Sumayya Davenhill

Head of Marketing

May 2017

Book Review - Grit

Where do you rank on the “Grit Scale”? Having lots of grit may be more powerful than raw talent for long-term success, as uncovered in Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth.

I was excited at the prospect of reading Grit. Not only does it talk to the power of passion and perseverance – two attributes that are very apt in the world of investments – but it is also getting tremendous coverage as a book that every parent trying to raise successful children should read. The book is aimed at anyone looking to achieve and sustain success. Angela Duckworth, the New York Times best-selling author, believes that the secret of outstanding achievement isn’t talent, but rather a focused persistence called “grit”. Grit, she argues, is made up of two things: passion and perseverance. Passion means having a long-term interest in the job that you are doing and perseverance means being persistent and never giving up. Why do some people succeed and others fail? Sharing new insights from her much-publicised research on grit, Duckworth explains why talent does not always result in success. She argues that there are other factors that are more crucial such as identifying our passions and following through on our commitments.

She looks at her own history as a teacher, then a business consultant and finally working in neuroscience, which led her to her hypothesis. She created her own lab at the University of Pennsylvania and started testing her theory. She uses many different examples based on her 10 years of research, looking at elite athletes, spelling bee winners and other people at the top of their respective games. She has developed something called a “grit scale” comprising questions that help people understand how gritty they are. The scale has two kinds of questions, one about the consistency of a person’s interests and the other determining an individual’s level of perseverance: questions like, “I finish whatever I begin”, which is the single most predictive item on the scale.

Duckworth also shares what she’s learned from interviewing dozens of high achievers – from JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon to New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff to Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. There are also some interesting side stories. She illustrates the concept of grit with a clip of actor Will Smith, in an interview in which he was essentially asked how a poor kid from Philadelphia with no connections in Hollywood had made it big. Smith, who has elsewhere credited his success to his “ridiculous, sickening work ethic,” answered: “The only thing that I see that is distinctively different about me is, I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, but if we get on the treadmill together, right, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.”

Of particular interest to me was her inclusion of Warren Buffett and his approach to prioritising career goals. I won’t spoil the read, except to say that successful people prioritise their most important goals and avoid the things that distract from achieving them. Once you’ve picked a goal, work consistently towards it while ignoring the things that will compete for your attention. That is grit – having stamina, sticking to your plan day in and day out, not for a week or a month, but for the long term.

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