December 13, 2019

Grit

I was honored this week to be in a small group “fireside chat” with Angela Duckworth, author of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, and to meet her and ask a question during an internal presentation at LRN. The session was also webcast, and you can look at the recording here. It’s long, but if you’re in the topic, it’s worth seeing.

I want to hit on one theme here from the book and dialog, but I’ll start by sharing a 2×2 matrix (remember, I’m an ex-consultant, I think in frameworks) that we’ve used at home with our kids periodically. For the most part, we use it to talk to them about why they should work harder on math homework, but it’s had other use cases as well. Hopefully it makes sense on the face of it…

…but essentially the framework teaches that if you are talented AND work hard at something, you can achieve great things. If you have talent and slack off, you can get by perfectly fine. If you have no talent but work your butt off, you can get there…but it’s hard. And if there’s an area of life where you have no talent and don’t work at it, so be it, but you’re punting on that whole thing.

In the book, Duckworth takes this to a whole new level by adding a simultaneous second equation:

  • Talent x Effort = Skill
  • Skill x Effort = Achievement

This makes the statement that “your first bit of talent, combined with effort increases your skill level. Your increasing skill, multiplied by effort, leads to achievement. That means effort counts twice. Once for skill and once for achievement. But that doesn’t mean it’s twice as important. If you substitute the skill equation into the achievement equation, you end up with

  • Talent x Effort x Effort = Achievement, which means that 
  • Talent x Effort² = Achievement.

Or in other words, “Your effort is exponentially more important than how talented you are.”

All I have to say is that while I won’t create a second graphical explanation of this and probably won’t go back and amend my 2×2 for my kids, I think Duckworth is right, with one caveat. If you don’t have a certain baseline of talent in a certain area, it just doesn’t matter how much effort you apply – your achievement has some kind of natural governor to it. When I was a kid, I would dearly have loved to be the shortstop for the San Diego Padres, but between being a lefty, a kid, and not what you would call overly athletic, it wouldn’t have mattered if I spent every waking hour of a decade working at it…I never would have gotten there. Having said that, those cases may be edge cases, and again, I find that the emphasis on effort on top of my framework is a very worth application.

But go read Grit. It’s much better and more detailed than this blog post!