Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, has identified the key factor that predicts success in a variety of contexts, from West Point to sales jobs to Olympic competition. She calls this factor "grit," a combination of passion (sustaining an intense interest for a long period of time) and perseverance (being able to continue working toward a goal despite challenges and setbacks).

Duckworth’s research has produced some important insights. First, effort matters more than talent. In her formulation, talent and effort produce skill, and skill and effort produce achievement. As a result, talent is helpful but effort "counts twice"—once in developing skill and again in producing achievement.

Second, grit can be grown. We can develop passion, and we can cultivate perseverance. Duckworth identifies four traits that "gritty" people have in common:

  1. Interest. To develop passion, we need to have room to play and explore, to try various things until we find something we will enjoy doing for a long time.

  2. Capacity to practice. Duckworth recommends "deliberate practice," which means focusing not just on quantity but on quality. We need to set a "stretch goal" that isolates the area we want to improve. Then we must work toward that goal with full concentration and effort. We should seek immediate feedback so we can highlight areas where we need to improve. Then we repeat our work and refine our performance in response to that feedback.

  3. Purpose. We need to believe that what we do matters, not just to us but to others. It helps to identify our "top-level goal" and then develop "lower-level goals" that will help us get there. Our lower-level goals may change over time, but they always should be determined with the to-level goal in mind.

  4. Hope. Duckworth quotes a Japanese saying: "Fall seven, rise eight." Perseverance comes from hope, from the belief that we can overcome adversity. This belief comes from learning that we have some control over our circumstances. As we achieve small wins and gradually develop mastery, our sense of control increases and so does our hope.

Duckworth offers advice on how parents and educators can cultivate grit in their children and students. The key is to be both demanding and supportive: To have high expectations and to show our students that we respect and believe in them. By doing this, and by teaching our students that passion and deliberate practice produce mastery, we can create a culture of grit.