Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Soul of Grit

Why are some people more passionate, more determined, more gritty? Why are some better leaders? Why do some master the secret of success?

A big part of the explanation is because they believe. They believe in themselves and in their mission. They believe they will be successful.

A Stanford researcher, Carol Dweck, conducted a controlled experiment that suggests people who believe in an expandable theory of intelligence learned faster than those who have a fixed mindset and are concerned with how smart they are. Outperforming students were simply taught that the brain is elastic, like a muscle that gets stronger by using it.

Even a brief change in mindset can produce results. In one study people who consumed a "brain stimulating drink" (actually a placebo) immediately performed better on tests-- like 40% better.

If believing in ourselves works so well, why don't we?

Perhaps we are taught to doubt. Perhaps we learn to accept failure. Perhaps we need better mentors and coaches.

Perhaps summoning our inner grit begins with straightforward choices.

"Some things have to be believed to be seen."
-Ralph Hodgson


  1. I guess that's because not all men are born the same. Everyone has doubts, fears and insecurities at any point in time. The successful people make it a habit to ignore those negativities.

    "You must believe." - Master Oogway (Kung Fu Panda)

  2. Good Post - Lead me on a braingasmic hour-long learning quest from the original article.

    Have you read the book "Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (try saying that three times)?

    It's about optimal experience, and how to get into the 'zone' or as he calls it, the state of flow. Hours seem like minutes, and you are able to block out everything around you because you are enjoying so much what you are doing at hand (think Michelangelo and his painting for days and forgetting to eat or drink while painting).

    He states that flow exists at a certain equilibrium point between 'challenge' and 'skill-level' - A high level of challenge, but the user has the corresponding level of skill to meet the challenge - Leading to the state of flow.

    Grit can manifest itself in appearance in both people who are hard-working, but not in flow, and people who are in flow and don't feel like they are working - To me, it is important to identify the people who can enter flow because they can be 'gritty' for an interminable amount of time due to the fact that in their heads they aren't actually working, whereas the others eventually burn out.

    What are your thoughts? Perhaps there's a way to create an increase in the odds of flow in the workplace...

  3. Hi LukeB, your comments are extraordinarily thoughtful.

    Sustainable flow seems to arise from a combination of passion and focus and practice. I believe all of this is trainable, but requires a sophisticated balance of things like: consistent and real challenge, tolerance of failure, support, self-esteem, and humility (willingness to adapt). In the workplace, creating these conditions is at the soul of leadership.

    I may write more about this. Thanks again for sharing your insights.

  4. Bob -

    Thanks for the kind words!

    The insights I've collected over the years don't get me much of a return as long as I hoard them, so I do my best to allocate them out when the opportunity for a good return presents itself (i.e. investing them with someone who can in turn create more insights to share - that's what I call a good conversation!). I appreciate the opportunity!

    The ingredients: consistent and real challenge, tolerance of failure, support, self-esteem, and humility - Carol Dweck's "Mindset" concept that you also wrote about above - and purpose... It seems that by having the job of creating those conditions for others as a leader, to create flow, would also generate flow for the leader by meeting all of the above criteria. That would be one very effective group!

    Keep up the great posts! I'm here to learn as much as I can from the minds on the front lines, some vicarious experience if you will, while I work my way up in the business world -

    Thanks Bob!