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True Grit is Vital For Talent to Flourish

Sport. Unrecognizable runner on the starting -- selective focus, toned and stylized

Many people think that if you are smart and have enough talent, you will succeed in fields such as sports, music, education and business.  When we think of great people in history such as Mozart, Edison, Confucius, and Shakespeare we hear about their talent and intelligence.

But true genius is being shown to be as much a product of grit as intelligence or skill.  A study of genius (By Dr Angela L. Duckworth and Christopher Peterson) in twenty-one fields, including astronomy, music, mathematics, Eastern and Western philosophy, painting and literature showed that only two or three giants stand way ahead in each of these fields, a few top performers outdistance the rest by a huge amount.  For example, in the publication of scientific papers, a very few people publish many papers but the majority of scientists publish none or only one.  In golf, only three golfers have won sixty or more PGA tournaments (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods). Greatness and high achievement are reserved for only a few. And it is their grittiness as well as their intelligence and skill that resulted to their success.

The equation that predicts success is; Skill X Effort = Achievement.  Martin Seligman, a well know academic and psychologist, in his recent book, ‘Flourish’, points to a a great deal of research that shows achievement can be understood and predicted by the following four factors.

SPEED; Seligman calls this ‘Fast’ and it is the sheer speed of your thought about a task.  This involves how much and how quickly you have access to relevant knowledge on the task. It is hard to develop this. You either have it or you don’t.

MINDFULNESS; He calls this ‘Slow’.  This is the ability to call up memories, plan, check, review and be creative in examining and exploring the task.  This can be learned through meditation, mindfulness practices such as walking and eating with attention and breath awareness.

RATE OF LEARNING: The faster your rate of learning, the more knowledge you can accumulate about the area.  This is different from sheer speed of thought.  This occurs by being involved in new, challenging and tight time-lined projects and through reviewing ‘lessons learned’.

EFFORT = Time on task.  This is the time spent on doing or practicing the task and multiplies the skill available in achieving the goal.  It also adds to speed since the more time spent on a task the more knowledge of it.

The one area we most can improve is self control or ‘GRIT’.  American researchers have developed a questionnaire that measures GRIT, the amount of person’s self discipline.  The higher the score, the more likely a person will stick with or practice something and therefore succeed in it.

Research has shown that extraordinary achievement in sports, chess, music, writing and business is not just talent or IQ but the amount of hours you practice something.  If you want to be great at something practice it for 60 hours a week for 20 years!

Grit more than IQ, explains why girls who have higher self control, get higher grades. People who score higher on the GRIT questionnaire achieve higher university grades.  For military cadets at the United States Military Academy, GRIT predicted which cadets dropped out and which had higher grades and higher military performance scores.  GRIT also predicted retention in U.S. Special Forces and higher sales in real estate.  Results on GRIT predicted likelihood to make the finals in an international spelling bee contest and actual performance in the contest. Lower self control or GRIT has been correlated with higher weight gain.

GRIT could help determine which projects will succeed and why some get delayed or side tracked.  Under periods of high workload and stress, a person with a low level of grittiness would be more likely to be absent or leave their job.   Grit could also be used to predict high performance in individuals and teams in an organisation.  Selecting applicants for an organisation based on how much grit they have may help organisations ensure they get and retain the best people.

If you would like a copy of the GRIT questionnaire email admin@integral.org.au First published in Western Australian Business News, 9 June 2011 edition as “Hard work vital for talent to flourish”.

Ron Cacioppe

Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD. He has taught in the Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

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