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In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, for example, Jerker Denrell of the University of Oxford and Chengwei Liu of the University of Warwick counsel us to model ourselves on solid, second-tier performers, not the flashy types who come in first. The researchers reported on the results of a game played in many rounds. Over time, the most skilled players came to inhabit a second tier of reliable competence. Those who succeeded spectacularly—who took their places in the first tier—were often not the most skilled, but rather were those who got some lucky breaks early on or took big risks that happened to pay off.
Emulating these top performers would probably lead to disappointment, since imitators would be unlikely to replicate their good fortune. Because luck and risk play a dominant role in extraordinary outcomes, Denrell and Liu write, “extreme success or failure are, at best, only weak signals of skill,” and top performers “should not be imitated or praised.” Better, they advise, to learn from individuals “with high, but not exceptional, performance”—those whose success can be attributed to solid skill and not to a rare lightning strike. –Eric Ravenscraft

Fiction Writing Prompt: Who is your character’s role model? Why did he or she choose this role model? 

Journaling Prompt: Write about one of your role models and the characteristics you try to emulate.

Art Prompt: Role model

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Inform your audience about the importance of care in choosing role models and some of the pitfalls to avoid.

Photo Credit: Chris Hunkeler on Flickr

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