Author: Angela Duckworth
Is intellect more important than hard work in the journey to achieve success? Or does effort trump talent in the quest to fulfil our goals and aspirations? In tackling this age-long question, the author forcefully asserts that tenacity is the more important factor in life, and denounces genius as an over-rated element that may even undermine the value of effort (pages 34-35). She argues that most human accomplishments were indeed the products of grit, the ‘combination of passion and perseverance‘. The book shows that people who possess grit succeed because they care passionately for the projects they work on, and they have the ability to hold ‘the same top-level goal for a very long time’ (pages 54 and 64). It asserts that for talent to be productive at all, it has to be allied with grit, that essential ingredient of ‘consistency of effort over the long run‘ (pages 50-51).
The book makes very strong historical references to support its case for grit. Citing research done by the eminent psychologist Catharine Cox, the author argued that the most successful people in history attained their objectives, not by their intellect, but by their grit. She said their lives were typified by the persistence of their motives, the distant objectives they kept in mind, and the perseverance they showed in the face of obstacles (page 74-77). She illustrated this argument with examples such as John Stuart Mills, Nicolaus Copernicus, Michael Faraday, and Isaac Newton, people whose grit, she asserted, dominated over their intellect. She also gave the examples of Francis Galton and Charles Darwin, both of whom she argued succeeded by their sheer grit, without having extraordinary talent (pages 20-21). She emphasised the importance of persevering in the face of repeated failures with the striking example of Robert Mankoff, the famous New Yorker cartoonist whose initial two thousand submissions to the magazine were rejected (page 73).
The author went to a lot of effort to distil the qualities that make people gritty. One key trait of gritty people is their perception that what they are doing matters to people other than themselves, and they therefore set goals that go beyond their personal benefits (page 145). This broad perspective enables gritty people to ‘see their ultimate aims as deeply connected to the world beyond themselves’ (page 148). The author lists the ‘the four psychological assets‘ of grit as interest, deliberate practice, purpose, and hope, and she emphasised that these are qualities can be learned. The book discusses many advantages of having a gritty personality; these include educational and occupational success, experiencing flow, and possessing a general feeling of well-being (pages 11, 131 and 270). The author however struck a sensible balance when she pointed out that grit is not the most significant aspect of character, contending that morality (encompassing honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness) ‘trumps all other aspects of character in importance’ (page 273).
The author made several recommendations on how grit may be acquired. She said, for example, that inculcating grit in children requires a balance of supportive and demanding parenting. She supported this assertion with research showing that children raised in this authoritative but loving style ‘earned higher grades in school, were more self-reliant, suffered from less anxiety and depression, and were less likely to engage in delinquent behaviour‘ (pages 211-213). She recommended extracurricular activities as important for instilling grit because they promote better school performance and encourage higher self-esteem (page 225-226). She urged organisations to create gritty cultures, and everyone to ‘find a gritty culture and join it’ (page 245).
The author made reference to a vast array of experts and research findings to support her arguments. These include the psychologists Marty Seligman and Steve Meier on learned helplessness (page 172), Carol Dweck on mindsets (pages 180-181), Anders Ericsson on deliberate practice (pages 118-127), and Mihaly Csikszentmihayli on the psychology of flow (pages 128-129). She cited Chia-Jung Tsay’s research on musicians which illustrates the superiority of effortful practice over natural talent (pages 23-26). She referred to her own research into the admission process of West Point Military Academy which showed that those who succeed demonstrate an enduring passion and determination even when the tasks they were performing were ‘boring, or frustrating, or even painful‘ (page 8). The book also discussed several related psychological concepts such as the Grit Scale, the Flynn effect, and the maturity principle (pages 9, 83 and 86).
This book draws from the authors research, and works in related fields, to explore the important ingredients of success. The author argues convincingly that grit, manifested as sustained effort, is more important in the attainment of success than natural talent. She defines the characteristics of gritty people, and makes wide-ranging recommendations on the attainment of grit.
This book addresses an important facet of success, emphasising the value of hard work and rightly de-emphasising the place of talent. The subject of effort and success is relevant to doctors whose training and practice relies heavily on effort. More importantly, the clinical outcomes of their patients also depend on the passion and perseverance that characterises grit. The book covers this important healthcare subject extensively, and I recommend it to all doctors.
Publisher, Place, Date: Vermilion, London, 2017
Number of Chapters: 23
Number of Pages: 333