Posts Tagged ‘grit’

Goals Versus Systems

April 26, 2017

Scott Adams wrote the following as the first teaser for reading “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, “Goals are for losers.”  He later concludes, “My worldview is that all success is luck if you track it back to the source. “  By this he means that no matter how good the product or idea is, there were a variety of conditions that resulted in the success of that product or idea.  Absent those conditions, the product or idea would have remained unknown.

So chance plays a large role in success.  This is why he writes “Goals are for losers.” If you meet your goal, fine.  But meeting your goal does not guarantee your success.  And even if you do meet your goal, what’s next?  And if you fail to meet your goal?  What then?

Adams argues for systems rather than goals.  By systems he means those skills and activities that you enjoy.  Different skills can be blended into skill sets.  One works systematically at building these skill sets.  His book explains how he does this, and provides general advice as to how it can be done.

There were many healthy memory blog posts on Angela Duckworth’s book “GRIT.”  Her advice is to find your passion and pursue it.  There were posts written to try to modulate this advice.  Unmodulated passion, not matter how intense, can lead to misery and failure.

These systems, of which Adams writes, can be called passions, although Adams does not do so.  But absent success, they are enjoyable and fulfilling in themselves.  Moreover, continuing to develop and enhance skill sets increases the probability of success.  With perseverance that probability becomes fairly high.

There is a chapter titled “Managing Your Odds for Success.”  It contains the following success formula:  Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.  He further explains that this does not say anything about the level of proficiency you need to achieve for each skill.  Nothing is implied about excellence or being world class.  The notion is that you can raise your market value by being merely good, not extraordinary, at more than one skill.

An example he provides if you are a good, but not great, public speaker, and you know your way around a Powerpoint presentation, you might have a reasonable chance of running your organization, or unit with an organization.  Adams puts this success formula into its simplest form:    Good + Good > Excellent.

Adams also notes that sometimes an entirely inaccurate formula provides a handy way to move in the right direction if it offers the benefit of simplicity.   He provides this example.  When writing a resume, a handy trick is to ask yourself if there are any words in your your first draft you won’t be willing to remove for one hundred dollars each.  Here’s this simple formula  Each Unnecessary Word = $100.

Adams continues, “when you apply the formula to your resume, you’ll surprise yourself by how well the formula helps you prune your writing to its most essential form.  It doesn’t matter that the hundred-dollar figure is arbitrary and the some words you remove are more valuable than others.  What matters is that the formula steers your behavior in the right direction.  As is often the case, simplicity trumps accuracy.  The hundred dollars in this case is not only inaccurate;  it’s entirely imaginary.  And it still works.

Here’s how Scott Adams characterizes his skill set:  “I have poor art skills, mediocre business skills, good, but not great, writing talent, and an early knowledge of the Internet.  And I have a good, but not great, sense of humor.  I’m like one big mediocre soup.  None of my skills are world-class, but when my mediocre skills are combined, they become a powerful market force.

Adams concludes with The Knowledge Formula:  The More You Know, the More You Can Know.

In other words learning and knowledge build upon themselves.


The Upside of Quitting

July 27, 2016

The title of this post is identical to a chapter in “Think Like a Freak” by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubnar.  Given the many posts that this blog has devoted to “GRIT,” it is obligatory to pay some time to the benefits of quitting.  The posts on “GRIT” did offer some cautions on choosing passions, on compromising on passion, and of indicating the plausibility of searching out new passions.

The “Think Like a Freak” authors offer three biases against quitting.  The first is a lifetime of being told that quitting is a sign of failure.  The second is the notion of sunk costs.  It is tempting to believe that once we’ve invested time, money, and sweat equity into a project, it seems counterproductive to quit.  However, continuing this activity can result in additional costs without any guarantee of success.  Perhaps the best example of the sunk cost fallacy is the War in Viet Nam.  However, noble the original motivation, more and more resources were put into it, and lives lost without a good result.  In the end, no victory was achieved.  Losses and lives could have been saved the earlier the United States withdrew from Viet Nam.

The third force that keeps us from quitting is a tendency to focus on concrete costs and pay too little attention to opportunity costs.   For every moment and dollar spent on the effort could have been better spent on a an effort with more potential.  The authors note that for every ten Freakonomics research projects they take up, roughy nine are abandoned within a month.  Although they do not say so, it is possible that had they not abandoned these projects it is unlikely that they would have enough successful material to fill three books.

The authors do offer a methodology to help decide if quitting is appropriate.  It is called a “premortem” by the psychologist Gary Klein.  It is common for institutions to conduct a postmortem on failed projects, with they hope that they can learn exactly what killed the project.  This risk can be mitigated can be avoided by doing a premortem as a preventive measure.  This involves thinking of all the factors that could lead to failure of the effort.  Then assess the likelihood of these factors occurring, as well as how these factors are dependent on each other.  That is what needs to occur before other factors can succeed?  This task involves subjective probabilities.  One can do both optimistic and pessimistic projections.  It is your overall subjective assessment as to whether to proceed.  This procedure does not guarantee success, but it should be helpful in identifying points of failure and provide some estimate regarding the likelihood of success.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Growth Mindsets and Grit

July 6, 2016

(3rd Post on GRIT)

The mention of Growth Mindsets is fairly frequent in healthy memory blog posts.  And having a Growth Mindset is touted as being key to a healthy memory.  So to appreciate how much Grit and Growth Mindsets have in common, statements that undermine growth mindsets and grit will be compared with statements that promote growth mindsets and grit.  When speaking with children teammates, friends or anyone about whom you care, make sure to use statements that promote Growth Mindsets and Grit

In the following comparisons the first statement undermines Growth Mindsets and Grit, whereas the second statement promotes Growth Mindsets and Grit.

“You’re  a natural!  I love that.” versus “You’re a learner I love that.”

“Well, at least you tried!”   versus    “That didn’t work.  Let’s talk about how you                                   approached it and what might work better.”

“Great job!  you’re so talented”  versus    “Great job!  What’s one thing that could have                             been even better?”

“This is hard.  Don’t feel bad if you can’t do it”  versus “This is hard.  Don’t feel bad if                                        you can[t do it yet.”

“Maybe this just isn’t your strength.  Don’t worry—you have other things to contribute”


“I have high standards.  I’m holding you to them because I know we can reach them together.”

The first statements in eacb comparison are examples of fixed mindsets.

So Growth Mindsets and Grit and excellent concepts.  How do they differ?  Grit adds passion.  Although passion is important, it entails additional considerations that should be become evident in subsequent posts.  However, Growth Mindsets are always commendable.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Self Control and Grit

June 24, 2015

Angela Duckworth is a 2003 recipient of a MacArthur Award, better known as a genius award.  She is currently a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research holds many practical benefits and also accords with common sense.  Unfortunately this “common sense” is not often followed.

Her research has found that changing the external situation is more effective than cognitive strategies in achieving self control.  Perhaps one of the most conspicuous examples concern the company we keep.  Bad company can easily lead to bad behavior and bad consequences.  She related an anecdote of what she observed at a school.  An older student was counseling a younger student with respect to the gang the younger student was “hanging” with.  He warned the kid that he should change the company he was keeping.  He told the kid that when he was the age of the kid he hung out with the wrong crowd that led him to do bad things and suffer bad consequences.

She recommends students sit at the front of the class.  Doing so increases their attention to the subject matter and their engagement with the class.

She also requires that all students in her classes close their laptops.  She insists upon gaining their entire attention.  And she instructs her students to continue to close their laptops in their other classes if they want to excel.

She reported research using experience sampling data to describe the phenomenology  of academic compared to other daily pursuits.  She found that adolescents felt more productive during academic work, and yet, in these same moments were less happy, less confident, and less intrinsically motivated compared to other daily activities.

She reported an experiment with adults on the effect of self-distancing (taking an outsider’s perspective) to stimulate effort on a tedious, but beneficial academic task.  Relative to control, adults in the self-distancing condition persisted more on a math task despite tempting media distractions.

Although laypeople usually connote self-control with the effortful exertion of willpower in the immediate face of temptation, the most effective self-control strategies are actually the ones that preempt situations or temptations that interfered with goals, thereby eliminating the need to exert willpower.  She did a study in which students assigned to implement situation modification rather than straightforward willpower or no strategy at all better accomplished their academic goals.

She uses the term “grit” to refer to staying engaged and overcoming frustration, that is  frustration tolerance.  She assesses grit by measuring the time spent on a frustrating task.  Grit predicted Grade Point Average, standardized math and reading achievement scores above and beyond demographic characteristics, general intelligence, and task importance.  Thus, grit, frustration tolerance, is highly important to academic achievement.