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Achieving – what’s it really about?

By 10/04/2020April 17th, 2020No Comments

Saturday, 16th November 2019. There were two articles in newspapers about one of the world’s top cricketers, Ben Stokes. One was in The Times newspaper. The other was in The Guardian. It’s interesting that each focused on different aspects of what makes him successful. I’ll take each article in turn.

Intelligence matters
Michael Atherton (a former England captain) commented in the Times: “Observers often confuse academic intelligence – GCSEs, A-levels, university degrees, and the like – with cricketing intelligence, but the two are distinct. You can have both, of course, but one does not automatically confer the other. Stokes told me he has one GCSE (in PE), but he is among the most intelligent cricketers I have come across”.

Atherton makes a perceptive point – and given his wide experience in cricket it’s significant. In common with many people who are successful, they often come with a poor academic record, which is not correlated with the kind of intelligence they need to achieve in their chosen area of work. It’s common amongst sportspeople that many have had quite poor school records, yet show a great intelligence in their own sport. I can also say, in my experience of almost 50 years in consulting with entrepreneurs, that the majority have had poor school records, but show a great deal of intelligence in their own area of work. They are smart, savvy people whose success has no relation to educational performance.

We know that crude notions of one kind of intelligence that somehow sums up the person are faulty. A number of writers have shown that it makes more sense to think of different kinds of intelligence. For instance, to take one example, our President, Professor Rose Luckin, has commented, in relation to Artificial Intelligence (a field in which she is a world-renowned expert) that there are a wide range of other intelligences that humans possess which Artificial Intelligence does not, and cannot, replace. One key example is that of the notion of social intelligence and of working with others in achieving results.

Emotional maturity matters
The second article from The Guardian newspaper by Donald McRae is subtitled ‘Fear is natural – just embrace it’ (a comment from Ben Stokes). This article was much more focused on emotional and feeling issues and how crucial they are in being successful in a whole range of activities, but especially sport. Stokes commented that he’d been to see the team psychologist and opened up about feeling nervous before a crucial England match. The psychologist suggested he share the fears with the squad. McRae comments: “Rather than adopt the line about being ready for battle he told his teammates: “I am nervous, I am anxious, I am worrying about what happens if we don’t win. Believe me, I am worried.” In showing his apprehension Stokes was able to normalise these emotions. For everyone else.”

Later in the interview Stokes comments on sharing worries with a fellow batsman and says that the latter’s success after that conversation was, as he put it, “no coincidence that it followed, letting out those emotions to someone”. He goes on to comment about embracing the fact that fear is natural and how he has dealt with that.

Dealing with emotions is not just something that sportspeople have to attend to. Many senior business leaders that I have worked with have had to deal with strong feelings and the extent to which they have shown maturity in this has linked to their effectiveness in fulfilling their role.

In school, in general, the ability to develop emotional maturity is neglected and not even seen as relevant in the context of a curriculum based on fact learning and exam passing. We know that emotional wellbeing developed during teenage years, especially, but also in early adulthood, is a better predictor of future life satisfaction than, for instance, exam grades. Research on this is impeccable and conclusive from a number of studies – yet such factors are neglected in British schools.

Our students in SML College do take exams and get similar grades to their school colleagues. What is most reassuring, for instance, when visitors come round, is their delight at the emotional maturity and social ability shown by our students. Independent research has shown that ex-students value these qualities as they pursue their differing careers.

Dr Ian Cunningham is Chair of Governors, SML College 01273 987629