There is much attention lately into what creates success.  Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates that it is the accumulation of advantages (i.e. intelligence/ talent, being born at the right time, having access to what you need to practice and learn, putting in the time practicing and learning etc.).  This must see TED video clip by Joachim de Posada adds another predictor into the success mix—the ability to self control/ delay gratification.

marshmallow image w cropIn short, this experiment, detailed at length in last week’s New Yorker, was first conducted 1960’s in Stanford.  Four year old kids were given a marshmallow and told not eat it. They were also told they would get a second marshmallow if they could put off eating the first one for a full 15 minutes.  Two out of three kids ate the marshmallow and most of them did it right away. 

And the one third that didn’t….years later they have turned out to be far more successful in life than their counterparts –those who stuffed the marshmallow into their mouths when the researcher left the room! 

What does this mean for business success?  Current research is showing that self control can be improved by using one’s intelligence to reframe and focus on something else (i.e. not the marshmallow). So perhaps it means sending yourself on an emergency vacation during a marketing campaign, whose initials results are underwhelming, in order to let it run its course rather sticking around and pulling the plug too early.  Maybe it means investing in innovation during an economic downturn with an acknowledgement of lower short-term profits for longer term gains.

I don’t have a definitive conclusion on this but I now feel really good about being the kid who stockpiled her entire pillowcase full of Halloween treats in a dresser drawer in order to stingily eat a few each day for months. I remember I didn’t like to share them. I am not bragging about that.


  1. tanyablog on May 30, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Ooooh how I love this.

    So you were once the kid who didn’t like to share. From that you’ve learned about the gratification of self-control…but have incorporated other aspects which now make you a very generous person who DOES like to share AND exhibits self-control. What a combo!

    For me, I had either eaten or distributed all the hallowe’en candy before the stores had the Christmas decorations out (i.e. the next day) but have learned to be more moderate in giving away the farm and to be more patient and chill. It’s working too!

  2. […] does for innovation what Gladwell did for success: shows us all the evidence of what needs to stack up to create good ideas.   His concepts like […]

Leave a Comment