IDEA Box #2, May 2020, Perseverance


Welcome to our May 2020 IDEA Box blog where we are discussing ‘Perseverance’. We have reviewed books from McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, Angela Duckworth and Malcolm Gladwell. This month’s article is a transcript from a truly excellent Harvard University commencement speech given by J.K. Rowling in 2008, the podcast is an interview with Serena Williams and our video is a Ted Talk on ‘Growth Mindset’. We’d love to hear from you so please keep sending in your suggestions. If you enjoy reading this blog please follow our Twitter and LinkedIn pages where we post additional nuggets of inspiration from the content we have reviewed each week.


Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc

This book tells the fascinating story of the American tycoon Ray Kroc who franchised a revolutionary fast-food concept from the McDonald brothers in 1954. Kroc went on to buy the brothers out and turn McDonalds into one of the world’s most recognisable brands. Here are four key perseverance takeaways:

1. Perseverance is the most important factor when it comes to success: This quote from Kroc sums it up perfectly; “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

2. It’s never too late: We live in a world of instant gratification where frustration mounts if plans fail. Kroc’s early life gave no indication of the success he would ultimately achieve. He juggled jobs as a salesman and a piano player working day and night and was in his fifties when he met the McDonald brothers. That fortuitous meeting was the catalyst that led to the creation of one of the world’s most iconic brands.

3. Hard work pays off: According to Kroc; “People have marvelled at the fact that I didn’t start McDonald’s until I was fifty-two and then became a success overnight. But I was just like a lot of show business personalities who work away quietly at their craft for years, and then suddenly, they get the right break and make it big. I was an overnight success all right, but thirty years is a long, long night.”

4. Constant refinement: Kroc believed that you must perfect every fundamental of your business if you want it to perform. He was always looking for ways to improve McDonalds. This constant refinement and desire to improve provided the foundation for long term growth and success.

This book was first published in 1977 but it is as relevant now as it ever was. It is available in paperback and audio book.

Grit: The Power of Perseverance and Passion, Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth’s bestselling book ‘Grit’ has come in for some criticism after parts of the research failed to replicate, but the main message still holds true; hard work and character is vital to success in life, and can overcome a relative lack of talent. Here are four key perseverance takeaways:

1. Talent does not always guarantee achievement: A culture that focusses too much on talent leaves grit in the shadows. Duckworth defines grit as the combination of perseverance and passion.

2. Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare: Talent, Duckworth argues, is how quickly your skills improve when you put in effort. Achievement occurs when you use your acquired skills. She calls for a culture that rewards hard work more than talent.

3. Be deliberate: Don’t just practice for the sake of practice. Make sure that the time you put in gets good results. Find purpose in what you do. Those who think they are serving a greater good, or helping others, are more likely to excel.

4. Find your passion: Make sure you have an interest in what you do. Duckworth notes that people who follow their passion perform better and are more satisfied.

This book provides an interesting take on one of the key drivers of success. It is available in paperback and audio book. You can check out Angela’s Ted Talk here.

Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

In ‘Outliers’ Gladwell explores what exceptionally successful people have in common. While he concludes that accidents of birth and good timing are common to all outliers, he also offers several novel theories that might reshape how you think about success and personal development. Here are four key perseverance takeaways:

1. Beyond a certain threshold increased abilities don’t matter: You need to be tall to play basketball but only tall enough. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, is 6’6″. If he’d been 6’10” it would have made little difference to his success. The same goes for IQ which I’m delighted to hear as I sit here trying to figure out where the commas should go.

2. The 10,000 hour rule: Mastery of anything demands 10,000 hours of practice. Bill Gates, The Beatles and countless other high achievers had two things in common; talent and the opportunity early in life to practice as much as possible. As Gladwell puts it; “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

3. Learn maths like a rice farmer: According to Gladwell the reason that people from Asia are often better at maths is due to their agricultural background. Rice farming fosters an intense work ethic. It is much harder than farming Western crops. It demands precision, coordination and patience which are essential qualities when learning mathematics. These customs have found their way into Asian education systems which traditionally outperform their Western counterparts but offer students less free time and holidays. The impact of this scheduling on mental health isn’t explored by Gladwell but he does point to US based schools who have adopted Asian eduction principles with incredible results.

4. Fulfilment: According to Gladwell if you want to experience fulfilment in your work it must provide three factors; (a) autonomy, (b) sufficient complexity and (c) a connection between your efforts and your rewards.

This is a compelling examination of exceptional success. It is available in paperback and audio formats.


J.K Rowling ‘The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination’, Harvard Commencement Speech, 5th June 2008

At a Harvard University commencement speech in 2008, author J.K Rowling shared her life experience with the audience. Here are two perseverance takeaways:

  1. Learn from your failures: Although Rowling doesn’t romanticise failure she knows that our greatest lessons come from our mistakes; “that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.”
  2. We need imagination: Rowling calls for greater imagination; “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

This A

Secret to Victory Series; Serena Williams

This ‘Secret to Victory’ podcast explores the underlying motivations and actions that led to Serena Williams’ incredible sporting achievements. Here are two key perseverance takeaways:

1. Set lofty goals: Williams had an obsessive desire to be perfect and a drive to create new records. Her journey from one of America’s toughest neighbourhoods to Wimbledon Centre Court was beyond improbable but her unwavering focus led to 23 grand slam titles.

2. Learn from failure: Williams describes losing as ‘a dark place’. The time of ‘isolation’ following defeat was a period of humility, learning and discovery which set the foundation for future success.

Listen to the interview here and here’s a lovely clip of a young Serena which shows why she’s been so successful.

For Your

Growth Mindset: Carol Dweck, Ted Talks

Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck discusses an alternative method to commonly accepted reward based systems. She outlines the ‘Growth Mindset’ — the idea that we can develop our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems. Here are two key perseverance takeaways:

1. Rewarding: Praising intelligence and talent has failed. Instead we should praise effort, strategy, focus and progress. This will help to create people with more perseverance.

2. Engage your problems: People who undertake challenges and don’t succeed will learn and develop faster than people who don’t engage with their problems. As the old proverb says ‘if at first you don’t succeed…’ …. well, you know how the rest of it goes!

The video takes just over 10 minutes. If that’s too long skip to 7.00 and watch the results. To find out how these extraordinary results were achieved you will have to persevere from the beginning.

And Finally…
For Something

Exercise: Honey, I Need To Escape The Kids

This week we have teamed up with Waterford based personal trainer Cormac Wallace. Cormac has developed an IDEA Box home workout plan that might help to keep you sane during lockdown. You can find out more about Cormac here.

If you’re trying the workout this playlist will help to keep you motivated.