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Business Book Club: ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth

The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Book Club - Grit

Success can be an elusive objective. Stroll the aisles of your favorite bookstore and you will find numerous volumes filled with suggestions of how to achieve it but many just attempting to identify it. It means so many different things to different people that the mere definition of the term is almost impossible to agree upon. However, there are a few common characteristics found in the lives of almost all “successful” people. And one of them is grit.

Angela Duckworth is the founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance scientific insights that help children thrive. She is also the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics. Duckworth completed her undergraduate degree in Advanced Studies Neurobiology at Harvard, and she completed her Ph.D. in Psychology as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. And that is only a partial list of her accomplishments.

In her bestseller Grit, Duckworth examines how “the power of passion and perseverance” can positively impact an individual’s ability to achieve almost anything. Through years of research, she found grit to be a stronger predictor of individual achievement than talent or intelligence. Grit is a blending of passion, a clear vision of what you want, and perseverance, which is the ability to continue in the face of great opposition.

Plenty of research has indicated that too much stock is placed in evaluating a person’s intelligence or innate ability when attempting to forecast success. Duckworth has found that grit is a much more reliable indicator of an individual’s potential.

She states that four “psychological assets” are involved in developing grit:

  • True interest and a love for what you do
  • A willingness to practice and improve regardless of the obstacles or effort required
  • Belief that your work has purpose and that it matters to you and to others
  • An innate hope that will help you overcome the failures along the way

None of this happens overnight. Rarely does one wake up one day and realize the focus of their passion. More often it is discovered by exploring multiple paths and through a myriad of personal experiences. How many times do we switch our major in college because of something we read or heard that tickled our interest?

Often a passion is born out of something we do just for fun. Playing a musical instrument or a hobby we pursue can become our calling and our career. The old adage states, if you love what you do for a living, you will never work a day of your life.

Practice makes perfect is a misnomer. Perfect practice makes perfect. Duckworth goes into some detail on the steps of “deliberate” practice. This is not just repetition, rather a focused effort to hone specific skills. Not only does one learn how to do it right, one also dramatically increases the rate of learning.

Duckworth describes purpose as “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” Short-term pleasure can be an easy destination, whereas long-term happiness is more likely when a person is looking outside of their own needs, wants, and desires to the benefit of those around them. Doing good while doing well is an apt description of this phenomenon.

Hope is “the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future,” Duckworth states. This is the element that keeps the whole thing moving forward. The step into the unknown is driven by a belief that there is something more, something better, something extraordinary out there. Establishing mindset of optimism and positivity lays the groundwork for one to get back up when knocked down by the inevitable yet unforeseen challenges we all encounter.

Duckworth has thoroughly developed her Grit philosophy over years of research and application. She has consulted for the World Bank, NBA and NFL franchises, and Fortune 500 CEOs. In doing so, she has effectively proven that this specific characteristic is not only critical to success, but it can also be learned and applied by anyone with the right level of desire.

Check out all the titles in Dave Donald’s Business Book Club.