Grit by Angela Duckworth was everything I wanted. Easy to read, but backed by research. Memorable stories, but not retreads. New material, but not beyond grasp.
Duckworth’s book is about the foundational blocks of grit, some of which we’ve seen here. Here are 5 things gritty people do.
1/ Love the grind. Early in the book (page 8) Duckworth asks, “why were the highly accomplished so dogged in their pursuits?” What she found was that “They were satisfied being unsatisfied…It was the chase as much as the capture that was gratifying.”
It was the journey, not the destination – and not easy journeys. Not downhill with the wind at our backs journeys. Every journey. This is familiar. Jocko Willink talks about it all-the-time.
“It’s kind of like when people talk about going through SEAL training. They think you can make it through if you don’t want to make it through. But if you truly don’t want to make it through, you’re probably not going to make it through. It’s the same thing with jujitsu. It’s hard to do it just for the black belt.”
If you’re doing it just for the ends, the black belt, or the title, you (probably) won’t have enough fuel for the journey.
Soccer coach Anson Dorrance says it’s about the trying not the winning.
“We judge our performance against the ideal game. We want perfect passing, perfect finishing, perfect organization overall. So we’re not really playing against our opponents, we’re playing against the game. It’s impossible to beat the game, but we want to keep trying.”
Dorrance is thinking about the journey (the work) not the destination (the outcome).
Ideas like overnight success and I want it now blur the spirit of the process.
You have to learn to love the grind. To love the process. To embrace the journey, even when the winds at your face, the hill is steep, and it’s just started to rain.
There are ways to make the grind more enjoyable. Like a parka when it’s snowing or a shovel to dig a hole, a few key tools can keep the work a challenge and not an impossibility.
Duckworth writes that you focus on the nuances after the novel is gone. You can also build out your skills, reframe your obstacle into a game, or find something where you act like a missionary (rather than a mercenary).
2/ Simple but not easy. “Greatness is many, many individual feats and each of them is doable.”
Duckworth calls it the mundanity of excellence, and notes “mundanity is a hard sell.” The advice she’s giving about how to to be great is simple but not easy.
Gina Martin Adams and Barry Ritholtz talked about how investing is simple but not easy. That post included many simple but not easy links, here they are again, and we’ll note to add Duckworth’s ideas about greatness.
Surviving at sea is simple, but not easy. Starting a soccer team is simple, but not easy. Creating another Silicon Valley is simple, but not easy. War is simple, but not easy. Eating right is simple, but not easy. Leadership is simple, but not easy. Deep work is simple, but not easy.
3/ Persistence. “Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it.” “In interviews about what it takes to succeed, high achievers often talk about commitment of a different kind. Rather than intensity, what comes up again and again in their remarks is the idea of consistency over time.”
As the saying goes, half of everything is just showing up (but you have to show up everyday).
The other day I didn’t want to run, but wanted to have run. I ended up running. About a mile in, I thought, “I can’t believe I didn’t want to do this today, this feels great.” The hard part was showing up.
To persist means running everyday, or writing, or whatever verb leads you to your goals. It’s loving the grind (#1) because each night when you fall asleep the board gets reset. Each morning you wake up at zero. Yesterday’s score of 1, or 25, or 1,000,000 doesn’t matter. Persistence means working today no matter what you did yesterday.
A family friend of the Wright brothers noted that they were “two of the workingest boys around.” When times were good, and not. After the 1901 trip to Kitty Hawk, Wilbur was so flummoxed and frustrated that he considered quitting the whole thing. However, writes David McCullough, “The pall of discouragement disappeared in a matter of days, replaced with a surge of characteristic resolve. They would make a fresh start.”
The brothers persisted.
Michael Ovitz is another example of this kind of persistence.
- Ovitz’s elementary teachers asked his parents to tell Michael to ask fewer questions in class. He didn’t, he persisted.
- When Ovitz got his first ‘inside’ job (rather than outside giving studio tours) he finished his required work as fast as possible so he could do other things he wanted.
- When Ovitz started his own agency, co-founder Michael Rosenfeld said, “We just worked seven days a week, around the clock….just to watch Ovitz was enough, if anybody had any doubts about our succeeding. This was not a man who was thinking about failure.”
At each stage of his life Ovitz consistently worked toward his goal. This persistence was so intense(“I drove people crazy, I drove people out of their minds, but they liked it. I was this brash, inquisitive lunatic.”) that it overcame his interpersonal shortcomings. Paul Newman said Ovitz was a cross between Mother Teresa and a barracuda.
Grit is about getting up each time you’ve been knocked down. It’s about doing the work each day.
4/ Culture. “If you’re a Seahawk, you’re not just a football player. If you’re a KIPPster, you’re not just a student. Seahawks and KIPPsters do things in a certain way, and they do so for certain reasons. For instance, growing up, my dad liked to refer to himself as a Duponter.”
Culture can build grit. Culture can build anything. Artificial culture, much like artificial plants, doesn’t provide the stuff you really need. Duckworth writes that culture means you make a “categorical allegiance to that in-group.” You identify as a something.
When Ben Horowitz wrote that “yoga is not culture,” this is what he meant. Auren Hoffman said that culture is the thing you do that’s different.
Wesley Gray saw this on the battlefield. When he was in Iraq, Gray saw that 5 months of military presence (no matter how big the guns) was not going to untangle ages of culture.
- Artificial culture is installing office plants, saying Yoga is culture, buying ping-pong tables, or giving kids iPads and calling it techno-literacy.
Andy Grove saw the importance of culture. When Intel was fighting for its survival, Grove needed everyone to be pulling in the same direction. Culture facilitates that.
“An environment like this is easy to describe but hard to create and maintain. Dramatic or symbolic moves do nothing. It requires living this culture, promoting constant collaborative exchanges between the holders of knowledge power and the holders of organizational power to create the best solutions in the interest of both.”
Culture builds attitudes. Some of those – like grit – can take organizations incredible places.
5/ Too hard pile. If it’s too hard, give up. (Really)
Duckworth suggests this kind of goal organization.
Everything leads to the master goal at the top. Sometimes one of the bottom circles will prove too hard, require a skill we don’t have, or be obstructed because of financial, geographic, or timing obstacles. It’s important, writes Duckworth, to switch to an adjacent goal that will still lead to the top.
“Ideally, even if you’re discontinuing one activity and choosing different lower-order goals, you’re still holding fast to your ultimate concern.”
It’s the goal setting equivalent of Charlie Munger‘s investing theory. Munger says that if it’s too hard to figure out if an investment is good or not, move on.
In podcast 034 we looked at how Bill Simmons uses this too hard idea for potential football wagers.
Simmons says, “I wouldn’t bet on anything in this division. Stay away from the AFC South.” Simmons, like Duckworth and Munger rules one path as too hard and moves to an adjacent one.
Jack Canfield told the story of a family friend who wanted to play in the NBA. The young man was good, but not good enough to fulfill his dream of playing professional basketball. Okay, Canfield recalled, if that’s too hard, what’s a parallel path? The young man figured out a front office job was more achievable. He did it. He made it to the NBA, as an executive.
I like Duckworth’s book a lot. If you want to see more of what I’m reading, sign up to get a monthly email.
12 thoughts on “Grit”
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