Abu Dhabi: Grit, an intangible trait that combines passion and perseverance, is what it takes to do really well in life, and it is a better predictor of success than talent or IQ, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth told a lecture hosted at the Majlis Mohammad Bin Zayed.
The lecture, titled True Grit: The Surprising, and Inspiring, Science of Success, was held at Al Bateen Palace in Abu Dhabi and was attended by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Shaikh Hamad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chief of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court, Shaikh Diab Bin Zayed Al Nahyan; Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance; a number of Shaikhs and Arab and Foreign Ambassador to the UAE, and other dignitaries, also attended the majils.
Duckworth, who wrote the 2016 New York Times bestseller, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, said that the secret to outstanding achievement was not talent but “grit”.
During the course of her extensive research, Duckworth has found that natural talent does not make humans disposed to succeed so much as the qualities she sums up as “grit”.
These include the commitment to finish what you start, bounce back from setbacks, want to improve and succeed, and undertake sustained and sometimes unpleasant practice in order to do so.
Duckworth said hard work often gets the short shrift when it comes to explaining someone’s success. For some reason, we love to romanticize achievement, as though raw talent and something we call “genius” are the real determining qualities of accomplishment. Such words might sound odd coming from the winner of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as the “genius grant”, but Duckworth came to prize hard work, passion and persistence very early in life.
Duckworth — who is also the Founder and CEO of Character Lab, a non-profit whose mission is to “discover the ideas and strategies that build character” — says she has found that grit and character make the crucial difference.
She was delighted to find that perseverance finds a place in the UAE’s Moral Education Programme and went on to praise the country’s ministries for being inter-disciplinary, much like the Character Lab is, for it leads to a quicker spread of ideas than if various professionals and organisations were working in silos.
Duckworth then detailed the characteristics of “gritty” people. Passion and perseverance, which make up grit, have two components each. People who have a passion have interests or learn to develop them; they also have a deep sense of purpose. Both things can be cultivated, the professor says. Perseverance also has two components: the ability to put in daily deliberate practice to get better at what you do, as well as the ability to persevere in the face of adversity, she said.
When Duckworth was 27, she left her job as a management consultant at McKinsey to teach math in public schools. She quickly discovered that IQ and talent weren’t the only things separating the successful students from those who struggled. Wondering if doing well in school and in life depended on more than one’s ability to learn quickly and easily, she went back to graduate school to become a psychologist.
Duckworth studied people who performed well in high-stress environments to understand the predictive power of grit for performance. She spent time analysing performance in a variety of contexts to look at the correlation between grit and achievement — from West Point military academy cadets, to National Spelling Bee competitors, rookie teachers and students from the Chicago Public Schools. “In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success — grit.”
Drawing from these examples, and others, Duckworth explains what makes resolute individuals different from others, and affirms that grit “can be instilled and cultivated by anyone, anywhere, and at any time in life”. The psychologist says that in her data grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent. She finds in her research that individuals of any age who have a “growth mindset” — the idea that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort — are more likely to have passion and perseverance for what they do.
Not surprisingly, her idea of “grit” is most commonly associated with schools and in recent years, the former teacher has teamed up with educators around the US to implement grit programmes in classrooms across the country.