GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

GRIT is a significant book written by Angela Duckworth.  There is a previous post on Angela Duckworth’s presentation at the 27th Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science.  There will be a series of posts based on her book.  Angela’s father had been telling her that she was no genius from the time when she was quite young.  Her IQ was not high enough for her to be placed in gifted and talented classes.  Yet she did manage to attend Harvard and earn a degree in neurobiology.   She then earned a Marshall Scholarship that allowed her to attend Oxford and earn a Master’s degree.  They she worked at the high priced consultant firm, Mckinsey.  She left her highly paid job at Mckinsey to pursue her true love, which was teaching.  To understand more about teaching and how people learn and succeed she attended the University of Pennsylvania and earned a Ph.D in psychology from an outstanding psychology faculty.

In 2013 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, better known as the genius award.  Then she was able to show her father that she was indeed a genius.  Her research had convinced her that what we eventually accomplish depend more on our passion and perseverance than on our innate talent.   This should remind healthy memory blog readers of Carol Dweck and her book “Mindset” and of the importance of having a “growth” mindset.  .

Dr. Duckworth notes that her insights are not new, but rather have been forgotten.
Darwin wrote, “I have always maintained that, excepting for fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work.”  Darwin was certainly intelligent, but insights did not come to him in lightning flashes.  He was a plodder.  Darwin wrote in his autobiography, “I have no great quickness of apprehension that is so remarkable in some clever men.  My power to follow a long and  purely abstract train of thought is very limited.  So poor in one sense is my memory that I have never been able to remember for more than a few days a single date or a line of poetry,”

Darwin also wrote, “I think  I am superior to the common run of men in noticing things which easily escape attention, and in observing them carefully.  My industry has been nearly as great as it could have ben in the observation and collection of facts.  What is far more important, my love of nature science has been steady and ardent.”  One biographer describes Darwin as someone who kept thinking about the same questions long after others would move on to different—and no doubt—easier problems.

The founder of American psychology, William James,  published an article in the Journal Science titled, “The Energies of Men.”  “Compared with what we ought be, we are only half awake.  Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked.  We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”  James continued, “Of course there are limits.  The trees don’t grow into the sky.  But these boundaries of where we will eventually stop improving are simply irrelevant for the vast majority of us:  “The plain fact remains that men the world over possess amounts of resource, which only very exceptional individuals push to their extreme of use.”
Three of the McKinsey firm’ partners published a report called “The War for Talent.”  Talent was defined as the sum of a persons intrinsics gifts.  According to “The War for Talent”, the companies that excel are those that aggressively promote the most talented employees while just as aggressively culling the least talented.  In such companies huge disparities in salary are not only justified, but desirable, because a competitive winner-take-all environment encourages the most talented to stick around and the least talented to find alternative employment.

The journalist who’s done the most in-depth research on McKinsey to date, Duff McDonald,  has suggested that this particular business philosophy would be more aptly titled “The War on Common Sense.”He pointed out that the companies highlighted in the original McKinsey report as exemplars of their doctrine didn’t do so well in the years after the report was published.

Macomb Gladwell has also criticized “The War for Talent.”  Enron epitomized the McKinsey philosophy.  The performance review system  for Enron  consisted of grading employees annually and summarily firing the bottom 15%, regardless of their absolute level of performance.  And everyone should know of the disaster that befell Enron.

Dr. Duckworth asks the question what is the downside of television shows like “America’s Got Talent,” “The X Factor”, and “Child Genius”?  She asks why shouldn’t we separate children as young as seven or eight into two groups:  those with few children who are “gifted and talented” and the  many, many more who aren’t?  What harm is their, really,  in a talent show being names a “talent show”?

To which she answers, “In my view, the biggest reason a preoccupation with talent can be harmful is simple:  By shining our spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows.  We inadvertently send the message that the other factors—including grit— don’t matter as much as they really do.”

In other words, Dr. Duckworth thinks that as much as talent counts, effort counts twice.

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