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Perseverance or talent?

Perseverance or talent?

It seems that there are times when popular literature seems to be all writing about the same thing (or maybe they all feed off each other?). At any rate, it seems that now is such a time with several popular books addressing whether performance and success is a result of inherent talent or practice and perseverance. Books like Bounce, The Talent Code, and Outliers all propose that inherent characteristics are not very important in determining final success. Rather, these authors would contend that the primary factor determining success is the environment, with much emphasis placed on practice, especially the magic 10,000 of practice. However, one characteristic, separate from environment that seems to be as important, if not more important in success, is perseverance. How hard are you willing to work to succeed? How long will you stick to a task, even if it appears hopeless or is tough? The consideration and measurement of perseverance may be the missing piece as we look to predict success in athletic, academic, and work venues.

Dr. Angela Duckworth, an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Psychology, is working to increase the awareness of the importance of perseverance in success. Her specialty area is measuring perseverance – using a special scale she calls the GRIT scale. Dr. Duckworth says that people who have high perseverance are ‘gritty’ individuals and in general, have higher levels of success. She has done a tremendous amount of work validating the GRIT scale and has shown that GRIT, while predicting success in a variety of settings very well, is not necessarily related to factors such as I.Q. or education or even practice. To be clear, it’s not that IQ, practice, and education are not important, it’s just that you’ve also got to have perseverance to succeed.

To many of you reading this, you may have the same response I initially did: “no duh”. For those of us that have worked with people – especially in education settings – it seems to be a common observation that individuals that show high levels of intrinsic motivation and determination, tend to do better in their careers.   What is unique is that for first time (that I know of) there is an easy to use scale to determine determination. Thus, jobs, careers, or other activities where perseverance is necessary may benefit by having a tool to predict future performance. I can think of several areas – such as athletic endeavors, measurement of graduation rates, and scientific work - where it would be handy to have some sense of an individual’s perseverance. In so many areas we use measurements of aptitude or intelligence to determine whether someone can participate (e.g. SAT/ACT for college admission) why not also measure perseverance? The United States Military Academy (West Point) has been using the GRIT scale over the past five years to predict which of their incoming freshmen will make it through the notorious Beast Summer. I think this is just the start of the use of these types of scales to help determine perseverance and ultimate success.

But don’t take it just from me. I’d encourage you to check out Dr. Duckworth’s TEDx presentation to let her explain it specifically. If you’d prefer reading material, click here for a link to some of her papers. In particular, look for her papers on GRIT (here's one).  Also keep an eye on our podcasts – we’ve got a special podcast with Dr. Duckworth planned for July as well.

So, success requires talent, the right environment, and perseverance. Are there other characteristics that are important? Let us know what you think….I’ve turned on the comments for this blog…let me know.

Until next week, have an active and healthy week.

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