“My brother got all the brains. I had to work really hard to get where I am.” ~ David Lowe, 1995 onwards
That’s how I used to explain my successes. I thought I’d got the short straw at having to work much harder to get results. But it turns out that having talent isn’t as important to success as grit.
What is grit?
Grit, as described by Angela Duckworth in her book of the same name, is a mixture of passion and perseverance. That means having a focused drive and direction that is consistent over time, and being hardworking, determined and resilient when the going gets tough.
Doesn’t talent matter?
Of course having talent does matter. There has to be something to work on, but it’s not everything. For example, Duckworth’s example is that having good fitness when joining the army increases your chances of making it through to graduation.
But the point is that having talent does not guarantee achievement. Having potential is great, but it’s what you do with that potential that matters. “Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential”, Duckworth explains.
But talent is more important than grit, isn’t it?
It’s hard to accept, isn’t it? But, no. Duckworth uses an awesome formula to explain what’s really needed.
Achievement = skill x effort
But skill, is talent multiplied by effort. So what she’s really saying in her equation is:
Achievement = (talent x effort) x effort
Apparently Darwin would agree. As a fellow “plodder”, it’s probably not surprising that he also believed zeal and hard work are ultimately more important than intellectual ability. [And it worked out alright for him!]
Of course we all have limits where, once reached, we cannot improve further. But Duckworth states that, for most of us, that’s not a problem because it’s rare that anyone really pushes themselves to the limits of their ability.
So why do people focus on talent so much?
In many experiments, people say that they value hard work over talent, but then do the opposite in practice (for example, judging that candidates with natural talent are more likely to succeed and are more hireable).
Duckworth’s theory is that we don’t want to believe hard work is what makes elite people high-achievers; she says that we prefer to attribute a natural talent that we don’t have because then we don’t feel bad about ourselves. In effect, we are saying that replicating their achievements is beyond us because we don’t have their innate, natural talent.
So how do you achieve greatness?
Many of us quit far too early and far too often. Duckworth highlights that most feats of achievement are actually not one-off displays of marvellousness, but are the combination of loads of small, unexciting individual elements. What you need to do is practice the small elements until they become second nature through tireless practice, which then become awesome as a whole.
It’s not easy. It is relentless practice and it’s not giving up when the going gets tough. “Even more than the effort a gritty person puts in on a single day, what matters is that they wake up the next day, and the next, ready to get on that treadmill and keep going.”
Surrounding yourself with awesome gritty people also helps.
What else is in the book?
It’s a fascinating book, littered with supporting research by Duckworth and many others through the decades. She helps you drill down your top five goals, warns you how to avoid time-wasting activities that will distract you from those goals, and even how to find an interest if you don’t already have one. Once you have all these, you can then learn how to practice effectively and realise how your work gives you a wider purpose. Oh, and not forgetting how to create grit within your children. That is, in fact, one of the best starts you can give them in life because, as you now know, grit is twice as important as talent.
Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success, by Angela Duckworth, is available in paperback from Amazon for £5.99