We’ve all seen it. Maybe it happened to someone we know casually, someone in our family, or even us. Highly talented people with all the potential in the world to be a great college athlete, a sure bet to be a doctor or a lawyer, or insane musical abilities who are sure to go to the next level. But they don’t. That leaves us scratching our heads and coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why such a talented person didn’t live up to his or her potential.
Take a look at those accepted to West Point. To get admitted is a grueling multi-year process that selects those who have the top intelligence, athletic ability, and leadership skills. And you literally need a letter from Congress. Yet some of the best and brightest who were admitted don’t make it past the seven week “Beast” of physical and mental training at the beginning of the first year. Academic or athletic numbers CAN’T predict who will succeed and who won’t. But there is one thing that can: A simple questionnaire about your grit.
In her book entitled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth dives into decades of research describing grit and why it is such a predictor of success. Grit scores, by and large, have no statistical correlation with talent. Talent, by itself, can be very deceiving. This is because someone’s amazing natural ability distracts us from what is much more important: effort. The practical part of our brains knows this. In surveys, most people rate hard work as more important than talent. In fact, those who hire new employees rate work ethic as the top predictor of success five times more than they do talent.
Yet, of course, talent has its place. In the early stages of development, those with talent can go on cruise control because their area of focus just comes naturally. At some point, however, their talent must be supplemented with hard work and dedication. Some with high talent crumble under this challenge; they haven’t developed the needed resilience and drop out. Interestingly, and we’ve all seen this, those with less talent tend to face MORE adversity through their lives in their area of focus. If they use this adversity as a launching point to continually get better, they are propelled to higher and higher levels of success. The adage is true: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
We will see in upcoming articles that there is much more to both the Passion and the Perseverance components of grit. Grit can change over time. We can develop it in ourselves. And we can coach it in others.