageable handful. They came up with seven strengths:
Zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity.

In 2008, a national organization called the Character Education Partnership published a paper that divided character education into two categories: programs that develop "moral character," which embodies ethical values like fairness, generosity and integrity; and those that address "performance character," which includes values like effort, diligence and perseverance.
The seven strengths that Randolph and Levin have chosen for their schools lean much more heavily toward performance character: while they do have a moral component, strengths like zest, optimism, social intelligence and curiosity aren't particularly heroic; they make you think of Steve Jobs or Bill Clinton more than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi.

Other lists:
Stephen R. Covey's book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", first published in 1989 continues to be a popular self-help book. The seven habits are:
Independence or Self-Mastery
The First Three Habits surround moving from dependence to independence (i.e. self mastery)
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Synopsis: Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions (and how they align with life's principles) are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices and the subsequent consequences that follow.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Synopsis: Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Envision the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles and relationships in life.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Synopsis: Plan, prioritize, and execute your week's tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluating if your efforts exemplify your desired character values, propel you towards goals, and enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.
The next three have to do with Interdependence (i.e. working with others)
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Synopsis: Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Valuing and respecting people by understanding a "win" for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Synopsis: Use empathetic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.
Habit 6: Synergize
Synopsis: Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution, and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.
Self Renewal
The Last habit relates to self-rejuvenation:
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Synopsis: Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle.

Haas School at Berkeley:
One of the countries leading business schools has established the following Defining Principles (culture):
Question the Status Quo
We lead by championing bold ideas, taking intelligent risks and accepting sensible failures. This means speaking our minds even when it challenges convention. We thrive at the world's epicenter of innovation.
Confidence Without Atitude.
We make decisions based on evidence and analysis, giving us the confidence to act without arrogance. We lead through trust and collaboration.
Students Always
We are a community designed for curiosity and lifelong pursuit of personal and intellectual growth. This is not a place for those who feel they have learned all they need to learn.
Beyond Yourself
We shape our world by leading ethically and responsibly. As stewards of our enterprises, we take the longer view in our decisions and actions. This often means putting larger interests above our own.

"Learned Optimism" by Martin Seligman
"Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification," by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman

Moral development and Conscience
Character vs Performance
Good People
The Secret to Success
Quotes on Success

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last updated 24 Sep 2011