Success is achieved by various combinations of:

    1. Propensity – Talent.

    2. Persistence – Not Giving Up.

    3. Providence – Luck.

    4. Passion – Desire.

    5. Perspiration – Hard Work.

    6. Perspective – Honesty.

The critical thing to remember; The 6 Ps are in a constant state of change, like the waves hitting the beach.  Sometimes Perspiration is the most important “P” to success.  Sometimes Providence is the most important.  The problem is that you never know ahead of time what is the right combination.  

Unlike baking a cake, where the same combination of ingredients will always yield the same result, the combination of the 6 “Ps” required for success changes from situation to situation and from time to time.  

To be successful you need to focus on all them all the time.  You always need to work hard, you always need passion, you always need luck, you always need honesty, you always need talent, and never, never, never should give up.



Propensity refers to our natural talents and capabilities.  This is often referred to as our aptitude and/or our genetic predispositions.

Propensity represent our physical and genetic gifts we are given when we come into this world.  Stephen King in writing, Merle Streep in Acting, Michael Jordan in basketball, Jesse Owens in track, Pete Sampras in Tennis, Mozart and Ray Charles in Music, Einstein in Math are all examples of people born with great gifts.  These people and millions more like them are born every day with a propensity to do something well.

Our propensities are seen in our physical structures.  Jockeys are small.  Basketball players are tall.  While both may be great athletes, on average a great jockey would not make a great basketball player and a great basketball player would not make a great jockey.

A geneic psychological term that one could substitute is Predisposition.  Each of us comes into the world genetically predisposed to certain capabilities.  Predisposition does not mean we will definitely reach our potential.  Predisposition only means we can reach our potential.  Predisposition does not mean we cannot do something.  It only means that to succeed at something that we are not genetically predisposed, we would need a lot of the other “Ps” like Perspiration or Providence.

You cannot be anything you want to be, you can only be the best at what you are meant to be.

Some things are more determined by our natural aptitudes then other things.  Success in sports is mostly determined by our natural abilities.  That is why you have a tiered system in sports.  Top tiered athletes have more propensity then lower tiered athletes.  And it is not just a work ethic (I call this work ethic “perspiration”.)  Many athletes work hard and never get to the top tier.  And many athletes don’t work so hard and are in the top tier.  The difference is propensity.  The difference is their natural abilities.

We also see this in school.  Some students have to work very hard to get good grades and some students don’t work as hard and get good grades.  Music is the same.  Some people have natural musical ability.  They are born with it and it is a notch above others.

The actionable message from this is, find out what you are good at and do that!

Life is set up to find out what you are good at.  I remember sitting through my daughters 5th grade music recital.  It was brutal.  I thought; why make kids, that have no propensity for music, go through this.  Then it occurred to me that of the 50 or so 5th graders, one may have the propensity for music, and did not know it.  And taking a music class would help identify and encourage that music propensity.  Every thing we do growing up is an opportunity to determine what our propensities are.

Unfortunately, some parents or teachers or the kids themselves, are not honest (see Perspective).  A parent may want the kid to have a propensity for something, even when the kid does not.  In my neighborhood I saw this mostly with sports.  A parent may believe the kid is the next great tennis player or golfer, but is not.



Providence is a counterbalance to propensity.  Providence simply put is “luck.”  Someone could be the next Einstein but if they were unlucky enough to be born in the middle of a war zone or with some fatal birth defect like spinabifata their potential will never be realized.

The apocryphal story of Napoleon comes to mind.  Supposedly there was a situation where Napoleon was asked to promote an officer to be in charge of a battle unit, in addition to his resume he asked “but is he lucky?”  That question and what it meant always stuck with me. If they said yes, what did it really represent – that the commander was lucky or that the results of his actions gave him the reputation of being so? What would being seen as lucky imply? That someone responded to fast moving situations decisively and well?

I often use this backdrop as a question in interviews. Based on their own explanation of why Napoleon asked the question, did the candidate see themselves as lucky? Pretty interesting answers all the time.


Action:  Make your own luck.


Persistence is the ability to keep trying.  This is often seen as the amount of effort one puts into a particular task.

Calvin Coolidge said it best when he said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. This will press on and always will solve the problems of the human race.”   The reason persistence is so powerful is that you can never know where the limit of your capabilities are until you push yourself to the limit of your capabilities.

Action: Never give up.


Passion is what makes others want to follow.  Passion is what makes others want to work with you.  Passion is what makes you want to do something when you are tired and hungry.  Passion is loving what you do, so that doing it does not seem like work.

Action: find your passion and feed it.


Perspective allows us to see the big picture and map out a viable plan for success.  Perspective gives us the ability to know what our skills are and where to apply them.  Winston Churchill gave a commencement speech where he said, “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”  Perspective is the key to knowing when honor and good sense should enjoin discretion.  Perspective is honesty.  An honest understanding of the barriers that prevent you from achieving success is a critical step to overcoming those barriers.

Action: Learn about everything even things that may not seem directly related.  Because everything is related.  Absorptive Capacity


Data Mining for Academic Success

Purdue’s academic analytics correlate data from the course management and student information systems, to create predictive models that can support student retention strategies.

IN A PROJECT begun in 2005, researchers at Purdue University (IN) are developing models to predict academic success: academic analytics that will eventually be used to create interventions for at-risk students. Their first step was to identify data that could be mined from the course management system (CMS) and from the student information system (SIS), and demonstrate which factors are most significant.

Researchers studied an initial sample of about 1,500 students during the Fall ’05 semester, and quickly expanded their work to reflect the entire range of WebCT supported classes at Purdue in Spring ’06. Analyses now include data on some 130,000 seats in the CMS (individual students may be counted more than once if they take more than one course), representing more than 30,000 students.

Exploring the Factors

Project lead John Campbell, Purdue’s associate VP for Teaching and Learning Technologies, explains how the study looks at the factors influencing academic success: “Academic success is really based on two different components: aptitude and effort. You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you don’t put in any effort, you’re not going to be successful. And people with less aptitude, who put a lot of effort into it, can be very successful.” So the researchers are rigorously examining indicators of aptitude and effort, by mining historical data such as SAT scores and GPA from the SIS (reflecting aptitude), and data on student use of the CMS from the Oracle back-end database connected to their WebCT system (reflecting effort).

The example in the graph above is a representative sample of 600 students across a range of classes and departments at Purdue. The chart shows the number of WebCT logins (where the fourth quartile is high and relative to the given class), the SAT scores (where the fourth quartile is high and relative to student SAT records for the given class), and the earned grade for the course (where A=4.0). This analyis demonstrates that the number of WebCT logins tends to impact the final grade—more dramatically in the case of students with a history of lower SAT scores and fewer WebCT logins.

Predicting Is in the Future

Ultimately, the end goals are to develop intelligent agents that will automatically take actions (such as alerting the instructor that a student is likely in trouble, or notifying the student about help sessions that are available), and to provide trend data to administrators with an interest in retention. Campbell explains: “We have a lot of retention initiatives; the biggest challenge is getting the right people to the right initiative.” He points out that early intervention can be critical to success—and interventions may be more timely when triggered by academic analytics.

Editor’s Note: John Campbell and a team from Purdue will present their work on academic analytics at Campus Technology 2006 in Boston. For more information, go to

This article originally appeared in the 6/1/2006 Issue of Campus Technology

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