What Straight-A Students Get Wrong

I am a firm believer that grades are not indicative of having a “successful” career.  The most successful people I know personally were fine students, not great. But they possess important traits that one needs in the business world in order to catapult forward. 

When parents put undue pressure on their kids and/or express concerns about their child’s less than stellar grades, I share with them stories of the most notable innovators of our time — innovators whose grades were average or even below (like Steve Jobs whose HS GPA was 2.65.

This eye-opening NY Times article does a great job at sharing facts and information that perhaps put things in perspective for parents. It’s definitely worth the read.  Some highlights: Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years. For example, at Google, once employees are two or three years out of college, their grades have no bearing on their performance.  

Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence. Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem — it’s more about finding the right problem to solve.

Getting straight A’s requires conformity. Having an influential career demands originality. “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries,” education researcher Dr. Karen Arnold explained. “They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”


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