It’s worth being patient

November 22, 2018

"Always keep going!" was the motto of national goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. Matthias Sutter from the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn has now researched what constitutes success scientifically and defined conditions for success that are not that far removed from Kahn's motto. In an interview, he explains which attributes someone needs to have and how best to acquire them.

Mr. Sutter, you say: Success comes to those who are patient. Are you a patient person?
Absolutely, when following my scientific projects. Professionally it is very important. However, considerably less when assembling Ikea cabinets. I still have to work on my patience in that respect.

What actually qualifies as "having patience"?

Balancing a smaller reward in the present and a greater reward in the future, and choosing the reward in the future.

Why is patience important for professional success at all?
As an African proverb says, patience is a tree whose roots are bitter, but its fruit is very sweet. Specifically, patience helps in pursuing long-term goals and enables you to carry on if things don't go so smoothly. Professional success requires long-term stamina and almost never occurs overnight. Patience helps.

Patience and a willingness to succeed: To what extent is this connected?
Without a willingness to succeed, patience is of no use. Otherwise it just becomes an act of "sitting it out" and simply hoping that the problems will solve themselves. This is not what patience entails, patience is rather an active commitment to the implementation of long-term projects.

Which factors determine perseverance in coping with difficult problems?
Various studies show that perseverance is made easier if there are reliable framework conditions, since there is a sufficiently high probability that the effort will pay off, even if difficult problems have to be overcome. In addition, frustration tolerance is of course important, as there are always phases of failure in larger projects.

In your book, you say: "Perseverance beats talent! And: "Everyone considers that success depends solely on intelligence or family background. Perseverance is at least as important." Isn't that just a motivating gesture for socially disadvantaged people?
No, not in any way. Perseverance and determination in pursuing goals can make up for initial disadvantages in IQ and family backgrounds. That is why it is so important for schools to teach young people the ability to be patient. As a result, educational policy has the potential to compensate for or at least reduce the initial disadvantages of children from more deprived households.

"Success or failure" is already evident at an early age. How?
We should not reduce this too much to black and white, i.e. success and failure. Perseverance and patience, which develop at an early age, contribute greatly in the further course of life. They make success more likely. This is only a statistical statement however, and does not apply to everyone.

Why is patience out of fashion nowadays?
Among other factors, because advertising tells us that we must have everything immediately. Who would gladly wait for something and exercise patience?

How can impatient children acquire patience?

A recent study by the two researchers Sule Alan and Seda Ertac demonstrates that children can benefit if so-called scenario techniques are used in the curriculum. They must imagine two potential scenarios as clearly as possible and then evaluate both scenarios. In one situation, a child saves all his pocket money in order to be able to afford a bicycle in half a year to shorten the exhausting journey to school. But during this time, the child cannot afford any other treats, such as going to the cinema.

Simultaneously, there is another scenario in which the child only saves a little, enjoys the usual treats, but after half a year has no bicycle and continues to have a tedious journey to school. The scenario technique requires that the two possible situations are described after half a year and that participants imagine how satisfied they would be with each respective situation. This can verifiably strengthen the future orientation of the children.

What do you mean by "future orientation"?
Future orientation means that children, after having put themselves in such scenarios, are more likely to choose eleven Euro tomorrow rather than ten Euro today.

What is the process of learning patience for adults?
Self-restraint often helps adults. For example, a journalist once told me that from September to June she always has a specific amount debited to a "holiday savings account" and then goes out for a delicious meal with the proceeds during her summer holiday. If she did not do this, the money would be used up in other ways by the end of the month.

And what about you? What are your success factors?
In my case, I would say that they are a great deal of diligence and perseverance in pursuing my goals. In addition, I believe that I can work well in a team and inspire team members to work together on projects. Being able to grasp things quickly is a great benefit, but I certainly wouldn't have been so successful on my own.

Mr. Sutter, thank you very much for the interview!

Questions posed by Martin Roos



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