In Business, Grit Trumps Everything

I was not a high performing young student. It's embarrassing to admit, especially since today, I insist that my children pursue high levels of achievement in elementary school. (Translated loosely, this means “as many A's as you can get.”) When I was their age, I did well, but after sixth grade, I started getting B's and C's — and even a few failing grades. Things improved a bit in high school. I graduated with a solid C average, yet managed somehow to get into college and law school, and then pass the Bar exam on the first try, and continue to serve on the prestigious Law Review. The only way I can explain how that record has allowed me to achieve nearly every major life and career goal I've set is, that I have grit. I have thought this way about myself for years, and now, there seems to be some scientific validation of it. Watch this video of Professor Angela Lee Duckworth's six-minute Ted Talk to see what I mean.

See? I wanted to share this with you because I know how you feel sometimes in your business. You see other people making all kinds of money. They post Facebook pictures of their trips to exotic destinations. They share a picture of how they took their car to the shop — and the car just happens to be a Lexus. They post Instagram photos of all of the things they got their kids for their birthdays. It can be very disheartening to watch when you are just starting out or have been struggling to put all the pieces together.

This message should inspire and encourage you. Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Psychology, has studied inner city high school students and high level executives, and the conclusions are the same. Grit trumps smarts. What a relief.

Here is a quick summary of Professor Duckworth's points. I find them fascinating and encouraging.

1. Grit is the one significant predictor of success. In the video, Professor Duckworth says that good looks, social intelligence, physical health and IQ meant nothing to success when compared to having the grit and stamina to just keep plugging away at long term goals. Pursuing what you want day after day, month after month, year after year — even when you don't feel like it's getting you anywhere — is what it takes to make a business profitable and sustainable. The people who embrace the truth that it's a marathon, not a sprint, are the ones who hang in there the longest. And they are the ones who end up successful. Not the ones who give up, thinking that they are just not smart enough.

2. Grit is unrelated to talent. Professor Duckwort says: “Grit is unrelated or even inversely related to talent.” She doesn't say that talent is useless, but she says that her clearly research shows that talent is secondary to the ability to focus on a goal and do stuff every day to pursue it.

Even more significant is her conclusion that your ability to achieve is not fixed! It grows over time, when you don't accept failure as a permanent condition. I believe this with my whole heart because I have seen it in my life. If I had decided that my ability to achieve was fixed by my performance in junior high school, you would not be reading this article right now. I shudder to think where you might find me.

3. Passion, perseverance, and stamina. Professor Duckwort says that her research proves that passion, perseverance, and stamina are the most important predictors of success, even when matched against every possible measurable characteristic, including things like social status, family support, and environment.

Grit Trumps Smarts

After nearly 15 years in business, I have observed that, with rare exception, the single most reliable predictor of entrepreneurial success is perseverance. That's it.

Some people work hard for a while. Others work hard for a longer while. End of story.

I see it all the time, all other factors being equal. Same business idea. Same general financial, emotional, and human resources. Same goals. Ten years in, one is standing tall and the other has struggling with Business Idea Number 259.

One is watching Scandal on Thursday night while the other is watching Shark Tank reruns. One is banging out a blog post while the other is doing the dishes — and complaining about how his or her spouse *never* washes the dishes.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating that to be successful, you can never watch trashy shows or make sure your house gets cleaned up. I'm also not saying that you should bang your head for years against an unworkable business idea.

But I will say this — from what I have observed, sometimes, you have to watch the trashy show on rerun instead of live while everyone is Tweeting, and sometimes, you have to force another family member to do the dishes (or pay someone) in order to make things happen in your business. Not judging. It's just what I have observed.

Question: What has you observed? Does grit trump everything or not? What is your experience? What have you seen others experience? I'd love to hear your stories and feedback!


Best and Success!

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.