Book Club: Grit, by Angela Duckworth


Book Club: Grit, by Angela Duckworth

June 24, 2019 | Education

As an agency, education is the cornerstone of everything we do. That starts with our internal team.

So, we started a book club. A chance for us all to expand the way we think about our approach to work inside and outside the office. This month’s read was Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth.

Grit is a combination of passion and determination. According to Duckworth, the ability to focus on a task and see it through despite challenges that arise is a stronger predictor of high achievement than talent or intelligence.

Throughout the book, Duckworth explores the lives of grit paragons, people who exemplify grit. We thought it’d be useful to round up some of her research and advice, and fill you in on what we took away from the book.  

Why grit is important

In her work analyzing why West Point college had such a high drop-out rate, Duckworth noted that the aptitude-based “Whole Candidate Score” entry tests weren’t indicative of a student’s long-term potential or stick-at-it-ness. She finds that some people feel they don’t need to work hard if they’re naturally gifted.

Gritty people have the ability to feel satisfied being unsatisfied, resting in the squirmishness many of us feel when we’re not a natural at something.

In her observations, effort is paramount. She created the equation:

Talent x effort = skill…skill x effort = achievement

You put effort into building skill, but without an extra push, you won’t be able to turn those skills into achievements in an often unpredictable world.

She also notes that many of us have a bias towards ‘natural talent’. We love to indulge in the mystery of effortless talent so that we won’t feel so bad if we don’t reach our goals.

What we accomplish in the marathon of life depends tremendously on our grit—our passion and perseverance for long-term goals. An obsession with talent distracts us from that simple truth.


Clear goals are vital to developing grit. You can use these four steps to prioritize and align your goals:

  1. List up to 25 of your goals
  2. Choose five that are your top priority
  3. Completely avoid the 20 goals that you didn’t select – don’t waste time or energy on them
  4. Think about how your top five goals are related. Be loyal to your top-level goals and make sure any short terms goals you create are in service of one of your top

Developing grit from the inside out

Additionally, you need these four ingredients to develop grit: 

  1. an interest in what you’re doing or striving for. This looks like:
    – experimenting with different interests and figuring out what you like and don’t
    – giving new interests time, viewing challenges as fascinating rather than annoying
  2. a deliberate practice, focusing on improvement. This looks like:
    – pushing yourself beyond your current skill level
    – enjoying the challenge
    – making your routine into a habit
    – always using your full attention
  3. purpose, knowing that your work is important. This looks like:
    – finding a problem that you personally have the skills or ideas to solve
    – being true to your personal values
    – finding people who inspire you
  4. hope that you can achieve your goals, that is resilient to setbacks. This looks like:
    – positive self-talk
    – growth-mindset
    – avoiding fixed-mindset language

“Parenting” for grit

Parenting in this context just means supporting the next generation, whether it’s a niece, junior co-worker, son, intern or goddaughter.

Duckworth goes on to say that we all need to role model passion and perseverance and pursue our own goals in order to mentor grit in others.

Similar to the support/challenge matrix you might have seen at your corporate job, the parenting for grit chapter explores a supportive/demanding matrix that encourages potential grit parents to think about how to set high expectations in a way that’s supportive. 

She suggests developing a “hard thing” rule, in which every member of the family chooses a difficult thing to try and sticks to it, only stopping at the natural conclusion, like the event day, season or semester-end, not on a whim.

Developing a culture of grit

“Either small environmental differences, or genetic ones, can trigger a virtuous cycle. Either way, the effects are multiplied socially through culture, because each of us enriches the environment of all of us.”

Our takeaways

We loved the story about running-phobic Will Smith who said, “You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, but if we get on the treadmill together, right, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.”

Our managers took to the ‘sticking to something hard for a year rule’, so much so that they vowed to model that behavior in their own working lives for their teams.

We know that everyone hears a ‘no’ sometimes, and that’s OK, we want to continue nurturing a growth mindset among our staff.

We acknowledged how passionate our staff is, and how important it is that our culture fosters passion, no matter what the project is. 

Everyone works harder when it’s to the benefit of others, whether that’s work for the Foundation, or supporting people on our team who we respect and cherish. We want to keep those flames burning bright.

Criticisms and omissions

The book has come under criticism for its limited view of success. It makes no mention of creativity, the ability to think under pressure, or integrity being important for a successful life. And the people who might be in the right set of circumstances for building grit may well be in the same circumstances to develop those other traits seen in successful people. 

The New Yorker’s David Denby opined. “If grit mania really flowers, one can imagine a mass of grimly determined people exhausting themselves and everyone around them with obsessional devotion to semi-worthless tasks—a race of American squares, anxious, compulsive, and constrained.” —ouch.

If you’d like the chance to decide for yourself, get in touch. We have a few spare copies that we’d love to share with you. 


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