Self-Reports Spur Self-Reflection

MIT Sloan Management Review
Tue, 19 Feb 2019 17:01:29 +0000

Editor’s note: This is the third post in a new MIT SMR series about people analytics.

“Know thyself.”
— Socrates

I’ve been studying grit for 15 years, but the notion that some people stick with things much longer than others is not at all new. A century ago, Stanford psychologist Catherine Cox studied the lives of 301 eminent achievers. Cox concluded that the artists, scientists, and leaders who change the world have a striking tendency to hold fast to their goals and to work toward these far-off ambitions with dogged tenacity.

Picking up where Cox left off, I wanted to see whether grit — the combination of passion and perseverance toward long-term goals — would predict achievement in the 21st century. I was curious about how this aspect of our character relates to age, gender, and education. I wanted to unpack grit’s motivational, behavioral, and cognitive underpinnings. In short, my aim was to study grit scientifically. To do so, I needed to measure it.

Why are scientists like me obsessed with measurement? In the immortal words of Lord Kelvin: “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.”

That is, a valid measure illuminates what you’re trying to understand, and understanding is the whole point of scientific inquiry.

Questionnaires are one way to assess personal qualities like grit. Performance tasks, informant ratings, biodata, and interviews are alternatives. But in psychological research, in part because of their low cost and ease of administration, self-report questionnaires are far more common.

The disadvantages of asking people to rate themselves are obvious. You can, if you’re motivated, fake your way to a higher score. You may interpret the questionnaire items differently than other people. You might hold yourself to higher (or lower) standards. The list goes on.

But self-report questionnaires have unique advantages, too. Nobody in the world but you — not your boss, your best friend, or even your spouse — has 24/7 access to your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Nobody has more interest in the subject (you) than yourself. And collecting data using questionnaires can be incredibly efficient: In my experience, it takes about six seconds for the average adult to read, reflect, and respond to a questionnaire item.

For those reasons, I decided to develop a self-report questionnaire for grit. I began by interviewing high achievers. I asked these exceptional women and men, who had all garnered accolades in their respective fields, how they had become successful. And I inquired about their heroes and what they most admire about them.

Next, I distilled these observations into self-report statements that, whittled down to the 12 most reliable and valid, became the Grit Scale. Further streamlining those to eight items, I then created the Short Grit Scale. Perseverance was indexed, for example, by items like “I finish whatever I begin.” Passion indicators were harder to develop, in part because when you ask people whether they have long-term goals, they tend to answer affirmatively. So instead, I wrote reverse-coded statements like “I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.”

With this questionnaire, I discovered that grit predicts professional and academic success, particularly in domains that are both challenging and personally meaningful. I found grit to be essentially unrelated to talent and intelligence. Instead, grit predicts how much you practice in order to improve. Grit scores increase with age and, perhaps relatedly, go hand in hand with the motivation to seek purpose and meaning in life, as opposed to pleasure.
As a scientist, I hadn’t thought much about the effect that taking the Grit Scale might have on people. Then I met two visionary educators named Dave Levin and Dominic Randolph. Dave cofounded the KIPP charter school network, and Dominic is the head of school at Riverdale Country School.

Both educators were passionate about character development and wanted to help their students grasp what it means to exemplify character strengths like grit, gratitude, and curiosity. In their experience, talking about character in the abstract was fruitless because, well, exhortations like “Show some grit!” are utterly mysterious to a 13-year-old who can’t read your mind.

Their intuition was that young people would benefit from knowing about qualities like grit in more granular detail. They believed that engaging in conversation — not just once but repeatedly — about specific thoughts, feelings, and behaviors exemplifying character would scaffold self-awareness and, in turn, growth. In sum, they believed that carefully crafted questionnaires might make that conversation easier to have by laying the foundations of a shared language of character development.

Together, Dave, Dominic, and I worked to develop a questionnaire that became known as the Character Growth Card. Unlike the original Grit Scale, items for grit and other character strengths were written with adolescents in mind and in fact were generated in collaboration with middle school students and their teachers.

After establishing that the Character Growth Card was reliable and valid both in its self-report version and as an informant rating form designed for teachers to assess their students, Dave and Dominic invited students and teachers in their schools to complete the questionnaire at the end of each marking period. Next, the item-level data was openly shared with each student, their teachers, and the students’ parents. Unlike academic grades or standardized achievement test scores, there were no stakes: This information was not used to reward or punish “good” or “bad” behavior. Instead, openly discussing these observations was the whole point.

In his famous Last Lecture, Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch said that “educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective.” And Dave and Dominic saw the questionnaire as a tool to do exactly that.

So did Anson Dorrance, a soccer coach I met a few years later.

Anson is the most decorated coach in women’s soccer history and among the most celebrated coaches in any sport. His team, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, has won a record 22 national championships. He coached the U.S. women’s national team to their first World Cup title and more recently racked up his record 1,000th career victory.

In our very first conversation, Anson told me he decided to give the Grit Scale to all 31 players on his team. I was surprised. In such a tiny sample, the questionnaire would not be precise enough for scientific research. Two beats later, I realized that Anson wouldn’t be doing scientific research, anyway.

So why go to the trouble?

“I give it so that my players have a deeper appreciation for the critical qualities of successful people,” Anson explained. “In some cases, the scale captures them, and in some cases, it exposes them.”

Year after year, returning players take the Grit Scale again. Anson thinks that reading the Grit Scale questions and then reflecting on how they do or don’t apply helps his players see how gritty they are now, relative to before. The questions don’t automatically make anyone grittier, of course. But self-awareness, he reasons, is one step toward self-actualization.

Frankly, the idea that a questionnaire like the Grit Scale might be useful as a tool for self-reflection hadn’t occurred to me until Dave and Dominic, and then Anson, suggested it. But in retrospect, the notion seems blindingly obvious.

After all, in my former career as a management consultant, I’d taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Despite doubtful psychometric properties and limited predictive validity, human resources specialists recognize, respect, and administer the MBTI more than any other measure. If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’ve taken the MBTI — and taken its four-letter horoscope seriously. (I am, for the record, an ENFP.)

Because the limitations of the MBTI have been so eloquently described elsewhere, I’ll simply point out that millions of people might be wrong about the validity of its insights, but they aren’t wrong about the need — urgent and sincere — for insight itself. We pay good money and invest precious time in the MBTI because we want to know ourselves better.

Do I know for sure whether self-report questionnaires indeed accomplish that purpose? Was it helpful to publish the Grit Scale in my book at the behest of my editor, who said, “Angela, trust me. People will want to take the scale. They want to learn something about themselves”?

There’s indirect evidence that reflecting on the items in self-report personality questionnaires might catalyze self-awareness and personal development. We know, for example, that asking hypothetical questions about a specific behavior can bias us to engage in that behavior in the future.

It is also well-established that self-monitoring, the intentional and consistent observation of your own behavior, supports self-control in domains as diverse as dieting, abstinence from drinking, and schoolwork.

More recently, a handful of positive psychology intervention studies suggests that identifying and then being encouraged to develop your strengths may increase well-being.

Although more research is needed, I am compelled by the possibility that questionnaires might deepen self-awareness of strengths like grit. I am intrigued by the possibility that questionnaires used in this way might contribute to shared language, common understanding, and, ultimately, a culture of character.

For a century, psychologists have been obsessed with measurement for the purpose of scientific research. For much longer, human beings have been concerned with self-awareness and self-development.

How gritty are you? As a scientist, I’d like to know. But perhaps you, too, are just as curious. And perhaps the same measures developed for research might help you know yourself a bit better. If self-awareness illuminates the path to self-development, a questionnaire is a good place to begin.
When You Know Your Business Website Needs an Overhaul
Tue, 19 Feb 2019 06:00:00 -0800

How long do you think it takes for people to make a decision about your business judging from your website? The answer is a shocking 0.5 seconds before they decide whether they like what they see or not.

Consumers have so many choices before them. They have no reason to see if their first impression of your business is a poor one as they know they can go elsewhere.

For businesses, this first impression forms a consumer's perception of your entire company. Sleek and modern design, in the minds of visitors, represents a company that is on top of its game, one that offers quality products or services along with a high degree of customer service. However, dated, slow websites make a bad first impression and really affect your bottom line.

How do you turn things around? How do you know when it's time for a website redesign? Below are five signs that all is not well.

1. Your website doesn't work well on mobile devices.

With more than 50 percent of all internet searches now carried out via smartphones, your website has to work well for mobile. Also, Google now punishes websites that don't take mobile users into account. If your website is not mobile friendly, it won't appear very high on the search engine results pages.

Of course, a lower ranking leads to reduced traffic and sales. Having a website that is viewable via a mobile device is now essential. It must be easy to navigate and have everything displayed in a way that's easy to follow.

2. Your website is slow.

People are impatient, so if your website is slow to load, they will go elsewhere. Your website must load within 3 seconds or one out of every two visitors will leave.

People want to see what they came for instantly. There are a number of factors that affect your site's speed. You could have problems with how your site is coded.  Your server could be handling too many requests simultaneously. The file sizes on your website may require so much power that it slows everything else down.

Most of these issues are related to poor design either due to a bad developer or that your website is outdated.

Editor's note: Need a website design service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

3. You have a high bounce rate.

Look at your bounce rate. If it's high, it's time to make some changes. The bounce rate represents the percentage of visitors that come to your website and then leave without clicking on anything.

Let's say your bounce rate is 33 percent. This then means one out of every three visitors to your site aren't even exploring what you have to offer. In other words, you are missing out on a huge percentage of your sales.

This is all due to a poor first impression. Changing the design and content to something more suitable will make a difference.

4. Your design is outdated.

Web design moves with the times. An old design leads people to think your company is outdated. People feel confident buying your products or services if they feel like the business is keeping up with the times.

Assess your competition and check out their websites. Do their sites look sleeker than yours? Is the user experience better with smoother navigation? Does it make you feel that your website is nothing but an antique?

Update your site's design on a semi-regular basis, and opinions about your business will improve.

5. You have Flash on your website.

Back in the early days of websites, Adobe Flash was something everyone wanted to have on their site. It made websites look cool and you were able to play media on your pages.

Now, however, few browsers support it as the plugin itself is outdated and full of holes. If you have Flash on your website, then expect slow loading times and that frustration in your visitors will build.

This isn't an extensive list, but they are important. Do yourself a favor and get your website checked by a professional who can tell you where you are going wrong. The future of your business depends on it.

Why Modern Businesses Must Set Sustainability Goals
Tue, 19 Feb 2019 07:00:00 -0800

The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study is the latest in a long line of research that affirms how urgently and drastically we need to act to halt the progression of climate change. If we are to preserve our planet for future generations, we have to curb emissions by about 60 percent immediately.

These reports are frightening, but they also show that everyone has a part to play in keeping Earth a habitable home. It’s a call to action, not despair.

I felt this call personally when I was confronted with my own seemingly hopeless situation. I was gripped by an intense need to make the most of my time, skills, and opportunities when my son was diagnosed with cancer, and again when I was diagnosed with stage four neck and throat cancer. I didn’t know if our cancer came from genetics or the environment, but I knew the environment — the factor I could control — can play a role.


My decision to align my business with a mission to improve our planet was one of the best I’ve made. As we’ve sought to reduce our CO2 emissions, filter pollutants from stormwater or reduce urban heat loads, we have found new purpose in every project. Employees have eagerly embraced this mission, discovering new passion for their work along the way.

Private sector businesses can be just as mission-driven as nonprofits. In my experience, the world of creating and selling products allows for even more creativity and gives me the chance to make a greater impact than I could have otherwise.

If you’re ready to get more creative with your own sustainability efforts, there are a few principles you should follow. Consider these the three “green rules” of any sustainability plan:

1. Embrace a culture of sustainability. 

It should go without saying, considering the dire picture scientists are painting, but sustainability is more than a marketing gimmick. A true commitment to renewable energy must be integrated into the entire company culture.

This means thinking about the big moves like setting a time frame for taking your company paperless and the small ones like celebrating individual efforts by your employees. It means giving sustainability efforts primacy of place in your newsletters and on social media. It means encouraging personal responsibility on the part of everyone in your organization.

It also means communicating the ways in which moves toward renewable energy and less waste are improving your business and community, both locally and globally. Studies have shown the correlation between sustainability efforts, impact on sustainable development, and company bottom line. Make these correlations clear for your employees.

2. Think sustainably about your purchasing. 

If you want to multiply the effect of your initiatives, then apply the same standard to your vendors that you apply to yourself. Instead of buying the same packing materials, shop around with suppliers offering recycled content - it is more affordable than you may think. Seek partnerships with vendors who will help you reduce waste in packaging and product design. Replace existing lighting with LED bulbs.

Some decisions might require more research. Will electric or hybrid vehicles pay for themselves in the long run? A switch like that might require some upfront costs and extensive planning, but spending on sustainability will maximize your budget and boost your bottom line in the long term. Make it clear to your team that this is time and money well-spent.

3. Take real action. 

Once again, sustainability can't be a gimmick. Your customers, not to mention your employees, will see through “greenwashing” — any attempt to paint yourself as being more environmentally friendly than you actually are. A recent study showed that employees who perceive their employers’ sustainability talk as disingenuous will put forth less effort out of mistrust. If your own employees don’t believe in you, then it’s only a matter of time before your customers lose faith as well.

It’s better to start with small efforts that you can complete than to aim for a big publicity splash and have it backfire. Even small changes like replacing incandescent lightbulbs with LED lightbulbs, converting to paperless processes to reduce the amount of paper the company uses, or starting a recycling program will have an impact. Involve your employees in making a plan, brainstorming together about ways to reach your sustainability goals. With each new initiative, communicate with the whole team about how this fits into the long-term plan.

Faced with dire predictions about global climate change, it’s easy to feel hopeless about the future. But we have more resources available than ever to change those forecasts, and it finally makes good business sense to do it. We’ve finally reached a point where environmentally friendly practices make just as much business sense as doing things the old way. It’s an astounding tipping point: Next year, it will cost the same to choose renewable energy as it does to burn fossil fuels. How much can we accomplish with a whole decade of affordable clean energy?

One in four adults struggle with a mental health issue.


Efosa Ojomo, global prosperity lead at the Clayton Christensen Institute, argues that international aid is not the best way to develop poor countries, nor are investments in natural resource extraction, outsourced labor, or incremental improvements to existing offerings for established customer bases. Instead, entrepreneurs, investors, and global companies should focus on market-creating innovations. Just like Henry Ford in the United States a century ago, they should see opportunity in the struggles of frontier markets, target non-consumption, and create not just products and services but whole ecosystems around them, which then promote stability and economic growth. Ojomo is the co-author of the HBR article “Cracking Frontier Markets” and the book The Prosperity Paradox.

McKinsey Insights & Publications
Mon, 18 Feb 2019
Four important trends are changing the terms of success in retail banking. Banks need to act now to develop new skills.


  1. Posthumanism is a philosophical perspective of how change is enacted in the world.
    As a conceptualization and historicization of both agency and the “human,” it is different
    from those conceived through humanism.