At the height of the self-esteem movement of the 1970s, when parents and schools were busy trying to convince children they were unique and worthy of praise, the popular assumption was that the people who were most successful in life were confident and sure of themselves.
And if this process went a little too far, producing young people who actually grew up to be arrogant and full of themselves, well, this was certainly preferable to the alternative of being considered weak and insecure.
But what if that philosophy is all wrong? What if -- in the Information Age, when there is so much material to digest and the idea of irrefutable truth sometimes seems elusive -- the key to being successful is embracing the simple idea that no one has all the answers and we all still have much to learn? What if, going forward, the people who are considered the best and brightest are those who aren't adamant in their opinions and conclusions but rather strive to see problems in new ways, seek more evidence, and consider different points of view?
The so-called millennials could well be aligning themselves with that way of thinking, and, in doing so, this generation of young adults might just re-establish the virtue of humility.
If you don't believe me, take it from the folks who run the company for which many millennials would love to work. Years ago, the sign that you'd made it in the professional world was being employed by General Motors or IBM. Today, it's landing a job at Google, which is increasingly hard to do. People who have applied to work there tell me that there's a whole battery of interviews and re-interviews in a process that seems designed to be impossibly grueling.
Now that the director of personnel and hiring at the Internet behemoth has provided a peek behind the curtain and revealed what traits the mega-successful company looks for in potential hires, the overriding theme is: "Perfectionists, overachievers and know-it-alls need not apply."
On the Google campus in Silicon Valley, employees are encouraged to take risks, make mistakes, consider alternate theories, weigh new evidence, recalibrate their thinking and, along the way, learn, learn, learn.
This is what Laszlo Bock, who is known in Google-speak as "head of people operations," told The New York Times recently. The company puts a high premium on "learning ability" and "intellectual humility," Bock said. You have to be willing to not dominate a project or run roughshod over a team, he said. Instead, you should learn from others, own up to your mistakes and lead by relinquishing rather than asserting power.
All this Google wisdom is very interesting, and it makes a good amount of sense. Who can argue with success? It also inspired me to come up with my own list of personal traits and characteristics that are likely to make people mega-successful. This is what I plan to tell my own children when they're old enough to put the advice to use. Hard work, good grades, fancy degrees and professional contacts don't hurt, but you need more if you're going to get to where you want to go in whatever career you choose to pursue. Such as:
-- The ability to listen. With so many so eager to have our say, it's getting harder to find people who understand the value of keeping your mouth shut and your ears open.
-- Common sense. Often in short supply in business and in politics, it's more important and valuable than sheer intelligence and also has the added benefit of helping cut through clutter and noise.
-- Integrity. If you have it, you'll find that people are more willing to deal with you and better able to trust you than if you don't.
-- Social skills. The world is full of smart and capable people but many are introverts who don't have the ability to interact with fellow human beings. These skills carry you far.
-- Perseverance. If you accomplish everything you set out to do, you're setting your goals too low. Failure is a first-rate education, and being successful means not giving up.
This is not a complete list. There are other attributes that are just as valuable. I should have included those. That was my mistake. And, thank you Google, I'll try to learn from it.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.