Book Review: Grit by Angela Duckworth

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Table of Contents

About

  • Title: Grit
  • Sub-title: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
  • Author: Angela Duckworth
  • About the author: Angela Duckworth is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and is a 2013 MacArthur Fellow. She began he career as a consultant at McKinsey before she tried out teaching. Her hypothesis was that the real determining factor of success wasn’t talent but a mix of resilience and single-mindedness. Her work went on to prove this theory.
  • Pages: 368
  • Published: 2018
  • Link to book

High-Level Summary

Author Angela Duckworth wrote this book to summarize everything she has learned about grit. Grit is a trait that can be described as having a combination of passion and perseverance to push through obstacles, remain single-minded in a pursuit, and achieve success.

Angela grew up with a father that talked a lot about talent and genius. He believed having or not having either would determine what Angela could eventually achieve. Angela didn’t fall into this fixed mindset and went on to become a MacArthur Fellow. 

She was successful by most standards. She worked as a consultant at McKinsey before taking a stab at teaching. Then she went on to become a professor and research her theory.

Her theory revolved around grit being a differentiator between those who have success and those who don’t.

In this book, you’ll learn about what really drives success. Grit is broken into three parts:

  1. What Grit is and Why It Matters
  2. Growing Grit From the Inside Out
  3. Growing Grit From the Outside In

Additional topics covered include:

  • Why showing up matters
  • The distraction of talent
  • Why effort counts twice
  • How grit can grow
  • How interest, practice, purpose, and hope play a role
  • Parenting and grit
  • The importance of culture and grit

Recommendation

5/5

Grit is a highly coveted characteristic. If you want to become grittier or even just understand how grit works, then this book is for you. Angela Duckworth explains how this trait is the differentiator in successful individuals. 

Grit can be applied to all areas of your life and career so I would emphatically recommend this book to everyone. It is an easy and fascinating read that you will zoom through in no time.

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Top 35 Takeaways

* In no particular order

1. After interviewing leaders in business, art, athletics, journalism, academia, medicine, and law, she asked: Who are the people at the very top of your field? What are they like? What do you think makes them special? They were constantly driven to improve and never satisfied. Why were the highly accomplished so dogged in their pursuits? In a very real sense, they were satisfied being unsatisfied. Each was chasing something of unparalleled interest and importance, and it was the chase—as much as the capture—that was gratifying.

2. No matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, but they also had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.

3. Adults who’d earned an MBA, PhD, MD, JD, or another graduate degree were grittier than those who’d only graduated from four-year colleges. SAT scores and grit were, in fact, inversely correlated. Students in that select sample who had higher SAT scores were, on average, just slightly less gritty than their peers.

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

5. Outliers, Galton concluded, are remarkable in three ways: they demonstrate unusual “ability” in combination with exceptional “zeal” and “the capacity for hard labor.”

6. There is a gap, James declared, between potential and its actualization. “the human individual lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum.”

7. The “naturalness bias” is a hidden prejudice against those who’ve achieved what they have because they worked for it, and a hidden preference for those whom we think arrived at their place in life because they’re naturally talented.

8. “In the most general sense, talent is the sum of a person’s abilities—his or her intrinsic gifts, skills, knowledge, experience, intelligence, judgment, attitude, character, and drive.

9. 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. Why? Because a competitive, winner-take-all environment encourages the most talented to stick around and the least talented to find alternative employment.

10. A few years ago, I read a study of competitive swimmers titled “The Mundanity of Excellence.” The title of the article encapsulates its major conclusion: the most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary. “Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole. The fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.

11. “Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius,” Nietzsche said. “For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking. . . . To call someone ‘divine’ means: ‘here there is no need to compete.’ ”

12. Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them. Talent—how fast we improve in skill—absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.

13. Even more than the effort a gritty person puts in on a single day, what matters is that they wake up the next day, and the next, ready to get on that treadmill and keep going.

14. “The separation of talent and skill,” Will Smith points out, “is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

15. At the bottom of this hierarchy are our most concrete and specific goals—the tasks we have on our short-term to-do list: These low-level goals exist merely as means to ends. In contrast, the higher the goal in this hierarchy, the more abstract, general, and important it is. Grit is about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time. In very gritty people, most mid-level and low-level goals are, in some way or another, related to that ultimate goal.

16. Any successful person has to decide what to do in part by deciding what not to do. When you have to divide your actions among a number of very different high-level career goals, you’re extremely conflicted. So, to Buffett’s three-step exercise in prioritizing, I would add an additional step: Ask yourself, To what extent do these goals serve a common purpose?

17. Cox concluded that “high but not the highest intelligence, combined with the greatest degree of persistence, will achieve greater eminence than the highest degree of intelligence with somewhat less persistence.”

18. Together, the research reveals the psychological assets that mature paragons of grit have in common. There are four. First comes interest. Next comes the capacity to practice. Third is purpose. And, finally, hope.

19. I asked Hester what she’s learned from talking to more than two hundred “mega successful” people, as she described them during our conversation. “One thing that comes up time and time again is: ‘I love what I do.’

20. Within the last decade or so, scientists who study interests have arrived at a definitive answer. First, research shows that people are enormously more satisfied with their jobs when they do something that fits their personal interests. Second, people perform better at work when what they do interests them. So matching your job to what captures your attention and imagination is a good idea. It may not guarantee happiness and success, but it sure helps the odds.

21. When I first started interviewing grit paragons, I assumed they’d all have stories about the singular moment when, suddenly, they’d discovered their God-given passion. One moment, you have no idea what to do with your time on earth. And the next, it’s all clear—you know exactly who you were meant to be. But, in fact, most grit paragons I’ve interviewed told me they spent years exploring several different interests, and the one that eventually came to occupy all of their waking (and some sleeping) thoughts wasn’t recognizably their life’s destiny on first acquaintance.

22. Second, 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.

23. Kaizen is Japanese for resisting the plateau of arrested development. Its literal translation is: “continuous improvement.” Likewise, in her interviews with “mega successful” people, journalist Hester Lacey has noticed that all of them demonstrate a striking desire to excel beyond their already remarkable level of expertise: “

24. Unlike most of us, experts are logging thousands upon thousands of hours of what Ericsson calls deliberate practice. This is how experts practice: First, they set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance. Then, with undivided attention and great effort, experts strive to reach their stretch goal. As soon as possible, experts hungrily seek feedback on how they did. Then experts do it all over again, and again, and again. Until they have finally mastered what they set out to do. Until what was a struggle before is now fluent and flawless. Until conscious incompetence becomes unconscious competence. And . . . then what? What follows mastery of a stretch goal? Then experts start all over again with a new stretch goal. One by one, these subtle refinements add up to dazzling mastery.

25. Ericsson generally finds that deliberate practice is experienced as supremely effortful. he points out that even world-class performers at the peak of their careers can only handle a maximum of one hour of deliberate practice before needing a break, and in total, can only do about three to five hours of deliberate practice per day.

26. Each of the basic requirements of deliberate practice is unremarkable: A clearly defined stretch goal • Full concentration and effort • Immediate and informative feedback • Repetition with reflection and refinement. Which leads to my second suggestion for getting the most out of deliberate practice: Make it a habit.

27. At its core, the idea of purpose is the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves. Consider the parable of the bricklayers: Three bricklayers are asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling. In the parable of the bricklayers, everyone has the same occupation, but their subjective experience—how they themselves viewed their work—couldn’t be more different.

28. One kind of hope is the expectation that tomorrow will be better than today. Grit depends on a different kind of hope. The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.

29. Optimists, Marty soon discovered, are just as likely to encounter bad events as pessimists. Where they diverge is in their explanations: optimists habitually search for temporary and specific causes of their suffering, whereas pessimists assume permanent and pervasive causes are to blame.

30. If you have a growth mindset, you’re more likely to do well in school, enjoy better emotional and physical health, and have stronger, more positive social relationships with other people. We’ve found that students with a growth mindset are significantly grittier than students with a fixed mindset.

31. The scientific research is very clear that experiencing trauma without control can be debilitating. But I also worry about people who cruise through life, friction-free, for a long, long time before encountering their first real failure. They have so little practice falling and getting up again. They have so many reasons to stick with a fixed mindset. I see a lot of invisibly vulnerable high-achievers stumble in young adulthood and struggle to get up again. I call them the “fragile perfects.”

32. There are countless research studies showing that kids who are more involved in extracurriculars fare better on just about every conceivable metric—they earn better grades, have higher self-esteem, are less likely to get in trouble and so forth.

33. My best guess is that following through on our commitments while we grow up both requires grit and, at the same time, builds it.

34. The bottom line on culture and grit is: If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture. “So it seems to me,” Dan concluded, “that there’s a hard way to get grit and an easy way. The hard way is to do it by yourself. The easy way is to use conformity—the basic human drive to fit.”

35. To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.

What I Liked

Comprehensive coverage of grit

The book is divided into three parts:

  1. What Grit is and Why It Matters
  2. Growing Grit From the Inside Out
  3. Growing Grit From the Outside In

I feel that Angela covered the topic of grit pretty comprehensively. In part one, she introduces grit and talks about its importance. Once the reader is all hyped up about grit, she explains how the reader can generate it internally and externally.

Research and stories show grit as the common denominator in many cases

The book is filled with research and stories that all show grit as a common denominator. The author talks about Westpoint cadets, musicians, athletes, Ivy League students, and corporate professionals. You see how grit played a factor in some succeeding and some failing.

I thought the research and stories made it apparent how grit can impact a multitude of areas in one’s life.

Book explains how to generate grit internally and externally

Above, I mentioned how Angela shows you how you can generate grit internally and how you can generate it externally. I enjoyed this layout. She gives you the tools you need to build grit. Some people thrive on solving things internally and others thrive with help from external forces.

This book caters to both audiences.

Benefits To Your Life and Career

Understanding of the real trait you need to succeed

Individuals who are on the pursuit of success frequently analyze those who have had it. They look at them and try to pick apart why they have achieved so much. Odds are that they have a strong level of grit and single-minded focus on their goal.

That’s what Angela Duckworth points out in her book. With the awareness of how important this trait is, you can learn to develop it and use it to lead you to success.

Become mentally strong and overcome any obstacle

By building grit, you’ll naturally become mentally strong. In life, you will have highs and lows. You need mental strength to help get you through those low points. With grit, you’ll be able to withstand the storms and overcome any obstacle.

Know the importance of surrounding yourself with quality individuals

The latter chapters of the book deal with building grit from the outside in. Angela talks about her time with Seattle football coach Pete Carroll. She spent time with him and the team and saw how he created this gritty culture that every bought into. 

She also shared quotes from a swim coach basically saying “the best way to become a good swimmer is to join a good swim team.”

By the end of the book, you’ll understand the importance of surrounding yourself with quality individuals. When you join a group that is gritty and always pushing themselves, you’ll want to do the same. It’s human nature to conform. You wouldn’t want to be the odd one out and risk being excluded from the tribe.

11 Actions You Should Take

1. Learn to love the chase as much as the capture. Loving the pursuit of something will get you through the tough times that that pursuit will have.

2. Develop the “capacity for hard labor” by learning to do hard things. By seeking out hard things, your comfort zone will grow.

3. Avoid the “naturalness bias” when looking at the achievements of others. Understand what type of work they put in and for how long.

4. Don’t just put in a large amount of effort in a single day. You need to show up the next day, and the next day, and the next. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.

5. Look at your goals in a hierarchy. The top-level goal is your main over-arching goal that is important to you. The bottom-level goals exist as a means to an end. These goals will help you accomplish your mid-level goals. Then your mid-level goals will help you achieve your top-level goals. Your low-level and mid-level goals should be somewhat related to your ultimate goal. The more unified, aligned, and coordinated our goal hierarchies, the better.

6. Develop these traits: 1) Degree to which he works with distant objects in view (as opposed to living from hand to mouth). Active preparation for later life. Working toward a definite goal. 2) Tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability. Not seeking something fresh because of novelty. Not “looking for a change.” 3) Degree of strength of will or perseverance. Quiet determination to stick to a course once decided upon. 4) Tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness.

7. Develop a daily discipline of trying to do things better than you did yesterday.

8. Experiment and find out what it is that you love to do; what it is that you’re interested in. Knowing what you want to do with your life does not happen in a singular moment. Ask yourself a few simple questions: What do I like to think about? Where does my mind wander? What do I really care about? What matters most to me? How do I enjoy spending my time? And, in contrast, what do I find absolutely unbearable?

9. Practice deliberate practice. Give undivided attention and great effort. Seek feedback, adapt, and practice more. Work until a struggle is fluent and flawless. Measure your practice by how much your skill improved, not by how much time has passed.

10. Avoid becoming a “fragile perfect.” These are people who cruise through life, friction-free, for a long, long time before encountering their first real failure. They have so little practice falling and getting up again. They tend to have a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset.

11. Find a group that has a gritty culture. When you join that group, you’ll naturally want to conform, which will result in you becoming grittier.

Resources

Grit can be found on Amazon at this link here if you are interested in reading.

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Author: Brandon Hill

Brandon is the creator of Bizness Professionals and author behind each post. He is currently a working professional, primarily in finance, and looks to provide resources to aspiring or current young professionals for well-rounded professional and personal development. Find out more on the About page.

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