When I was growing up in high school, I always wondered about the high achievers in the traditional sense.  The type that would excel in their studies, their sports, their craft.

More recently, I wondered about those that rose up the corporate ladders, built their own successful companies, or the ones who everyone seemed to gravitate towards, with their infectious positivity and happiness.

Having two young boys of my own, I became fascinated with this question:

What makes someone successful?  

I wanted to find out how we could prepare today’s students to thrive and enjoy fulfilment in their future.

The World Economic Forum published an article titled “What are the 21st-century skills every student needs?“, which conducted a study around important skills for the future and how to develop them.  An excerpt from the article:

Today’s job candidates must be able to collaborate, communicate and solve problems – skills developed mainly through social and emotional learning (SEL). Combined with traditional skills, this social and emotional proficiency will equip students to succeed in the evolving digital economy.

An analysis of 213 studies showed that students who received SEL instruction had achievement scores that averaged 11 percentile points higher than those who did not.  And SEL potentially leads to long-term benefits such as higher rates of employment and educational fulfilment.

The article goes into further detail on what skills will be needed the most.  Let’s explore how the end-to-end process of building a web or mobile app in a team develops some of these skills.

Grit and Resilience

“As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.”
Angela Duckworth, Grit

Angela Duckworth is a distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.  She studies grit and self-control, two attributes that are distinct from IQ and yet powerfully predict success and well-being.

A simple formula she uses to demonstrate how effort counts for double in achieving success:

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement

Duckworth mentions that there are external factors that can influence this equation – like your support network, mentors and coaches.  But this highlights how important it is to develop and champion how we bounce up from “failures” and propel ourselves forward.

Effort is also something we can control!

How we build grit into our programs

When the students begin designing their solution, they also get feedback from others.

This often results in multiple iterations to design something that is helpful and easy to use.  I often see disappointed faces and hear voices saying “Oh no, I got it wrong!”

But this perception couldn’t be further from the truth.  I LOVE telling them that it’s actually awesome that they found a way that didn’t work, really quickly.  It also happens to be an industry best practice (because it’s a fast, cheap way to ensure you are creating something that the user will be happy with!)

Now let’s take a look at coding:

They usually see this on their screen and go “Arghhh!!!  What do I do?”

Every class I ask the students what someone in tech looks like, and for 10-11 year olds they already say things like “it’s a guy with glasses who’s always on the computer, dresses funny and could be overweight.”  (a bit like these guys)

So there’s already an artificial barrier for many girls and boys to believe they can become awesome coders (if they want to!).

For those who have coded before, I’m sure you understand the persistence it takes to debug a problem.  When the whole thing breaks because you have a semi-colon missing, or you forgot to close an HTML tag, and many others.  When you find it after hours or days of investigating, and finally find it and say “Why didn’t I find it earlier?!”.

This is where technical experience and guidance can help, particularly for more advanced coding. This experience helps with facilitating their learning to fixing coding errors, and progressively turning their ideas into something real.

Breaking this limiting stereotype and changing that self-belief on what they’re capable of is amazing to experience.

I will always remember the sheer joy on their faces when their code works how they wanted.

Something we can all do

Building grit and resilience for students has applications everywhere.  From extra-curricular activities, school work and homework, and my favourite (for my kids anyway) – cleaning up!

There are several simple things we can do, like:

  • Allow them to make mistakes, and praise the fact they were brave and gave it a shot.  This can be tough I know – we want to protect our kids from feeling hurt!  But often the consequences are never nearly as bad as we think.
  • Focusing and acknowledging their own progress – how far have they come since yesterday, last month, or last year?  Think of the coffee club loyalty cards where they come pre-stamped – it changes the perception of how far there is to go to complete something.  Speaking of which…
  • Celebrate when they follow through something to completion, which demonstrates resilience in the face of distractions and obstacles.  As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook says “Done is better than perfect!”

If you’re interested in hearing more, check out Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk, “The Key to Success? Grit“.


“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people”

– Leo Burnett

I believe that everyone is creative, with their own unique way of expressing themselves.  Children are naturally curious, love to learn, and seem to often think “Why not?”.  These are all great ingredients for creativity – sometimes we just need to help bring it out.

With all the talk of robots and automation, creativity is something that’s still hard to tangibly define.  Perhaps we should look to one of the most creative people this world has ever known:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things.”

– Steve Jobs

There are so many outlets for creativity, not just in art, writing or music.

Think of coders building amazingly simple and useful apps, doctors and nurses diagnosing and treating their patients, and parents coming up with fun learnings games for their “Mum..Dad, I’m bored!!!!” children.

How we build creativity into our programs

We recognise and celebrate that different students gravitate towards different activities.  That’s why our programs provide different experiences and opportunities for them to tap into their creativity, like:

  • Brainstorming ideas that make a difference to others
  • Designing experiences that delight the user
  • Coding, coding and coding
  • Creating a story to communicate their vision

Something we can all can do

Cailin O’Connor is a professor at UC Irvine working in philosophy of science and biology.  In her post titled “Are Women Worse at Math? It’s Time to Stop Asking”  she highlights cultural and gender stereotypes and how much it influences results.

In particular, she refers to one widely documented study found that when Asian-American women were reminded of their Asian identities their math performance improved, while reminders of their femininity had the opposite effect.

How about “Feminine AND good at maths”!?

Unfortunately, society and media often dictates how we “ought to be” based on something or other, and these pressures aren’t always the most conducive to bringing out one’s creativity, or living a life true to one’s self.

Let’s support our children to re-write the scripts about themselves in a way that makes them feel empowered and happy.

Explore what they love, and create a physical and emotional space where they can be curious and express themselves to make something creative that only they can do.

Combine that with building their resilience, and woah!  Can you imagine what amazing things they’ll create and achieve?

Hope you enjoyed reading this post!  Please leave your comments below.