Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance is a powerful study of success and achievement. With the final message that it is not our innate talent that moves us forward but our “grittiness”.
As it is still January and those New Year’s resolutions are still in our notebooks, on refrigerators, and on office bulletin boards we thought we would review a book on staying power. Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance is an in-depth study of success and achievement. It turns out that natural aptitude is not the answer.
Angela Duckworth is an eminent psychologist focusing on the psychology of success. She has snagged degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and the University of Pennsylvania. While she has published papers in many academic journals, this is her first book. She has taught mathematics at the secondary school level, worked for McKinsey (a management consulting firm that prides itself on only hiring the best and brightest), won a MacArthur grant, and now is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and has founded the Character Lab.
You don’t have to be a genius
The book is partially a memoir and partially an academic treatise. The very first anecdote in the book is in the Preface and it is her father telling her and her siblings that they are not geniuses. This seems rather harsh, they are, after all, children. Given her impressive credentials and career it would seem that she is indeed some sort of prodigy. And this assumption is what forms the basis of her argument. Yes, she was smart but it was not intelligence that got her where she is today.
What makes a spelling bee champion a winner or a Westpoint hopeful a graduate? The first several chapters of the book introduce the readers to Duckworth’s concept of grit. She makes a statement early on in the book; “our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another”. Duckworth takes time to develop her arguments that showing up and working at skills is how people become successful. “Effort counts twice” is a refrain throughout the book and with two short word equations she makes her point eloquently; “talent x effort = skill and skill x effort = achievement”.
You need to be gritty
While you do not have to be a genius to read or understand Duckworth’s message you do need a certain measure of grit to make it through the book. Duckworth keeps returning to the same handful of people for anecdotes; herself, her children, the school children she
taught, olympic swimmers, spelling bee hopefuls, and the list goes on for a another few examples but the stories lack variety.
The main body of the book, chapters six through nine, where she explains the four principles involved in grit have no pacing and move slowly. Additionally, the chapters outlining practice and purpose are a restating of the pop psychology book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, published in 2009 (which appears in the suggested further reading section of the book).
The book progresses slowly to a guide for parenting children for grit and for creating workplace and learning cultures that foster gritty attitudes. One of Duckworth’s concluding thoughts is that this is her “way of taking you out for coffee” and explaining what she knows. However, this is a very long coffee with a very verbose professor. While the message is amazing the delivery does not engage the reader.