By Rob Cooney
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” -From “If” by Rudyard Kipling
Does genius drive success? If not genius, then what does? Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania well known for her work on the concept of “grit.” In her book by the same name, Duckworth explains the nature of grit, its importance, and how to get more of it.
She opens her book with a review of talent. She explains why focusing on talent is a mistake and how the least talented students sometimes are the most successful learners. As she explains,
“the biggest reason a preoccupation with talent can be harmful is simple: by shining a spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors-including grit-don’t matter as much as they really do (pg. 31).”
She also does a nice job of explaining why effort is essential to success. As she explains:
Talent x effort = skill
The remainder of the book is focused on Dr. Duckworth’s research into the discovery of grit and explaining how you can get more of it. For starters, take the grit assessment.
To grow grit, Duckworth asserts that a person must first have “interest” in a topic. Once interest is established, an individual must have the capacity to practice. As an individual gets better, they will develop a purpose that connects their interest, often connected to the well being of others. Finally, an individual must have hope. The development of capacity always involves some component of failure. Rising to the occasion promotes the development of grit. The next several chapters of the book explore these four key components of the development of grit.
Particularly interesting was the chapter on practice. Educators will recognize the work of Anders Ericsson and the theory of deliberate practice. Educators may also be familiar with the concept of flow, another theory proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. At first glance, these two concepts appear to be at odds. Deliberate practice is energy intensive and generally not perceived as very much fun. In contrast, flow is a state that is highly enjoyable, where a person can lose track of time. From my understanding of the two concepts, I came to the same conclusion as Duckworth, “deliberate practice is for preparation, and flow is for performance (page132).” It turns out, however, that people with a high level of grit actually experienced deliberate practice differently, and more enjoyably, than people with a lower level of grit.
The final chapters of the book involve taking the reader on a conceptual journey of applying the principles of grit development for parenting, coaching or teaching, and overall cultural development.
If you are at all interested in cognitive psychology and its relationship to teaching, you should pick up a copy of Grit and have a read through the concepts. If you’re not certain and would like to learn a little bit more before reading, check out Dr. Duckworth on TED.