Book Reviews: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
I have read quite a few books that fall into the ‘hard work triumphs intelligence’ camp, such as ‘Peak’ by Anders Ericsson, ‘Talent is overrated‘ by Geoff Colvin and ‘Outliers‘ by Malcolm Gladwell. And I am more than sympathetic to that viewpoint, however I have always believed in a more nuanced picture. The ability to work hard, is again, just part of the equation explaining outstanding achievements, there is more than enough room for other non-cognitive factors like passion, hope, purpose etc to impact performance.
And that is what Angela tries to do in Grit. She is obsessed, in a harmonious way, with what leads to success and high/ exceptional achievements. After showing that talent/intelligence/ IQ only explains part of the picture, she makes a strong case for non-cognitive factors as being more predictive of success in life than the so called cognitive factors.
Angela defines Grit as a combination of Passion and Perseverance. Passion is built by discovering, and more importantly, cultivating interest. Another source of passion is when you feel what you are doing is purposeful or helpful to others and connects to a bigger whole. Perseverance, on the other hand, can be cultivated by being optimistic/ hopeful, developing a growth mindset and indulging in deliberate practice.
Now, some people have accused Angela of being too expansionist by including hope and growth mindset and purpose and what not in her theory of grit! I think that criticism is uncalled for- she is determined to find what makes people successful and what are its antecedents and mediators. If hope/ growth mindset is an antecedent to gritty behavior, I believe it makes sense for her to touch upon those subjects.
Some have claimed that grit is not yet ready for mainstreaming and that the damage one does by focusing solely on grit is more than its benefits. Angela, in her conclusion admits that she never intended or believes that grit is the only trait worth having; first there is a problem with the goal of success being a be all and end all; other goals like happiness, morality and meaning are legitimate both as ends in themselves and as predictors of good outcomes; secondly its not established that apart form IQ and grit, other factors like creativity etc are not that important for success.
One thing I found surprising was Angela’s reluctance to admit that too much grit may be harmful; brushing aside John Henryism or the need to disengage from goals at times, she come across as someone too invested in the concept of grit to acknowledge its dark side. The fact that these things are discussed in conclusion doesn’t make things any better. I guess an honest upfront admission of grits limitations as well as its power would help put things in perspective.
That said, I am not at all sympathetic to the many critical reviews of the book that have focused on the downsides of the concept / book to the exclusion of its utility/ strong points. Angela does a wonderful job of explaining her own and others peoples research and how it is related to what we know about who succeeds. She also has beautifully organized the book into sections where we can grow Grit from inside out (as end users) or outside in (as parents, teachers working with kids etc).
As a matter of fact for those who read the book, but don’t manage the time or don’t have the inclination to go deep into original research, but would like to dig a little deeper, I am currently featuring Angela’s articles on my newly introduced research summary feature and you may like to check some Grit related articles there for now. These articles should give you additional insights about the data and studies that Angela refers in the book.
Also, I believe that Girt is ready for mass market adoption; I myself am running a long term VIA character strengths based positive education initiative for schools, and Grit is an integral part of our offering.
So my recommendation, do read Grit and grow it in yourself and others. It will definitely help you in good stead.
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