Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Who will teach you to succeed?

Yesterday, I was reading about research in affective forecasting. Affective forecasting is the predictions we make about the emotional impact of a given scenario: e.g. how would you feel if you won a million dollars? According to the research, the chances are that you would be less happy than you think you would. Apparently, human beings consistently overestimate emotional impacts - good and bad.

It's only one of a series of judgments we make consistently that are less than accurate. Typically, we also attribute behaviours to character more than to circumstance (we say "he's a jerk", instead of saying "he must have had a bad morning." This means that we believe that individuals have more control over their behaviours and circumstances than is probably true at any given moment. It means we attribute our own success to our brilliance and hard work when it is possible that we were simply in the right place at the right time.

This is the great fallacy in hoping that someone else will teach us how to achieve the same kind of success s/he has achieved. Teachers are supposed to know what works and why it works, and be able to communicate that. Most successful people do not know precisely why they have been successful. Especially when they are sure that they know. So what they teach us, even when they are genuinely interested in teaching, is of limited use. This may be why it is so rare for the disciple to outshine the master.

So the people who have had success are unlikely to "teach" you to succeed. And yet we need (and have evolved) to learn from other people's experience. How do we do that if it is not by being "taught?" Who teaches you what you need to succeed?

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