More Americans are likely to single out "natural talent" as the best predictor of success, but psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that talent is overrated in our society. In her new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, she explains why they are wrong.
Angela Duckworth on grit from Parroyo on Vimeo.
1 Society praises talent over effort.
2 Gritty people change from one activity to another.
3 Gritty people direct their thoughts to the people around them rather than to themselves.
4 Angela loves tattoos.
5 People from a lower social class have to work harder to succeed.
6 Colleges and universities want talented students.
7 Quitting in the early stages of life is understandable.
8 Talent is specially important in sports.
9 You can teach grit.
What drives a person to become successful? That question fuels the research of psychologist Angela Duckworth. The 2013 Macarthur genius grant fellow learned that grit is the best sign. She explained this in her popular TED talk.
One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. It wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit. Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future. Day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality.
Angela Duckworth’s first book, Grit: The power of passion and perseverance, is published by Scribner. Angela, good morning. So great to meet you. I’ve been reading about your work for a while. So this is terrific. We praise talent. We have shows called America’s got talent, but what is more important in success, talent or effort?
I think we overrate talent in our society. We’re obsessed with whether our kids got picked for the gifted and talented program or do we have the X-Factor. Really, what matters in it the long run is sticking with things and working daily to get better at them.
So what do gritty people do specifically?
So gritty people do at least four things. One is rather than skipping around in their interests, you know, oh, I’ll click over here and it will be something new, they deepen their interests. The second thing is they submit themselves to the hardest kind of practice. It’s called deliberate practice. It’s what really makes you better, which is largely working on your weaknesses with feedback. The third thing that they do is they find some other centered purpose. Even when you study people who are gritty and seemingly do selfish things it like wine tasting or an individual sport, you know, where they’re the one who wins the gold medal, they’re actually extraordinarily other-centered. They try to think about how their work is important to people other than them. And finally, when they are knocked down, they get up again. They’re resilient.
They fall down seven times but get up eight. Nothing keeps them down.
There’s an expression in Japanese, fall seven, rise eight. And truly, if I were ever going to get a tattoo, which I’m not, that’s what I would get.
The other day Charlie said he was thinking about getting a tattoo.
Maybe you should get a tattoo.
Let’s all think about it. Here’s my question. Does it have anything to do with socioeconomic groups? In other words, if you’re born poor, are you more likely to have the grit to understand that’s the way you pull yourself up?
You know, people have asked me this question on both sides. I haven’t examined that myself in my data, but I can tell you this. From working with kids across the socioeconomic spectrum, people are more the same than they are different. I’ve never met someone who says, because I was born in this situation, I didn’t need to work hard.
Are colleges now looking more and more at grit and what is called the x-factor rather than simply test scores and IQ scores?
One of the people that I interviewed for my book was my own college admissions officer, Bill Fitzsimmons. He’s still the director of admissions for Harvard University. If you ask people like Bill, what do colleges really want, they say that they want kids who work hard and who have a passion about something, who aren’t just, you know, faking their way through school looking like they look, you know, checking off boxes. I did this, I did this, I did this. But truly and in a sincere way trying to get better at something that they care about.
You say gritty people don’t quit but, on the other hand, you say for kids sometimes you should quit. It seems to be a bit of a contradiction. Help me understand what the point is you’re making.
Early in life you don’t know what you want to do. I don’t know about you, guys, but for me it took me until I was 32 to really figure out that I wanted to be a psychologist, and a psychologist who would help improve the lives of kids. So what was I doing before I was 32? I was quitting things. I was quitting being a speech intern at the White House. I was quitting my job as a consultant. I was quitting being a teacher in the classroom. Importantly, in that quitting, I was trying to find something. It wasn’t just quitting for quitting’s sake, but quitting so I could find something, that I could be loyal to the rest of my life and I finally did find that.
We all love sports so much at this table. We talk about a lot, and I think when we look at great athletes we think, wow, they were born with some natural talent. But you actually go through studies, including one called The Mandate of Excellence, which is that really success in sports is a series of small achievements.
Sport is such a great example because if you turn on a sports broadcast, you will invariably hear the world talent within a minute. We just love to anoint our most successful athletes as prodigiously talented. And one of the things that I learned in my research is from talking to a sociologist who lived from swim teams for six years, all the way from club team around the corner to Olympic hopefuls. And the summary conclusion of his work is that excellence really is mundane. It’s a thousand little things, each of which you could practise, each of which you could improve upon. You put them together and it’s dazzling.
But some people do have more hand-eye coordination than others.
Speaking someone of someone you know?
No, I’m just think it’s a fact that some people have a certain skill they’re born with. But then those that achieve the ultimate are those who simply exercise that particular skill.
And quickly. Can you teach grit?
Yeah, I would say this. While we are not all born with the same amount of talent for different things, I do believe grit is enormously important and absolutely teachable.
All right. It’s such a great book, Angela. Thank you so much. And Grit goes on sale today.
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