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Mental Toughness is a major factor in Innovation – and its connection is surprising!

Mental Toughness emerges as very significant for understanding and developing creativity and innovation.

Why Innovation?

Creativity and innovation have risen to the top of the agenda for most organisations.

Harnessing this capability in their people is increasingly seen as a key ingredient in the organisation’s ability to thrive and prosper.

Indeed in 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF) identified Innovation as one of 10 key skills for the future needed for success in the 21st Century*. The WEF defined it as “ the process of turning new ideas into value, in the form of products, services, business models, and other new ways of doing things”.

Interestingly, the list of 10 key skills for the future from WEF includes, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility – we know this as components of mental toughness!

The study

In 2023 AQR International together with Dr John Perry, Associate Professor at the University of Limerick, launched a major international study to look at cross-cultural differences in mental toughness. To this was added a short scale (5 items) assessing Innovation in the respondent.

1,301 undergraduate psychology students from around the world completed the 5-item innovation scale* and the MTQPlus questionnaire.

Dr Perry carried out an analysis of this data to explore the extent to which mental toughness might predict the variances in responses to the innovation scale.

Realistically we don’t expect to explain all the variance – there are many factors impacting innovation. However, being able to explain a quarter or more of the overall variance is considered to be a really meaningful effect.

The results were outstanding and very interesting.

The results – one view

The analysis showed that a staggering 49.6% of variance was predicted by mental toughness.

This is statistically significant (F(8,1172) = 114.15, p < .001). Internal consistency of this scale was good (ω = .74).

One of the most valuable aspects of the 4Cs mental toughness concept is its 8-factor structure. This enables us to dig deeper. Here too the analysis is also very interesting.

All the mental toughness factors were statistically significant predictors with the exception of achievement orientation and emotional control. Ordered by largest effect first:

  • Goal orientation (β = .25, p < .001)
  • Learning orientation (β = .23, p < .001)
  • Risk orientation (β = .20, p < .001)
  • Interpersonal confidence (β = .16, p < .001)
  • Confidence in abilities (β = .12, p < .001)

and

  • Life control (β = -.11, p < .001)

Goal Orientation embraces the idea of having purpose, Risk Orientation, the idea of seeking and seeing opportunity where others may not. Learning Orientation is self-evidently relevant and Interpersonal Confidence is likely picking up that being minded to engage comfortably with others is fundamentally important for innovation. Confidence in Abilities might indicate something similar – a belief in ones skill set and experience to be able to be innovative.

What is interesting is that life control negatively predicted innovation. This will require further consideration.

A possible and, perhaps, plausible interpretation might spring from high levels of life control representing a strong self-belief that you are in a sufficient degree of control of yourself and your circumstances. Life control can be associated with having order and structure.

Does this mean that high levels of life control limit innovation because this requires exploring something outside of what is ordered?

What is useful here is that it may also confirm that understanding the factor structure of the mental toughness concept is so important.

From a practitioner perspective we know that many senior leaders get to the top of the “ladder” because they are more mentally tough than most – and very often have high levels of life control.

Might this indicate that, in a world that increasingly values innovation and creativity, they could be agents who limit these – if they are not self-aware of this possible effect?

The results – person-level analysis – opening new levels of understanding.

We are beginning to understand more about the eight factors. Unlike many popular models, we are beginning to see that we need to go beyond “black and white” thinking to explain what is happening if we are to help people and organisations develop.

As our understanding of the factors grows, especially in our understanding of how they each can connect with others, Dr Perry has been exploring person-level data profiles using cluster analysis.

The cluster analyses explore this a little further. In most samples there appear to be clusters of factors which are either more or less significant. A cluster analysis identifies common profiles within a dataset.  This could be different in different samples.

One cluster was identified as relating most strongly to Innovation. This cluster represented above-average scores across all the mental toughness factors.

To cut a long story short, it shows that while Mental Toughness emerges as a very positive predictor of Innovation, it is the combination of factors within a profile that matters. You can actually score low (be more mentally sensitive) in life control and it will not limit your innovation (in general– that is the case anytime you are generalising across a sample).

What’s next?

There is more to come on this. This work has the potential to transform yet again the significance of the mental toughness concept and the value of the MTQPlus measure in understanding the way people respond to challenges in life and work.

We believe that the mental toughness concept is a valuable, perhaps essential, part of the toolkit for any professional working in people and organisation development. Underpinning that is a commitment to evidence-based practice and to research to continue to develop this concept.

For more information about the mental toughness concept and the mental toughness measure – MTQPlus contact: headoffice@aqr.co.uk or go to https://aqrinternational.co.uk/product/mtqplus-assessment

For information about becoming a licensed user of the MTQ suite of measures contact: headoffice@aqr.co.uk

The MTQPlus measure is available in fourteen languages, accessible to more than 2/3rds of the world’s population.

Completion of the AQR Licensed user training programme is recognised by EMCC and ICF for CPD purposes.

A brief introduction to full eight factor 4Cs mental toughness concept is shown below:

* WEF 2020 – Top 10 Skills of 2025

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