According to Dr Angela Duckworth, author of the bestselling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, grit is the combination of passion and perseverance applied to a meaningful purpose.
It’s a critical ingredient for becoming a truly effective professional.
It’s what accelerates the development of your expertise and enables you to deliver high quality outcomes to clients, customers or patients.
Grit is also essential for building your reputation and for your long-term success as a skilled and respected professional.
This is why, again according to Dr Duckworth, when you understand the science behind grit, you'll be able to take greater control over your professional development and the trajectory of your career.
Dr Duckworth is the creator of the Grit Scale, which she uses to measure how gritty people are. We’ll discuss this scale - and you’ll be able to measure your own grit - in Post 5.
Using her grit score methodology, Dr Duckworth has discovered that an individual’s level of grit determines:
How successful they will be as a salesperson, where rejection - and the need to push through regardless - are such common features of their work.
Or how far along someone will get in their formal education, with people who progress to get their MBA, PhD, JD or other graduate degree being statistically grittier than those with just a four-year university degree.
Or whether someone is likely to successfully complete the grueling initiation and training requirements for becoming a West Point graduate or a Green Beret.
Or even how successful a student will be competing in national spelling competitions regardless of their verbal IQ, which Dr Duckworth found doesn’t correlate at all with someone’s level of grit.
This is Dr Duckworth’s new way of seeing the world through the prism of people’s grittiness. She’s offering us both a new vocabulary and research-based tools to navigate and thrive in this world.
For her, the “fundamental insight” behind her book and all of her research in this area is simply this: “Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.”
A recurring theme in Dr Duckworth’s book as we’ll see throughout our posts on her work on grit, is the fine line between presenting her ideas as new while also conceding that they will be common sense to many of us.
That may seem like a negative observation. But in fact, it’s the way that her insights make so much sense almost to the point of being obvious, that makes them so valuable.
Her goal here is to make connections that will help us better understand what it is she has been focusing on in her research and while writing her book.
She is fleshing out the concept of grit so that we can see the value of her particular formulation of what grit means. We might already be using a wide variety of concepts like resilience, tenacity or being a hard worker to describe someone with the persistence to achieve things, and not to give up prematurely. This unscientific thinking is what Duckworth wants to change.
There are plenty of examples from our own personal experience and from what we already understand about the world, where we’ve either been an originator of grit ourselves or have witnessed it in others.
The one thing we almost certainly haven’t done, is develop our own cohesive and robust conceptualisation of these traits. It’s a little like being able to describe what love or some other abstract concept is like, but not being able to define it.
Dr Duckworth is helping us to recognise the characteristics of grit with greater precision, so that we can distinguish it from related, yet different concepts. When we understand the features and range of what grit can mean, it becomes a powerful tool.
Dr Duckworth is leading us towards her definition of grit, and not only that, but also how her concept of grit is distinct from talent. She has even developed equations which underlie her formal theory of grit. But before she gets to this, she needs to draw our attention to grit as a concrete and measurable character trait.
She is in effect selling us on her research and on how she can help us understand what it takes to become a more successful salesperson, student, soldier or speller.
Almost everyone wants to be more successful, and this is especially true in the context of continuing professional development. If we can understand the secrets of grit as a key ingredient to being better at what we do, then that’s certainly something worth spending time learning about.
And insofar as Dr Duckworth may be accused of simply repackaging information we already know a lot about simply through our own experience, we shouldn’t downplay the significance of this as a positive contribution to our lives and to the lives of others.
All of us can recall situations where we failed to register something obvious, but vital to know. And when we fail to build a bedrock of common sense, we do so at our peril.
As the philosopher Renford Bambrough pointed out, some things may be obvious, yet they are not trivial.
The connection between self-reflection, effectiveness and happiness was summed up by Socrates with his famous maxim, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” As extreme and as categorical as this statement may seem, it nevertheless reminds us that a meaningful life, both professional and personal, doesn’t happen by accident nor without deliberation.
Rather, a meaningful career, which is a core focus of this course, requires us to understand our values, align our goals with those values, and call upon approaches and perspectives that increase our chances of succeeding. This is where Dr Duckworth excels. Her dedication to spelling out both how important grit is to our careers and how to develop it, makes her research invaluable.
I’ve never really thought of myself as being a gritty person. At least not in the sense that I would ever ask myself such a direct question.
I’ve certainly reflected on past failures and successes at various points in my life. But I can’t say I’ve ever asked myself how gritty I am in terms of my absolute or relative levels of passion and perseverance, to use Dr Duckworth’s definition of grit.
Like you probably were, I was encouraged to hear that people with graduate degrees are grittier than those without them. I’m not sure that’s the only way to measure grit, but having completed a graduate degree myself, I do feel like this is an area where I am more likely to be pleasantly surprised than feel diminished by further investigation.
That said, I am for the time being sceptical that grit can be scientifically measured, although I am not questioning Dr Duckworth’s research on this point or the success of her Grit Scale methodology. I just want more evidence.
I’m also not sure that grit is a constant, either over time or across situations. Some days it’s just easier to persevere than other days, and sometimes it’s clear that giving up is the smart thing to do.
As a lawyer, I had always thought that there were two main ingredients to success. To be smart and to work hard. I also thought that there was some doubling up in this formula, so that the smarter you are the less you need to work harder, and vice versa. But as a general rule, if you work in a successful legal practice, you’ll need a good portion of both, if for no other reason than you will be competing with other people who are either smarter or who work harder than you do, or both.
On Dr Duckworth’s fundamental insight that having potential is one thing, but making the most of it is another, this is obviously not a new insight. We only need to think about some of our past and present colleagues, many of whom had varying degrees of potential, yet it was how they used and capitalised on that potential that determined their success.
To me personally, it often comes down to how serious I am about what I’m doing and where it fits into my longer-term goals.
When I started my legal career, I had a young family to support, I wanted to be successful, and I was fortunate to get a job that had a future.
I was also genuinely interested in my area of practice, which was competition law. In fact, no other area of law interested me half as much. So that was perhaps half the battle already won. Had I hated what I was doing or was only lukewarm about it, I doubt I would have been as serious or as gritty in pursuing my potential as I have been.
In my experience, the seriousness with which we pursue something depends not just on interest and ability - though I can see that those are often going to be necessary ingredients - but also on the reason for doing it. I’m assuming that this is what Dr Duckworth means by passion, albeit that is a somewhat loaded term.
Certainly I’ve found that the greater my purpose in doing my work, the less grit I’ve needed to apply to it in a conscious sense. I may not enjoy everything about my work. But there are strong internal motivations driving me or pushing me to keep going.
Again, all of us have seen very capable lawyers who gave up because their work lost the meaning it once had. Not because they aren’t gritty people. But because their reason for putting in the necessary hard work became, to them, no longer worth it.
This raises the question: Is it that gritty people can still fail in this sense, not because they lack the ability to persevere, but because they lose their passion?
1. What are the two key components in Dr Duckworth’s concept of Grit?
A. Purpose and Perseverance
B. Perseverance and Passion
C. Passion and Purpose
D. Meaning and Purpose
E. Passion and Meaning
2. What is your expectation for this book, and in particular what do you hope to learn from Dr Duckworth’s research on Grit?
3. Regarding Dr Duckworth’s insight that, “Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another,” what is your main strategy for developing your potential as a professional?
4. How confident are you that Dr Duckworth can tell you anything you don’t already know about grit?
A. Not at all confident.
B. Not confident, but I’m open to the possibility.
C. Quite confident.
D. Confident she can tell me quite a lot.
E. Anything she can tell me is likely to be new to me.
PART A - Socrates’ famous maxim can be paraphrased to say “The unexamined career isn’t worth pursuing.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
PART B - Do you think it’s possible to reflect too much on your career? What’s one positive effect of this form of reflection? What’s one negative effect?
PART C - In this post you heard from Dr Duckworth, the Meisterline Team and an expert professional. Which viewpoint resonated the most with you: (1) Dr Duckworth’s emphasis on the importance of Grit, (2) the Meisterline Team’s suggestion that it’s all just common sense, or (3) the professional perspective that’s sceptical that Grit can be scientifically measured?
TAKE THE NEXT STEP
This post was from our book, You Don’t Know Grit! What Every Professional Needs to Know About the Science of Talent, Passion and Perseverance.
To get on the list for our next small-group Grit Seminar in Melbourne or another city, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, of course, feel free to pick up a copy of our omnibus Grit-Series Seminar Book, though you will get one for free when you attend one of our seminars.
Our next post will be, Talent Can Be Distracting. Deal With It.
Until then, feel free to email me your queries and comments.
About the Author
Dr Peter Macmillan began his legal career in 1992 and ultimately became Head of Competition Law at an international law firm in Hong Kong. Today, Peter is the CEO of Meisterline Analytics, an international pioneer in the science of professional expertise and a leading provider of professional expertise metrics for law firms and their clients. He is also the author of 8 books, including the seminal reference book, Unlocking the Secrets of Legal Genius: Measuring Specialist Legal Expertise Through Think-Aloud Verbal Protocol Analysis, The KUJI Handbook and The 21 Secrets Of Gritty Professionals. Peter has a Master’s Degree in Competition Law and a PhD in Cognitive Science.
In 2022, Peter founded his own unique law firm in Melbourne, which specializes in signature witnessing, document certification and the formal authentication of documents for every legal and official use within Australia and internationally. For more information about the unimaginatively named Peter Macmillan & Associates, please visit pmaca.com.au/about.