"Grit" by Angela Duckworth : A Book Review

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
Angela Duckworth has written with passion about passion. This book review looks at some of the qualities high achievers have and the science of measuring those attributes.

Submitted: September 05, 2016

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Submitted: September 05, 2016

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Grit is a book about what it takes to achieve goals and the stories behind that achievement. Angela Duckworth likes to call herself a scientist but really she is a pioneer. Using a circuitous life-path, much of which is bio-pic worthy in itself, she has illuminated a human trait, defined it, measured it and on the way earned MacArthur “Genius” distinction.

Unlike Malcolm Gladwell who approaches the mind from a journalistic perspective, Angela Duckworth writes about her professional passion. Did I say passion? That’s a funny thing because she defines grit as, “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” Her method follows that of Gladwell – ideas reinforced with the personal vignettes and the scientific data to back it up. And like Gladwell, she avoids the black hole of nerd driven popular non-fiction- think charts and graphs.

But what makes Grit worthy of the investment? She introduces us to Paragons of Grit whose stories demonstrate the importance of persevering to achieve a long term goal. Some are famous like Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle editor of the New York Times and others like Jane Golden, who promotes public art in Philadelphia, are only locally renowned. Some like Duckworth are members of an elite group- TED talk presenters. The marker that distinguishes these paragons is their ability to stick with their respective endeavors for a very long time while managing to bathe regularly and take out the trash.

The author even gives us a couple of formulas pertinent to the development of grit. She precedes unveiling these equations with a discussion of talent that gives hope to everyone who considers themselves ordinary at best. Talent x effort = skill and skill x effort = achievement are the formulas but they aren’t any good without her definitions: “Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them.”  

So how can anyone stick with anything as long as is needed to become, let’s say, an Olympic swimmer? According to Duckworth, whose opinion is based on the research of Anders Ericsson who Duckworth calls the “world expert on world experts”, it takes a rough average of 10,000 hours of practice spread over ten years. However, you shouldn’t embark on an endeavor tomorrow, set your watch for 10 years down the road and expect to compete in the 2026 Winter Olympics. Why?

At this level, practices are scientifically regimented and minutely measured and the nuances of outperforming oneself become a motivating factor. This is a kind of deliberate, often solitary, practicing that high-achievers use to incrementally master their goals over the long term.  The skills are broken down into individual components and continually practiced. The appreciation of nuance as a measure of growth inspires the striver and over time excellence is attained through the cumulative mastery of each component.

In Duckworth’s view, the drivers for mastery are more than just fame, fortune or a gold medal. She believes that purpose is an undeniable quality of those with grit. The idea is that the effort that has gone into their mastery will pay dividends to individuals other than themselves. This altruistic quality of grit has been questioned by some commentators. Duckworth cites a study she performed on 16,000 persons who took her Grit Scale and a supplementary questionnaire meant to measure purpose. Although she concedes, “It is unlikely that my sample included many terrorists or serial killers,” what she found was that, “Higher scores on purpose correlate with higher scores on the Grit Scale.”

Grit is a book about the human condition as much as any novel is. As someone who only reads non-fiction, it’s always a pleasurable journey to spend time with an author who is passionate about her topic and teaches me something along the way. 


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