Riblet#16: Risk gets Personal (1st of 2)

Risk management is about helping companies achieve their objectives, but the tools of risk management can equally help individuals achieve their goals.

Every year, 14,000 applicants to America’s prestigious West Point military academy get whittled down to 1,200.  They will already have spent two years going through the application process and have to meet high academic and physical standards; they also have to be endorsed by their congressman or state senator.  But after only the first seven weeks at the academy, 20% drop out.  

As part of the application process, West Point calculate a Whole Candidate Score which brings together all the different attributes they are looking for in an officer.  What they found surprising was that the Whole Candidate Score was not an indicator of whether they might drop out or not.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth cites this situation at the start of her book.  She studied the West Point situation and deduced that what enabled new cadets to stay the course was not any of the attributes in the Whole Candidate Score, but a mix of interest in and passion for the role, perseverance, consistency and resilience – something she summarises in the title of her book as “Grit”.

Now resilience of your organisation is something that risk managers concern themselves with, and training and exercising of plans to cope with emergency situations is part of the toolkit. But how do you apply that to an individual and their objectives and goals? 

At home, Duckworth and her family have instituted the “Hard Thing Rule” where each family member has to choose a hard thing that they want to do, something related to work or school or an activity, but which requires daily practice or exercising or effort, and then they have to do that daily effort and not quit at least until a natural stopping point – when the season is over or at the end of the year.  This is an action plan for developing grit and they monitor it within the family.

Harvard University now review applicants for having done extra-curricular activities at school, checking whether they continued them for more than one year, without chopping and changing.  They too are looking for grit.


Data Sources: Grit – Angela Duckworth, Bounce – Matthew Syed

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