By Mark Davison
Why you need Grit, and how you get it.
If you could give yourself one character trait for future success in your life, what would it be? According to Angela Duckworth, professor of Psychology at the university of Pennsylvania you should ask for grit.
And Angela should know. Among other accolades, she’s won the MacArthur Fellowship, colloquially known as the genius scholarship. For her research, she has interviewed Olympians, business leaders and spelling bee champions. And all this research has been compiled and organised into the best selling book Grit, published last year.
Now before you read any further I have a confession to make, I haven’t yet read Grit. It’s on my list, but unfortunately other reading (for SCA) and other work (D&AD) has taken priority. So this isn’t a synopsis. This is more a summing up of the Freakonomics podcast interview with Angela (which you can find here), and how it relates to my journey at SCA.
Angela defines Grit as ‘passion and perseverance for especially long-term goals,’ which sounds great. Who wouldn’t want that? It sounds like it would be pretty helpful in your personal, and professional life, and it is. Throughout her research, she has consistently found that high achievers also have high Grit scores.
These so called ‘Paragons of Grit’ have four things in common, and the good news for all of us is that we can work to improve these in ourselves.
- Long-term passion
Most people look for things that they are passionate in. The problem comes when we flip-flop between different things that we find new and exciting. Truly gritty people have developed the skill to find interest and long-term passion in nuance rather than novelty.
- Deliberate practice.
This idea of deliberate practice is not new. In fact it’s gone viral since Malcolm Gladwell’s books Outliers became popular. But the preceding section, passion is key to this. Without passion, long hours of deliberate practice can become impossible. And without that we will never really become experts at anything.
The ability to connect your work, to the people around you is the third component. Angela finds even people who have what could objectively considered as selfish ambitions – to win an Olympic medal for example – see themselves as part of a larger whole, either representing their country or their sport.
The final trait is hope, and you need it from beginning to end. Because all along your journey you will encounter difficulties, challenges and hold ups. So according to Angela, hope is ‘the belief that there’s something you can do to come back from these problems’.
The good news for us is that, even if you have a low Grit score (which you can measure here), we can all work to improve those four traits. Grit is not exactly the long-looked-for secret to success, but it is something that we can all work on. It gives us a structure to succeed, if we can follow each of the steps. So as Angela’s father was always fond of saying ‘your no genius’ but you can be gritty.