How Children Succeed – Grit, Curiosity, and the hidden power of Character

Paul Tough‘s conclusions can be summed up very briefly:
- the biggest obstacle to academic & life success is a home & a community that create high levels of stress, and the absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver that would allow a child to manage stress;
- non-cognitive skills, like conscientiousness, grit, resilience, perseverance and optimism are more important than cognitive skills for young people to succeed in life;
- character matters; as the author points out, conservatives are right about this. But character is molded by the environment and as a society we can do a lot to influence its development in children; as the author points out, liberals are right about this. “We now know a great deal about what kind of interventions will help children develop those strengths and skills, starting at birth and going all the way through college.” (p. 196).
To get to those conclusions the author takes the reader on a very interesting journey, and that is what makes the book superb. It is well written and a treasure throve of scientific insights and cutting edge research, with moving stories about students, teachers and schools that make the science alive. Mr. Tough introduces the reader to innovative interventions for children and adolescents while painting insightful portraits of the people at the forefront in the quest to develop (or at least not squander) the human capital of this nation.
I felt the author’s position was very balanced. While looking for successes in his reporting, he does not shy away from highlighting the difficulties and the unknown: e.g., he puts the early successful KIPP’s results into perspective, with the good, the bad and what can be done differently; you got a sense this topic is still a work in progress; he makes it very clear that “No one [author’s emphasis] has found a reliable way to help deeply disadvantaged children, in fact.”(p. 193).
But overall there is a sense that, in the end, we will figure it out. A sense of possibility.
For passion and for work I read a lot of books about psychology, neuroscience & leadership / personal development. I always learn a lot.
But this book is different. Not only did I learn a lot. I was also moved.
I was totally absorbed and emotionally involved in the stories of the kids the author features in his narrative.
Mr Tough says that when he spent time with these young people he felt “a sense of anger for what they’ve already missed.”
I felt the same way – and that goes to his credit. I almost feel as if I personally know little James Black  or Kewauna. I did get mad on their behalf.
Mr. Tough also says he had a second reaction: “a feeling of admiration and hope when I watch young people making the difficult and often painful choice to follow a better path, to turn away from what might have seemed like their inevitable destiny.”  (p. 197).
That is what I felt as well – again, to Mr. Tough’s credit.
I am already doing some volunteer work with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
But you get sucked in the local situation and your horizons get narrower.
Reading this book widened my perspective and made me fully appreciate the depth of the problem but also the promise of better days to come if we embrace a new way to tackle it.
So I made the resolution to get more involved next year.
Here is my recommendation: read the book.
You will learn a lot – about neuroscience, about parenting, about teaching and about what makes people successful.
You will meet some young people who deserve all of our respect and admiration.
Hopefully, you will be moved as well to do something, even a little tiny bit, to make a difference.

Note: this book review was originally posted on Amazon, here –>

Happy New Year!


WIshing you all a great, productive, happy 2010, filled with joy, peace and love.

As a New Year gift, I am sharing with you my recently published peer-reviewed paper:
In this paper I argue that Solution-Focused interviewing protocols are evolutionary algorithms deployed in conversations.
My paper is an attempt to put Solution-Focus firmly within the context of mainstream science.

My central claim is that just like Evolution is a theory in the sense that it provides a “recipe” for the emergence of life forms and their adaptations, so SF is a theory in the sense that it provides a “recipe” for the emergence of solutions and useful adaptations within the context of a conversation.
Evolution and SF are both algorithms rather than theoretical constructs.

I hope this paper will generate some debate within and without the SF community.

I am open to any feedback you guys might have.
Anything that could bring us closer to the goal of establishing a comprehensive science-based coaching discipline.

Again, Happy New Year and… enjoy!



“I am a loser”.

I always thought that comment was a very American reaction to a mistake; and as such, from my perspective as an Italian, very interesting and kind of cute.

Not so anymore.

According to Carol Dweck, that comment is a sign of a fixed mindset. And a fixed mindset can lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering.

In her book, Mindset – the New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck divides people in 2 groups: those who have a “fixed” mindset and those who have a “growth” mindset.
But what is a mindset?
A mindset is a belief people have about their abilities and their qualities.

Of course people have different traits and abilities and qualities that they are born with.
People with a fixed mindset consider those qualities to be carved in stone – and that means that every situation calls for a confirmation.
People with a growth mindset consider those qualities as a starting point – there is no telling what you can achieve if you apply yourself.

Having a mindset or the other has several consequences: even 4-year olds with a fixed mindset tend to stick to easy tasks to prove they are smart vs. stretching themselves by tackling more difficult tasks; people with a growth mindset can take feedback and use it to their advantage, while people with a fixed mindset transform the feedback about an action into a judgement about their identity (from “I failed” to “I am a failure”).

The belief that talents can be developed gives people with a growth mindset a motivation to work hard and to practice deliberately, which is the secret to excellence; by contrast, people with a fixed mindset see effort as a sign of not being good enough: it’s hard for them to become, they have to be, right away.
They forget the yet. Facing a mistake, a person with a fixed mindset might think: I am not good at this. A person with a growth mindset, facing the same mistake, might think: I am not good at this… yet!

The good news is that a growth mindset can be taught.
And I now believe that teaching clients a growth mindset is the most important task a coach or a trainer can carry out.

A coach can implicitly teach a growth mindset to clients by using a language of possibility (see Mark McKergow and Paul Jackson’s SIMPLE model), by praising clients’ efforts (vs. outcomes), by helping clients to see obstacles as challenges, by focusing clients on learning rather than judging, by bringing the attention of clients to actions and feedback rather than to labels.

Switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset can open up a whole range of possibilities and opportunities  – and isn’t that our mission as coaches and as change facilitators?