Last week during our CEO Summit, we had the opportunity to hear my partner Albert interview Angela Duckworth, author of the book Grit.

Angela is a Professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania and founder and Scientific Director of The Character Lab.

Angela has the ability to make complex concepts simple and combines her expertise in human behavior with a wicked sense of humor.

She is a great public speaker and everyone enjoyed hearing her talk to our group.

Her book Grit is about the power of perseverance.

It explains why some people have grit and how you can recognize it in people.

She also explains why grit is more important than talent in many cases.

If you hire and manage people, if you run start and run companies, if you invest in people and their projects, then Grit is a book you should read.


Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Bought and jumping on a plane so will take a look.Thanks Fred.

  2. Andris K. Berzins

    Absolutely agree, Angela Duckworth’s book is excellent. Startups are all about grit.

  3. jason wright

    so true.

  4. Joseph Burros

    Thanks for the tip. Just ordered the book. I could use a bit of inspiration right now.

  5. Anne Libby

    Grit is also about what you get when you persevere — experience.

  6. JimHirshfield

    Grits not just for biscuits.

    1. SubstrateUndertow

      Does Trump have GRIT or he just a BISCIT ?On a serious note thanks Fred for the link “” !

  7. JimHirshfield

    Here’s a TED talk of hers from 4 years ago. Just 6 minutes, to the point. #serious…

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thanks, Jim.Excellent use of 6 minutes and 12 seconds.Love what she said about having the mindset that failure is not a permanent condition.

    2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      Thanks JimThe phrase – “being knocked down never hurt me” is powerful when trueGetting up is keyA “thorn in your side” (a nominal or apparent disadvantage or restriction ) is often key to success

  8. Tom Labus

    Is that “true grit”?

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Got grit?

      1. Tom Labus

        even better

  9. Chimpwithcans

    Sold….I spent the first 27 years of my life “gritless”…so to speak. Then I married a woman who has it in spades. When you see grit, it is undeniable. I strive for grit. Look forward to the read.

    1. ErikSchwartz

      I too married grit. It did good things for me.

      1. JLM

        .OK, so is somebody a bigamist here?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. JamesHRH

          Same for me, and its not the same gal.Lots of gritty women out there.

          1. JLM

            .GRITS — Girls Raised in the South (steel magnolias)The kind of women who run debutante balls and could run the USMC or GM.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          2. Susan Rubinsky

            Northeastern girl with grit here.

          3. sigmaalgebra

            Naw! You’re too cute, sweet, and nice to have “True Grit”!

          4. Susan Rubinsky

            I am someone who has a life you know nothing about. By the time I was 10 I had more grit than most people have in a lifetime. I had to spend a lot of time in my early adult life learning how to let the sweet back out. After that it’s all become a matter of balance.

          5. Donna Brewington White

            It shows.

        2. Chimpwithcans

          Yeah, hands off my wife Erik! 😉

    2. Donna Brewington White

      I married someone who knows how to quit, although I wouldn’t call him gritless. He thinks that I don’t quit soon enough. I think he quits too soon. The one thing we agree on is that we will never quit each other. It works.

      1. Twain Twain

        “We will never quit each other” is too beautiful for words.Most things in life that are invaluable are worth fighting for. And the most invaluable is our relationships with our other whole, our kids, our parents, our families.

  10. marcoliver

    On that topic – I really enjoyed Paul Tough’s book on How Children Succeed. He did some amazing research in 2012/13:

  11. Jennifer Soffen


  12. leigh

    I have this conversation with my kids all the time, but didn’t think of it as grit – more as hard work. Grit is a waaay better way to think about it. It’s about doing it even when the hard work doesn’t feel like enough or like you are getting anywhere. This may be my new favourite gift 🙂

  13. Matt Zagaja

    Haven’t read the book, as I’m currently reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. Hoping Grit addresses how the start-up (and other worlds) fetishize overworking yourself. I understand hitting deadlines, but after years of self-evaluation I’ve learned that my aggregate performance over time is inferior when putting in long days versus regular days.

    1. JLM

      .From the perspective of almost half a century, if you took off every Friday for your entire business career, the outcomes would be the same. The EXACT same.You will increase your hours on the other days, but the same amount of work will get done.But, YOU — you will learn how to fly an airplane, how to fly fish, how to play a violin, Italian, how to snowboard, how to tie the Monkey’s Paw.I am as equally supportive of hard work, as hard play.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Lawrence Brass

        Some things depend on hours and days. Some other things depend on maturity, the amount of time the idea has been inside your, and the rest of the team brains, bouncing around.How many times have you caught yourself thinking about something work related, while piloting your plane?Gritty people do work on Fridays.

        1. JLM

          .Like anything, there are no absolutes. I stand by my assertion that — for me — not a thing would have changed except I would have had a lot more Fridays to do stuff that was important to me.As to flying — flying is like a hard reformat, everything goes out of your mind. You are one with the sky and you have so much to do to distract yourself.I used to fly from Texas to the east coast in 4 +/- hours. Many times, it was easier and quicker than taking a commercial jet.When your skills are sharp, you glory in the precision and expertise.When they send you out over the ocean as your come into Charleston, you drop through the clouds and there is the harbor and you return your mind to earth.When you land, you may be tired, but your brain is clear.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. Lawrence Brass

            I like this: “When you skills are sharp, you glory in the precision and expertise.”

  14. Mike Zamansky

    Haven’t delved into her book yet (just placed a hold at the library) but I think it’s worth sharing this critique:

  15. JLM

    .Captain Obvious alert:”Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”What guy named Calvin Coolidge said that?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  16. JLM

    .Back in the day, when you were commissioned as a Regular (West Point, VMI, etc) Army officer you had to go to Airborne School and Ranger School.Airborne School is difficult physically, but, in the end, gravity does most of the work.Ranger School is an all together different thing.You show up, cut your rank off, and get ready for a few months of the hardest training one can imagine. There is no novelty to the thought that it is tougher than actual combat.The guys going are all studs. Know what they’re getting into. Have been preparing for 4 years of military school. Everybody’s in shape.About half make it through.The students all look the same. They wear the same uniforms. They’ve had the same preparatory training. They are motivated.Nobody beats Ranger School. The course always wins. Some guys are just still there by the day of graduation. You have never seen a more desperate bunch of humans than Ranger School graduation. You’ve lost 20-25 pounds, haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in months, and are dead on your feet.It is an endurance course.Here’s the thing — I could never figure out why certain guys made it and others didn’t. If you don’t quit, you can fail and get kicked out or disqualified, but they can’t throw you out.The guys who make it — persist. In the face of incredible unpleasantness, they prevail.They have grit.What it purportedly teaches you is how to conduct patrols, ambushes, raids, while being delivered by boot, parachute, and boat. You learn urban, mountain, swamp, desert fighting.But, what it really delivers is an insight into your soul. When two Rangers meet later in the Army, they ask, “Winter or summer?” Meaning did you go to Ranger School in the winter (bad) or the summer (bad, also).When you report into your unit, somebody says, “New Lieutenant is a Ranger.”We all need to test ourselves and see what’s beneath the first layer of epidermis. You will be surprised. I ran into a lot of skinny five foot nothing Rangers and a lot of former college athletes with no tab.Daily limit of Army stories reached.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Elia Freedman

      Nice to see you commenting again, JLM.

    2. JamesHRH

      I am going to read the book, but I think this is the human characteristic that is the hardest to predict.Its innate and it has multiple sources.

      1. JLM

        .Grit — you know it when you see it. Very situational.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    3. sigmaalgebra

      I did some exercise, running. I’d read some books about how good running was. So, in the car I drove a loop around the neighborhood and used the odometer to measure the distance 2.9 miles or so. So, I started, one lap about 3 times a week. Some of the distance I had to walk instead of run. Eventually I got down to 10 minutes a mile — yup, needed the exercise. Then I wasn’t getting faster very fast and decided to go two laps about three times a week, 5.8 miles each time. I got a little faster. There were some pains, but, sure, true grit, right?BS. Grit? Total BS. Grit? Brain-dead nonsense. Romantic horse pooie. Dumb. Dumb-de-dumb stupid dumb.I got calcium spurs between my Achilles tendons and heel bones. That was from the back of my running shoes pressing my tendons against the bursa and the bone. The bone put out some calcium, and the tendon had to pull over the calcium which made the geometry even worse.Finally. really unable to run, and even having some trouble walking, I took the pains seriously. That resulted in surgery. On the right foot, the ortho guy just cut out the bursa, the spur, and the part of the heel bone that had generated the spur. Then he left town and another ortho guy did my left foot, took our nearly all the spur but left some.Get such spurs, and grit is no help at all and no substitute for an ortho surgeon. Keep running on such spurs, and stand a good chance of a ruptured Achilles tendon, and then in addition to true grit need crutches.A problem with grit is that it’s too easy; a little too much grit can too easily result in problems neither grit nor anything else can solve. Too much grit is for fools.My tendons were sore for years. No way could I try long distance running. Even a lot of walking was not good.Grit? Plenty of grit. Brains? Not so much. Results? Disaster. In a word, if it hurts, then STOP. Else you may well damage something you can’t fix or replace.Ranger School? Well, we have to guess that the challenges have been designed so that actually the fraction of soldiers seriously injured is, what, less than 10%?Okay, 50% success rate and less than 10% seriously hurt rate, and that’s fuzzy-bunny play time compared with a lot of high end US research university STEM field Ph.D. programs: The people admitted are commonly fantastic students K-12 and college with fantastic SAT scores, GRE scores, etc. Commonly in addition they have serious symptoms of genuine brilliance.Sure, they learn to go on reduced sleep and cut out bathing, friends, vacations, etc.Then they’d just LOVE to have a dropout rate as low as 50%. Instead we’re talking a dropout of ballpark 90%. Moreover, ballpark, 70% of all of the students, including ones who leave with a Ph.D., have been under so much stress, the kind that causes depression and even clinical depression, serious sleep problems, GI tract problems, joint problems, etc. that they are seriously injured for life, discouraged, emotionally broken, destroyed self-confidence and self-esteem, gun shy. It’s the first failure they have ever encountered, and it is commonly just devastating. In two words, it’s a blood bath.Only 50% dropout rate? Gee, that’s fuzzy-bunny play time.I wasn’t hurt, but I knew a lot of people who were very seriously hurt, including fatally.So, how’d I get through it? I knew how to prove math theorems and knew I knew. It was easy to see, comparatively, I was pretty good at it. No one could shoot down my proofs. Doing it my way, which usually meant a lot of relatively independent study, I could learn more math, well, even some difficult stuff.Then the best part, I was able to find research problems and get good solutions — just how to do that they don’t teach in K-12 and college and usually not much even in a Ph.D. program.In a high end research university STEM field Ph.D. program, the three secrets to success are research, research, and research. All else matters very little and/or is forgiven or just forgotten.One of the better ways to get into trouble in such a program is to do what worked so well in K-12 and college — dot i’s, cross t’s, put nose to the grindstone, ear to the ground, shoulder to the wheel, apply lots of true grit, memorize everything in sight, and then try to be successful at research doing that. Problem is, such behavior tends to crush originality, and originality is crucial for research. When can do it, originality is fun, a lot of fun.In such Ph.D. programs, really, IMHO, net, too much grit is from counterproductive down to dangerous.Some grit needed? Commonly yes: The profs are so used to students failing and, thus, dumping on students, that need to put up with being dumped on. But in math, “Here’s my paper. See anything wrong with my proof?” Of COURSE not — no one can find, at least no competent math prof will find, anything wrong with a correct proof.Prove something “new, correct, and significant” and the dumping on stops.

      1. JLM

        .Swimming? Maybe YOUR exercise is swimming. Less wear & tear on the skeleton.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. sigmaalgebra

          Yes. I tried that. When I was a prof at Ohio State U., I got a book on swimming by a famous swimming coach. He emphasized flexibility — flop, I was never going to be any good at swimming!But all I wanted was just the exercise. I could do the breast stroke and still get exercise. Somehow I knew the kick I needed to use.Well, the U had a terrific pool, Olympic or some such, with floating lane dividers, and the pool was open until 11 PM. So, after work and before home, I did some swimming! I liked it! I got tired enough that at the end I was hanging off the end of the pool where I’d stopped, and I was slowly getting better. Then budget crunch time came; the pool closed at maybe 5 PM instead of 11 PM, and that was the end of my swimming!One coed kept looking at me; I believe that she knew I was a prof instead of just a student. Well, I was married, and she was not very pretty! Besides, profs dating ugrad coeds can be frowned on, especially for a married prof!Sure, if my startup works, I’ll get a pool!Also I tried a bicycle: (1) There was a long hill, and and going up the hill even in the highest gear I wanted a higher gear! The bike shop could do nothing! (2) I pressed on the pedals so hard I bent or broke one; got stronger pedals. (3) Somehow the bicycle seat cut off blood flow — not good! (4) Somehow just holding on to the handlebars eventually cut off blood flow to my fingers — again not good. (5) The wheels were too delicate, and common road bumps damaged the rims and caused a maintenance problem. (6) The worst part was that somehow passing cars with bums with beer cans, etc. were just compelled to throw the cans, etc. at me — bummer.Later I got a high end exercise bicycle, Monark or some such from Sweden, but the seat still cut off blood flow; with enough additional seat padding I corrected that; but it was BORING unless there was something okay on TV to watch; now I’ve cut out TV!So, it’s grass mowing and walking!

  17. Adam Parish

    Thanks Fred. Reserved a digital copy from my local library. Let’s see if I have the grit to finish it.

  18. JLM

    .On sunny days, we are all capable and competent. Then a bit of rain comes down and we are bedraggled and testy.It takes the friction of life to rub through to find our character. Nobody has values until they see the price tag and pay the invoice. Get some skin in the game?Nobody has courage until it is the necessary ingredient to prevail. Courage is continuing to act when you don’t want to. A single mom with two kids has more courage than a bulldozer.The friction of life exposes our character. Only then do we know what we’re made of.Don’t be afraid to be tested. Most persons have way more character than they think. It takes that friction to expose it.When you are tested and come up short, there’s a secret. You can develop character by taking the path less traveled. You are never, ever, ever out of the game if you don’t quit.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Donna Brewington White

      You are never, ever, ever out of the game if you don’t quit.Words to live by.Sometimes it is a matter of living to fight another day. One day at a time.

      1. george

        That statement hits a strong cord!Keep pushing forward…

    2. Wendy Yawen Yu

      “Nobody has values until they see the price tag”Thank you for a great quote!

  19. James Burns

    For a great true story about grit, read Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. Perhaps the best survival story ever about 28 men that were stranded in Antarctica for 2 years back in the early 1900’s when their ship was crushed by ice.

    1. JamesHRH

      I saw Doug Burgum (MS Bus Solns / Great Plains SW) use Shackleton as a keynote theme. He then had his COO and say, basically, ‘ WTF – wood boats to Antartica? Not an assumption we’ll make.’Point is super valid: some of the grittiest people are extremely damaged, have almost zero self value and just do not care enough about anything other than the experience……they don’t care about results, the harm the may cause others or the outcome.As long as they have a good story to tell.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Yes, there’s a documentary up, IIRC, by Nat Geo about the 1850s or so two British ships that tried to find a Northwest Passage.Okay: Yes, they were wooden ships, but they were reinforced, up to 8 feet thick timbers, iron cladding, etc. They had food for three years. And nearly the whole path had already been mapped from both the east and the west. Okay so far.But then the nonsense started: They planned to winter over not just one winter but two. Right … obvious: Ice crushed one of their ships. Lead from their tin cans hurt them. They were running out of food. It was, can you believe it, darned COLD. Finally they tried to walk 1000 miles south to a settlement. They didn’t make it. Little scraps of metal, clothing, etc. have been found. Finally with some sonar scanning, one of the ships was found in about 40 feet of water.Winter over? With 60 MPH winds at -60 F? Not a chance. Instead, start out in the spring and be sure to be home by fall, before the first winter. I mean, even if you find a Northwest Passage, what darned good is it for faster passage between Europe and East Asia if have to winter over in the Arctic? Right, useless. If can’t get through to the western mapped part by late summer, then turn around and GO HOME. Really, if by half the time window until winter, if not through to the western leg, turn around and RACE HOME, ASAP. And give yourself some slack. E.g., have to get back to England via the North Atlantic in cold weather, and that’s no picnic. Even going back only to the NE US, we’re talking, remember the Titanic, ice bergs, right.I suspect that the leader was some guy ready to get through or die trying and, for the thread today, was long on grit and short on brains. He had plenty of grit.Between grit and brains, I”d bet on brains.

  20. DJL

    Something about grit – How does an entrepreneur distinguish between a situation that just requires more perseverance (success is just around the corner), and one where the idea simply is not working, and requires a pivot or just stopping. Nobody wants to give up on their dream. The line between grit and insanity seems to be very thin at times.

    1. JLM

      .Fair play.The line between insanity and enterpreneurship is an equally thin line.If you expect the world to tell you you are right before you can tell the world you are right, then you will wait a long time.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. sigmaalgebra

        > If you expect the world to tell you you are right before you can tell the world you are right, then you will wait a long time.Got it! Well put.

    2. JamesHRH

      My wife’s maternal grandfather was quite a guy – credited with 3 other men of bringing an entire culture into the 20th century (think that through a bit).His fave saying: ‘When given the choice between someone with proven intelligence or proven judgement, take the person with judgement every time.’That’s the only honest answer.

      1. DJL

        Indeed.Not sure how to interpret the bio of your grand-pappy-in-law, but his advice seems to be sound.

    3. LE

      When are you at the bitter end? [1] You don’t know. And unfortunately there is a definite bias in both popular culture as well as the business and mainstream press regarding success that the people that don’t give up end up reaping tremendous benefits for sticking it out. (Survivor bias) The truth is that that almost certainly can’t be the case over a large amount of entrepreneurs. Common sense. That said money plays a large part. If you can survive for a long time you have the chance of luck helping you out.[1] In boating, the last part of the anchor line as it goes through your hands because you didn’t tie it off.

    4. Donna Brewington White

      Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome.I think of perseverance as finding new paths and solutions, overcoming obstacles.Sometimes the thing that needs to change is the person. If a person is not willing or able to change, and continues to push something that is not working — well, I think that is insanity.It really helps to have someone that you trust and who has the vantage point to offer perspective. Not necessarily your spouse, or your best friend — they may be the former but not the latter.It helps to have people who believe in you, but the brutal truth is a gift coming from someone who knows that truth.At a particularly low point, I skyped with @JLM:disqus to ask his opinion on whether I was crazy. Amazing what a difference that conversation made. Helped me push through.Sometimes the most brilliant thing is to ask for help. Not asking for help is insanity, but, admittedly, one of the hardest lessons I have learned am learning.

  21. Elia Freedman

    I quit everything when I was a teenager. I made every varsity sports team I went out for and still quit when I didn’t play. By the time I was 20 I looked back at my teenage self and thought, “what an idiot.” I didn’t work at anything. I was either an instant expert or I quit, and since I wasn’t an instant expert, I quit.Now not so much. I’ve run Infinity Softworks for 20 years, through two recessions, different industries, complete changes in mobile, even a one year drop in revenue that should have made me quit. Even my own family has sometimes questioned my sanity.I might not have done much else well but I’ve persisted. It’s there. I can see it. I just haven’t found the right combination yet. But I will so I persist.

    1. JLM

      .Strong. Very strong. Stronger than an acre of garlic. Drive on.Well played.And, in the process, look who you have become.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Elia Freedman


    2. Donna Brewington White


      1. Elia Freedman

        Thank you, Donna.

    3. Twain Twain

      INSPIRING, thanks, Elia.

      1. Elia Freedman

        You are welcome.

  22. ErikSchwartz

    Grit is important.Grit without underlying talent leads to the dogged implementation of mediocrity.

  23. FlavioGomes

    Grit…really is the only thing you have complete control over.

  24. Sebastien Latapie

    I’ve come across the book a number of times, yet to pick it up. Ordered it today.

  25. Donna Brewington White

    Ordering this, reluctantly.I am known in my circles as the Queen of Perseverance.It gets old. But I can’t quit.Maybe this book will also talk about how to find a balance between perseverance and knowing when to quit. That must be a good quality to have, right?

  26. Ruth BT

    I read this book sometime ago. I thought I needed some pointers to assist my pre-teen son. Then he took up gymnastics. If ever there was a sport to teach grit this would be it. As a ballet dancer I thought I understood grit (pointe shoes anyone) but not in comparison to these boys. They train for hours and hours every week, putting their bodies through amazing manoeuvres. I watch them fall and fail so many times that the mamma bear in me wants to tell them to stop even trying. They cannot rely on a team member to assist, their success is entirely up to themselves. The success is temporary though as they try and conquer even more difficult moves. He may not be olympic standard but I know that those lessons will serve him for the rest of his life.