“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare,” writes Angela Duckworth in her New York Times bestseller, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016).
Duckworth is the founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance scientific insights that help children thrive.
She is also the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics.
Duckworth has become an expert on grit by studying the secret to outstanding achievement from the perspectives of a teacher, parent, and scientist.
Just about every organization wants to know how to get more of this special blend of passion and perseverance. She has advised the White House, the World Bank, NBA and NFL teams, and Fortune 500 CEOs. In 2013, she was a MacArthur Fellow.
Flow Research Collective Radio recently spoke with Duckworth about Grit in episode 3 recorded on October 12, 2020.
The episode is titled “How to Develop Grit and Amplify Your Creativity.”
Duckworth is accompanied by Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman (a person she identified in her book as a “paragon of grit”) Kaufman is a member of FRC and a humanistic psychologist exploring the depths of human potential.
“My definition of Grit is a combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals,” Duckworth says.
Grit combines two characteristics:
- Loving something for a very long time.
- Working towards it, even when there are setbacks.
There Are No Shortcuts or Good Excuses
In our fast-paced world, people are still looking for shortcuts to get ahead.
Duckworth’s research has found that there are no shortcuts to excellence.
You have to develop real expertise and figure out the answers to really hard problems.
Most people give up too early because working on something (even something you care about) takes time to get right.
When Duckworth was researching her book, she studied cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, teachers working in tough inner-city schools, and National Spelling Bee finalists.
What she found was that “as much as talent counts, effort counts twice.”
Many people use the excuse that they aren’t smart enough to accomplish greatness.
Duckworth made a key discovery when she was a public school math teacher in the New York City school system.
“What struck me was that IQ was not the only difference between my best and my worst students. Some of my strongest performers did not have stratospheric IQ scores. Some of my smartest kids weren't doing so well. And that got me thinking…”
We tend to think talent is genetic and effort is not.
But there is a genetic and experiential component to both. It’s nature and nurture.
Where do successful people really come from if it’s NOT correlated with exceptional talent or ability?
The Achievement Equation
Because of her math and science background, Duckworth cleverly applied a physics formula to define achievement.
In Physics, distance equals rate x time. That’s similar to achievement equals skill x effort.
If you want to accomplish something you have to have skill and work very hard.
Where does skill come from? Skill itself has an equation.
Talent x effort = skill.
Therefore, achievement is = talent x effort squared.
That’s the intuition behind grit. You may not be the fastest learner, but doing things for a very long time eventually leads to achievement.
Grit and Novelty
In the podcast, Kaufman and Duckworth discuss the parallels between highly creative individuals and exceptionally gritty ones.
“What is admirable to me from really gritty people is they are able to derive surprise and enjoyment from the novelty of a craft,” Duckworth says, “Many high-performing adults did a lot of exploration, a lot of trial and error, and even after they discover their passion, they still do a lot of cross fertilizing.”
Cross fertilizing is her word for bringing in knowledge from previous experiences.
This is also an important characteristic for fostering creativity.
Steven Kotler suggests reading 25-50 pages of material outside of your area of expertise every day so that you are giving your pattern recognition brain some new material to work with.
Angela talks about after you have an area of expertise, exposing yourself to unrelated things keeps you from never getting bored in addition to making far-flung connections that boost the creativity of your work.
Both experts seem to agree that life should be mostly sampling early, followed by specialization with cross-fertilization.
When this takes place, boredom seems to become irrelevant.
You are constantly making new connections between new stimuli and what you already care about.
What Comes After Grit?
Duckworth recognizes that people are happiest when they are “on the ascent” of something.
That’s when you’re in the middle of applying grit to do something you really want to be doing.
What happens when you reach your peak? When the project is done?
This can be even more difficult to deal with than the work that required grit in the first place.
Kaufman spent ten years of his life obsessively researching his book UnGifted: Intelligence Redefined.
For a decade, his massive life purpose was the quest to redefine intelligence. After he accomplished it, he didn’t know what to do.
Similarly, Steven Kotler experienced the only writer’s block of his life after writing “West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief” in 2007.
After you’ve achieved your goal. It’s important to get over yourself and immediately start exploring something new.
With grit, you never have to feel like only one big life achievement is possible.
As Duckworth says in her book, “Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.”
Listen to the entire podcast episode with Angela Duckworth and Scott Barry Kaufman.
How to Develop Grit and Amplify Your Creativity — Dr. Angela Duckworth and Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman | Flow Research Collective Radio.