Book Review – Grit by Dr. Angela Duckworth


I thought I would start of the year with a book about succeeding while we are all motivated and taking about the goals we are going to achieve in 2018 in business and in life. I went to our office library to flick through the book I had in mind and it wasn’t there. It was at home, in my on-business, personal improvement and finance book shelf. I’m ok with the placement, but it got me thinking about how personal improvement is essential for business success. I have found in my business life a close alignment of positivity, focus, and success, when you are feeling good, focussed on wins, the wins come. Conversely, I have also found that when the negative creeps in, the knock backs are not far behind. So a level of emotional intelligence is required in business to ensure you recognise when the negative habits and reactions creep in and enable yourself to bury them and focus on the positive again. Not only does it take emotional intelligence to do this, but also effort, determination, and … grit.

I first heard about Angela Duckworth’s Grit – Why Passion and resilience are the secrets to success on the Freakanomics podcast. It is hard not to take notice, as she says in the opening of her book, she was interested in grit, and what it takes to achieve via passion and perseverance due to her father always telling her she was “no genius”. Eventually wining the MacArthur Fellowship, otherwise known as the “Genius Award”, she was able to prove that genius or talent alone is not a free pass to success. This is in fact the core of the book. Passion and perseverance beyond natural capabilities and aptitudes is the recipe to high achievement.

Duckworth’s approach is a an academic one, given that is the result of her psychology research, but it is presented in a forceful, compelling, entertaining, and relatable way. It is an engaging book that pegs research findings against real world examples, and everyday language. What do you think of when you think of grit? Gritting your teeth and getting on with it? or Grit and determination? Either way we are talking about a conscious courage in the face of a challenge, and aren’t there many of those in our business life.

Gritty people have a growth mindset; when bad things happen they don’t give up. – Angela Duckworth

The book opens the lid on the distraction of talent, we are often witness to achievements of certainly talented people and reflect on those achievements as being the result of talent or natural ability, this is reinforced by cultural assessments or commentary. It is because we do not see the hard word that has gone in to achieving those results. Steven Bradbury famously won a Winter Olympic Gold Medal in speed skating when his three opponents crashed on the last turn. He didn’t win on that turn, he won when turned his desire and effort towards competition at the event, his hard work and determination left him the last man standing and Olympic champion. Think also of Australian Cricket captain Steve Smith. Currently the world’s greatest batsman, but it would be arguable as to whether he is the most talented. Originally selected as a spin bowling allrounder and in and out of the side for many years, his hard work and perseverance is now paying off. But because we have a cognitive bias toward the belief that talent beats hard work, we tend to have a natural aversion to the perseverance that others have displayed to great results.

These examples speak of turning up, applying effort. Duckworth sets forth a formula for success. In her formula, “effort counts twice”. Of course the right skill is required to start achieving, but real results come from applying that skill consistently for long periods of time. Duckworth’s formula is:

Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill X Effort = Achievement

Therefore, you have to work consistently on your natural abilities to develop skills, which you then need to consistently work on and apply in order to achieve results. So effort is the key and far more important than talent. We all have our capabilities in what we do in our work. We need to consistently work on our core abilities and develop and improve our skills with effort. We then need to apply these skills consistently and with focus in order to achieve better and better results for our customers and clients.

Grit asks how gritty are you, and Duckworth shares her Grit Scale on which you can rate yourself. This becomes a handy reference to understanding how proactive or reactive you are to positive and negative challenges. It helps frame yourself within the anecdotes and theories throughout the rest of the book and gives you an awareness in day to day applications.

This amount of effort requires a dedication of time and motivation. Duckworth believes this can be driven by a large vision, (or the familiar big hairy audacious goal – BHAG), and small, achievable daily goals that give you progressive wins toward the achievement of your vision. This particular part is not rocket science, but the belief the notion of grit that Duckworth sets out in this book puts these familiar concepts in a new perspective.

In business we face frequent wins, challenges, and losses, it is easy to be at their mercy, grit is what it takes to stay on track, understand why we are in business, and apply the effort required on a consistent basis to take the steps required to achieve our goals. It is hard not to be reminded of the possibly Churchillian quote: “If I was to sum up my secret to success, i can do it in 5 words: Never, never, never give up.”

Have a gritty and successful 2018.

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