West Point Academy in the US is the most prestigious military college in the world. It’s mission is pretty lofty but also very clear: "To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army." It has an incredible 14,000 applications every year, mostly varsity athletes, often team captains. These are whittled down to 4,000, of which 2,500 meet the entrance standard. After rigorous assessments and based on a system called the ‘Whole Candidate Score’ (WCS) the elite 1,200 are finally admitted. Yet, incredibly, from this elite group, 20% drop out before graduation, a substantial amount of them in the first seven weeks. And, get this, candidates with the highest WCS were just as likely to drop out as those with lower scores. Studies show that it had nothing to do with talent, intelligence, fitness or background.
In the past, Clinical Psychologists had relied on various iterations of the Wechsler scale of intelligence assessments to measure potential. However, Angela Duckworth’s studies, quoted in ‘Front Psychol, Aug 28th, 2018, showed “some contradictions revealing individuals of an equal or lesser IQ were consistently outperforming their ‘more intelligent’ counterparts. Indeed, in many cases, individuals with a lower or average IQ were achieving higher qualifications, obtaining more influential job roles and receiving a higher income.” Duckworth’s further studies, quoted from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, July 2007, found: “Grit did not relate positively to IQ but was highly correlated with Big Five ‘Conscientiousness.’ Grit nonetheless demonstrated incremental predictive validity of success measures over and beyond IQ and conscientiousness. Collectively, these findings suggest that the achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also the sustained and focused application of talent over time.” So, it’s now agreed that the biggest determining factor of success is an individual’s level of grit.
What are the elements of grit?
The West Point and subsequent studies have shown some clear patterns, but we can see that, whilst these are helpful in a general understanding of what grit is, it doesn’t provide a concrete enough definition of what it is and, more importantly, what we can do about it:
- Determination and direction
- A ‘never give up’ attitude
- Bounce-back-ability, rolling with the knocks
- Resilient and hardworking
- Positive attitude
- A clear focus
- Constantly driven to improve
An example - Neil Armstrong
In May 1968, Neil Armstrong was testing out the lunar module for Apollo 11, when it went out of control, crashed and burst into flames. He ejected with one second to go, landed and went straight back to work to consider what he, and the rest of NASA, have learned from this. No panic, no complaints, just doing his job. Take a look here:
So, can grit be developed?
Sure, some people are naturally ‘grittier’ than others. However, we can all, as teams and individuals, assess, measure and then improve our grittiness and become more successful, productive and achieve so much more. But it would be difficult to just say “I will be grittier” as we can’t improve on something until we have defined it. So, in our grit assessment, we have broken grit down into four subsections, with clear definitions allowing teams, and individuals, to measure themselves then develop the right behaviours to exhibit more grit. These subsections can help provide a far clearer picture of exactly what it is we need to do to get that extra resilience:
Using this model to measure behaviours, developing grit becomes a practical issue, for teams and individuals, as it is clear where there needs to be improvements and these areas can be addressed, if you choose to. Grit is seen as a critical element of success, but it would be too easy to assume that it is the preserve of ‘the special ones,’ it needn’t be, we can all learn techniques to develop greater resilience, to develop grit.
See how you measure up