Cultivating Grit: The Secret Ingredient of Successful People and Organisations

For those of you who don’t know me, I consider myself to be a Kiwi/American. I’m a citizen of both countries and have lived in each for about the same duration of time.  When I relocated back to the States a couple years ago, I began reflecting on what I had accomplished whilst living in New Zealand; I started ticking some boxes: University degree-tick. Career-tick. Travel-tick. But, something was still missing. I felt like I had achieved something much greater, but I just couldn’t pinpoint it.

Until one day I was sitting on a park bench at a local playground, watching my girls play with other kids. I began observing how the kids interacted with each other, with their mothers and their environment and in one single instance, I witnessed something that gave me total clarity.

A little girl, around the same age as my girls (4) was struggling to do a forward spin around a low bar. She kept falling off and couldn’t gain the momentum she needed to make it all the way around. It didn’t seem to faze her, however, she persevered until she finally achieved what she set out to do: go around and around the bar without stopping. When she did it for the first time, the tips of her long blond hair lightly brushed the sawdust on the ground and her face lit up with happiness. She beamed with pride and I felt delighted watching her determination & accomplishment.

Then I heard the yelling.

Her mother, who had been sitting a couple benches away from me, bolted upright and ran to her daughter screaming for her to stop. STOP! what she was doing immediately! The reason why? Her hair had just been washed that morning and she needed to keep it clean & out of the sawdust!

Dumbstruck. That was the moment I realised the single most important virtue I developed whilst living in New Zealand: a lesser known personality trait called “grit”. Something that poor girl at the park was getting quashed right out of her.

Lucky for me, Kiwi’s are a hearty, resourceful bunch who pride themselves on their “can-do” attitude. Some of their strength of character definitely rubbed off on me, and ever since that day at the park, I have been intentional about creating teachable moments for my own kids to develop personal resilience & grit (in the context of behavior, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grit as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit”).

This brings me to the reason for my post: I recently read a book titled “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth’s essential thesis is that the key differentiator for achieving success in business and in life is simply something she calls “grit.”

Her research shows that grit has better predictability for success than IQ and it is the real key to why some people succeed and others don’t. Her book is rich with case studies that are counter intuitive to popular assumptions about success.

She came by her initial intuitions working as a middle-school math teacher in NYC. She noticed that her math “stars” were not her brightest students but simply the most determined. This observation inspired her to get her Ph.D. in psychology and to begin her ongoing research on grit.

Here’s the good news: it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, have a fancy-pants degree or are a brainiac. Grit comes from within and is an attribute that can be cultivated over time. The Grit Test, is a simple questionnaire that helps you determine your Grit Score. It’s worth four minutes to find out how much mojo you and your team have so you can get about building more of it.