Spelling Aside, Success is a Four-Letter-Word

Noelle Ihli

Bestselling author Angela Duckworth shook up the business world in 2016 by challenging the idea that intelligence, talent, and credentials don’t predict success particularly well. Since then, her findings have revolutionized the workplace and beyond. 

So, what is the best predictor of success across different industries and situations? 

The title of Duckworth’s book: Grit.

What Is Grit? 

Duckworth suggests that grit has two components: passion and perseverance.” In other words, strong motivation to expend effort and the ability to keep going when the journey gets tough. 

Without perseverance, talent is just potential. And without passion to motivate you through challenges, credentials, and intelligence are stepping stones to nowhere. 

Duckworth has found, again and again, that it’s possible to succeed without innate talent, credentials, or even high intelligence. Perseverance and passion can overcome impressive challenges. On the other hand, the most talented, credentialed, intelligent person can fail—or at least drastically underperform—without grit. 

Success Is Spelled G-R-I-T

Consider this example from Grit: 20% of cadets at West Point drop out before graduation —particularly during the first two months during a grueling gauntlet known as “The Beast.” 

Duckworth used Westpoint’s “Whole Candidate Score” to evaluate how well cadets’ intelligence (SAT and ACT scores), leadership qualities, and physical fitness predicted their success during “The Beast.” She wondered if lower scores predicted higher dropout rates and vice versa.

She found that the scores had almost no bearing on the cadets’ success. What did? Their “Grit Test” results: a measure of perseverance and passion. Cadets with low “Whole Candidate Scores” but high grit were far more likely to outlast “The Beast” than cadets with high “Whole Candidate Scores” and low grit. 

Ductwork’s Grit Test has since been applied to many different individuals across a wide range of industries and arenas. The results are consistent: Grit is vital to success. 

How Do You Rank on the Grit Test? 

Think about a recent accomplishment or challenge you’ve overcome. How much of your success came from your efforts and persistence? How much came from your natural talent? 

While talent, intelligence, and credentials can certainly grease the wheels, most success is directly correlated to effort (and the passion that inspires it!). As Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.” 

If you’re wondering how you’d fare on Duckworth’s test, you can take the Grit Test for yourself. The good news is that no matter your score, Grit isn’t a “you have it, or you don’t” quality. It’s more like a muscle. And individuals and organizations can get grittier over time. 

Fostering Grittier Individuals and Organizations

According to Duckworth, grit is contagious (in a good way). That means environments that encourage passion and perseverance naturally create grittier individuals and teams. 

She says, “If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture.”

Here are just a few tips for how leaders can create a grittier team culture:

  • Make space for employees to identify and explore their professional interests, motivations, and goals. Sometimes passion gets lost beneath boredom or stagnation. 
  • Encourage teams, managers, and employees to set stretch goals and tackle new challenges that build endurance.  
  • Reward persistence over perfection. Remember, 99% perspiration is the ticket! 
  • Create opportunities for professional development and teambuilding to deepen passions and help everyone see their contributions as part of a larger effort worthy of persistence.

How gritty are you? Share your results from the Grit Test with us on Twitter using #Grit along with one way you’re committed to growing your grit!

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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