Author: Angela Duckworth
APA Style Citation
Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Harper Collins Publishers. Ltd.
The long-awaited book from Angela Duckworth has finally arrived. If you are feeling like you have already read much about the idea of Grit and are wondering if this book is worth your time, the answer is a definitive “yes.” Duckworth explains in far more detail than other publications the specific details of Grit, how to grow Grit and develop Grit in others.
Early in her career, Duckworth was a math teacher. She indicates that initially talent blinded her view of her student’s abilities, but eventually she saw a connection between students that did well and students that worked hard regardless of their original level of talent. It was the students who worked hard who ultimately became more successful. One student, David, was not an outstanding math student at first. David completed his homework each night with great care, and eventually, Duckworth moved him into a higher-level math class. By senior year, David was taking honors calculus and more recently graduated from UCLA with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. So, the student who initially began in a lower level math class became a “rocket scientist” through hard work and much effort.
The history of intelligence was born from the belief that intelligence was inherited not learned or created. Eventually, this idea morphed into the belief that there are limits to intelligence determined by the bounds of genetics. Duckworth examines the upper limits of talent and advocates that with hard work and determination these limits are quite malleable. Duckworth argues that effort may count twice as much as talent in determining one’s success. She references the work of outstanding athletes, those who compete in the Olympics and other world class competitions and argues that most of their work in done in grueling early morning workouts in which athletes attempt to beat their best performance without any other competition and without any fanfare. They work to be their own best, and while their moment in the spotlight is impressive, it is only a glimpse into the often unglamorous work that goes into the training of an athlete. Without all of the prior hard work, their accomplishments would not be possible even with outstanding talent. Still, many people want to attribute great accomplishments exclusively to talent, but Duckworth believes that talent and effort create skill while skill plus effort create achievement. Talent may accelerate the pace of this achievement, but the effort should not be underestimated.
More important than talent is the consistency over time in reaching a goal. Duckworth notes that children often try many different activities throughout their formative years. Experimenting with a variety of activities during childhood is healthy and normal, but not necessarily “gritty”. Grit occurs as the result of sticking with a particular activity over a long period. People are less likely to quit an activity in which they have invested much time and effort if the effort is deliberate practice to improve areas in which that individual is not particularly strong, grit is occurring. Duckworth states, “enthusiasm is common, endurance is rare.” In addition to the ability to stick with a task, one should have a guiding principle or philosophy that provides an overall purpose for one’s work. Having purpose creates a unifying goal rather than simply having a number of small low-level goals that may or may not be connected to one another. A challenge that many successful individuals face is deciding what NOT to do rather than accepting every opportunity that comes their way because if an individual accepts all of the offers posed to them, they will often be sidetracked from their larger goal. Those who can reject smaller offers are more likely to reach a larger goal they care about more.
According to Duckworth’s research, Grit does seem to increase as people age. She interviews many experienced individuals who report that being a promising beginner is less gratifying than being a well-practiced expert. People perform better when they pursue careers that match their personal interests. Unfortunately, many people today are engaged in work in which they are actively disengaged, they are in careers for the money or have selected a career without much thought, or rely on someone else’s guidance. Engagement in work creates passion. That passion is what allows people to dive deeply into their work and becomes experts who can tease out the nuance that others may miss. Passion sets one on a path to continuous improvement which the Japanese refer to as ‘Kaizen.' Passion often leads work to transform from a job to a calling. No matter what someone does for a living they can find meaning and a larger purpose to their work, which will make their work more personally meaningful and deepen the richness and pleasure they derive from their respective careers. Duckworth identifies her passion as “using psychological science to help kids thrive.” This relates to her research, writing, and her speaking. Duckworth asks readers to contemplate how the work that they are already doing can make a positive impact on society, which may help them find the larger meaning in their work.
Others like Anders Ericsson who is known for writing about experts needing 10,000 to rise to the top of their field support Duckworth’s findings that hard work and personal perseverance are keys to becoming an expert regardless of the field one pursues of their innate talents. Experts who strive for mastery create a stretch goal which deliberate practice can help them to achieve. They must focus on their weaknesses and seek to improve those deficits no matter how small. Contrarily, the novice has any number of areas in which they may improve and even without deliberate practice; they are likely to get better. Deliberate practice is hard, and even world-class performers can only take about an hour before they need a break.
Duckworth addresses how hope can impact Grit and cites the seminal work of Martin Seligman and his learned helplessness studies with dogs; she goes on, however, to also discuss Seligman’s later work with learned optimism by demonstrating that behaviors can have a positive impact on one’s environment. Duckworth also cites the work of Carol Dweck who has demonstrated that children can be coached into creating a growth mindset, which will allow them to learn more and gain more meaning in their educational life and beyond.
Duckworth believes that parenting also plays a large role in the creation of Grit, by encouraging children to try new activities and stick with at least a few of them even when things get hard. Parents can create circumstances in which children will develop ‘grittiness.' Parents can encourage children to stick with at least some of the activities they begin. The activity matters less than the hard work that goes into doing a task to the best of one’s ability. That task may be athletics, schoolwork, music or anything else that requires deliberate practice to improve. This work ethic can then transfer to nearly any other task. Duckworth addresses creating a culture of Grit in business, in a classroom at home in which hard work, deliberate practice and Kaizen (continuous improvement) are a part of everyday life. Duckworth believes that as more people are aware that talent does not determine one's worth or the outcomes of one's life, and that if they are willing to do the hard work necessary to master a task, they will set themselves up for a future of meaningful work and passion to something important to that person, this seems like a goal worth fighting for.
Other Related Resources
TED talk: Angela Duckworth
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Author Angela Duckworth’s Webpage
The Grit Scale
The Guardian: Is Grit the True Secret of Success?
Journal of Personality Processes and Individual Differences:
Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-term Goals
Freakonomics radio: How to Get More Grit in Your Life
The Atlantic: Is Grit Overrated?
The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Geoffery Canada TED talk
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi TED talk on Flow
Psychological Figures and Concepts
James R. Flynn
Sir Francis Galton
John Stuart Mill
Bobo Doll Study
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Mindset (Fixed v. Growth)
Nature v. Nurture Debate
Twin (Monozygotic and Dizygotic)
Wechsler Intelligence Scales