Book worth reading: Grit by Angela Duckworth

Book worth reading: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Angela Duckworth

Being her dad



Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckaworth.

“Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.”

When I was growing up in Otaki there were kids who seemed smart, and then were kids who didn’t. I always assumed the kids who were smart would be the ones who ‘did well’ in life-after-school (based on my totally incorrect thoughts on what ‘doing well’ in life meant back then – BMWs, houses like they had out Paraparaumu beach, not going to jail – OK I was mostly right with that one).

But fast forward twenty-five years (whoa), and that’s not how things played out – what’s the gap between smarts and success-on-field?
That’s kind of what Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, is about. She talks through her studies as a teacher and then as a clinical psychologist investigating the question of why IQ wasn’t the only deciding factor in whether a kid performed well at school or didn’t. She studied rough-neighbourhood schools, military elites like Westpoint cadets and Green Berets, teachers and sales reps.

From the survey, she developed a Grit Scale and assessed people against this then tracked their success across mulitple fields. She found how they performed on the Grit Scale predicted their success more than most other metrics. For example, she surveyed drop outs at West Point military school’s ‘Beast Barracks’. One in five cadets drop out after their first year, Grit predicted who would and who wouldn’t. Other tests like IQ, aptitude, and even West Point’s complicated ‘whole candidate score’, didn’t.

Cool, so what did she find? You can probably guess by the name of the book – but:


Grit is Perseverance and passion for long term goals.

Through her studies, Angela discovered two major traits of successful people. They were resilient enough to keep working on the things they chose, even when they weren’t successful and when things weren’t going well. And they had direction. She calls passion a compass which moves you to where you want to be. Passion and Perseverance.


Effort counts twice.

Talent is how quickly you can learn a skill. A lot of that is influenced by what you’re born with, or grow naturally thanks to the parents who had you surfing from the age of two, or painting Picasso finger paintings once you were old enough to stop eating the blue paint.
Skill is what happens when you apply effort to that talent. When you practice and put in the work.
Achievement is what happens when you apply effort and put those developed skills into action.

So, effort counts twice.

Talent X Effort = Skill

Effort X Skill = Achievement

She quotes this interview of Will Smith’s: “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented…Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. …if we hop on that treadmill one of two things are happening. You’re getting off before me, or I’m dying on it.”

Enthusiasm is common, endurance is rare.

Darwin believed there wasn’t much difference between people other than zeal and earnestness to work hard. (Yeah, they talked like that back then).
“I have always maintained that excepting fools, men do not differ much, only in zeal and hard work, and I still think this is an eminently important difference’


What does a person look like when they’re Gritty? (It’s got nothing to do with stone or sand).


Interested and passionate

Paragons of Grit, super-gritty-people, are really interested and passionate. They work on, learn, develop and practice in that interest. They get up each day still interested, they practice and do it again, go to bed, sleep, and wake up still interested. They also work hard to find interests and passions.
“…interests are not discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by interactions with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient.”


They’re optimistic and believe in their ability to improve a situation and make change. They have hope. This leads to resilience.
“Well okay, that didn’t go so well, but I guess I will just carry on. ”


They believe that their work serves a purpose. This is why the goal hierarchy below is important.

“At its core, the idea of purpose is the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.”


Capacity to practice

They have the discipline to keep improving at whatever it is that they are passionate about. They put in the effort.
“Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t,”

 Distracted by talent. Aren’t we all talented enough?

She talks about our selection bias towards ‘the natural’ – we’re told by society, and America’s pervasive ‘American dream’ marketing campaign, that hard work is the most important thing. And we mostly think we believe that. But we still favour the ‘natural’, the guy who we think was just born to be a great chef, or the girl who’s ‘just got it’ when it comes to singing. Talent isn’t bad, obviously being able to learn quickly is good. A selection bias and predisposed culture of emphasis on talent at the expense of the effort that it takes to become skilful though, is.
“When we over emphasise talent, we under-emphasise everything else.”
Angela talks about a study where music experts were played two sections of music after being told one was from an artist who was a raw, natural talent while the other was a hard worker, a striver. The experts favoured the ‘natural’ – without realising they were being played different sections of the same piece, played by the same musician. So, even though we say we place more value in hard work – we place more unconscious value on perceived natural talent.
“Mythologising natural talent lets all of us off the hook. It lets us relax into the status quo.”

Hierarchy of Goals

She talks about having a hierarchy of goals. High level, down to low-level goals.
Your purpose is basically your high-level goal. That’s your end, the goals below are means to that end. So if you need to change or ignore some, you should. But the high-level one should stay the same if it’s set right.
“The high-level goals are written in ink, lower level in pencil.”

Can you become more Gritty?

Yes! She talks about how passion makes that possible, that when you’re passionate about something, it’s easier to make the conscious decision to stay interested in it. Angela writes about fostering a passion, rather than following it. She says if you can work on and try different things, explore, quit, and start again, you can find the thing you love. But it’s not usually going to drop out of the Passion Tree into your waiting and already gritty, cupped hands. She talked in a podcast I listened to about this in more depth. She said it’s not a bad thing to quit and try something else, but that we need to remember we all get bored and want to go chase something new and shiny – the skill of swapping nuance for novelty is important. In other words, there are always different ways you can do what you’re doing before quitting out of boredom. A new coding language or a different style of offensive play that gives you the excitement of something ‘new’ to try without switching from rapping to writing novels, for example, Pera?

On a personal note, I really enjoyed this book because it felt familiar. As a young Maori dude starting off in a corporate environment I always (rightly or wrongly) felt less intelligent than the other brains in the room. The feeling grew the more I progressed in my career. So I’ve always felt I’ve had to work harder since I couldn’t work smarter. Having said that, I’m starting to think everyone might believe this about themselves – unless you’re a raging egomaniac convinced of your own intelligence.

Oh yeah, why did I post this? Good question. I punctuate and edit these summaries for you, but I write them for me. I take notes when I read books that I think are noteworthy, it’s the easiest way for me to remember the good stuff after I’ve closed the book. If I’ve gone through the hassle of formatting and proof-reading those notes, then posting them here, it’s because I also think the book is good enough to justify the time in recommending it to you.
I’m always keen to hear what you think so let me know in the comments below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *