Grit: Passion & Perseverance

Key takeways from the talk by Angela Duckworth

Recently, I started watching the YouTube series Talks at Google and today I came across this video Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, the researcher, author and professor of Psychology at UPenn. I had seen her TED talk earlier and this talk was even better where whe unpacked a lot of details on the concept of grit. This post is to share the key takeaways I got from the talk.

Key Takeaways

She starts by defining what talent is - Talent is the rate at which you increase your skill with effort. Some people increase skill faster than others. More talented individuals don’t always show up. There are many people who could write a great book, and they start, but they may not finish it. A very important characteristic of high achievers is the daily discipline of getting better. All the little details add up to excellence. So when you look for hiring people, you want people who stick with things when they are hard and daily submit themselves to the Japanese notion of kazien.

Anders Ericsson, the world Expert who studies Experts refers to deliberate practice, which is different from regular practice in 4 ways:

  • it is extremely intentional
  • 100% focus
  • timely and information-rich feedback
  • refinement to reflect on

Angela met him once and shared her own experience running everyday, yet she is not getting better at running - isn’t that a counter example of practice. Anders asked her how she practices running - do you have a goal, are you concentrating on her running, are you measuring speed, are you going back and thinking what you can refine. She said no, no and no. Anders replied - that’s why you are not getting better at running.


The interviewer and the audience asked a series of questions - a few of them stood out to me.

What is the role of managers for professional development?

The word Parent means to bring forth - they do this when we are kids, but it continues to happen even after we leave parents. Our teachers, mentors and coaches parent us in authentic way. Great leaders do 2 things - they model the behavior that they want others to emulate (the leader sets the pace for the entire organization), and the leader is respected when they are both demanding/challenging and supporting (genuinely care about you).

Why do you share the rejection letters for publications with others?

People who succeed fail all the time - because failure provides opportunity for information. In academia, high odds that the paper will be rejected. She shares the rejection letters with her so that they can understand the imperfections that are part of success and thereby demistifying excellence. Humans are born without knowing anything other than how to learn. Skills are acquired over a lifetime; talented people learn them faster.

How does our education system conceive grit?

In our education system, we narrow the definition of success to what is the score of annual standardized test or grades. It also leaves out what the kids really care about outside of the classroom, which are getting cut from schools. University education requires a major, which you can say is a kind of grit. We try to average people, but in reality, most of us will become good at something that is going to matter the most and not the ones that we did not invest time in.

Is there a favorite grit story?

Yes, Julia Child who describes in her autobiography that it took until her late thirties before she figured what she wanted to do with cooking. She got married and went to France, and her interest started when she had a good meal. She started doing little things, someone gave her coobook, she found classes etc. and went on to write the books. Now, that is accessible - you might aspire to do it. Success is never a snapshot, it is a long movie.

How measurable is grid?

Scientific community has a much harder grasp of measuring intelligence and it mostly objective. But when it comes to grit, I can give you the grit scale in 2 min; but is completely fakeable; and you will compare yourselves to others. An example is that in Kipp, the high performing charter school, kids are brought to high levels of standard and they will look at their grit scale at a very different standard compated to kids from other schools in the same city.

How can we use this concept in hiring top talent?

One idea that has been tested - when you look at the resume, look for evidence of grit. For example, if someone was in the tennis for 3 years. Look for progression and contunuity. Don’t hire people who are here and there, no passion or perseverance. You cannot rely on interviews as the only source - you can interview for charisma, chemistry, confidence; but not for the passion. My best idea is that if there is something that your company does at work, you set up a grid experiment with the candidate and give them a chance to show their grit. (Note to self - the pair programming model that we sort of follow in our hiring is a good example of this). Triangulation is a great strategy of hiring - when you have imperfect data from different sources, you put them together and error evens out. Get feedback from peers, coaches.

How does grit relate to companies?

Every company has a culture and when it is strong, people identify with that culture in a noun form, eg: Googler, SeaHawk, Duponter etc. They speak the language, wear the colors and it makes the company great. A national example of Finland - a small, cold country that has a word sisu in their vocabulary which translates to grit, literally to inside of your guts. When you have given all you can, but still falling short, you reach down inside to your sisu and do it anyway. It is an identity as Finnish person and is incredible.

What are some tips to be more gritty?

In life, we go around looking for opportunities, but at some point, we realize that it is not about opening doors of opportunity, but walking through them and learning from the doors that were shut to you. Really gritty people have 2 sources of motivation - 1) interest (think about what you wanted to do at the time of adolescence) and 2) purpose (what is the greater mission that my work serves). What are your values - I want to do people become their best selves.

How do you combine grit with the power of quitting?

Some people explore with intention - that makes all the difference. Angela gave the example of her own experience of trying different jobs, quitting them until she found the one that she wanted to stick on to. In essence, quitting in the service of quitting is a good idea.

How to increase your grittiness?

Angela gives this advice to the audience - I want everyone in the room to watch their language for how often they use the word “just” - for example, he is just a math guy, she is just a natural. Remember - we use the work just when we cannot explain something, or as an excuse to not try to be better. So catach yourself when you say that.

What if someone applies grit to the wrong thing?

There are lot of ways that grit can get you into trouble. The thing is that you gotta take risks in life; there is risk in doing nothing. What grit tells you is that you put one foot in front of the other and keep heading in a certain direction. Sure, there is risk in being a paragon of grit, but there is also a guarantee of failure if you don’t do anything at all.

Is there a correlation between Obession and Grit?

Yes there is. Temple Grandin, the prominent author and speaker who is famously autistic, once said A little bit of obsession gets a lot of stuff done. People who are passionate about something think about that all the time; so there is obsession. Gritty people love what they do and they wouldn’t trade it for anything.


I found this talk to be very fascinating and I learned a lot from it. One specific way I relate to this is that my passion, grit and perseverance is in coding and learning new things. I can go hours and hours doing it, stay awake in the middle of the night thinking of how to solve a problem, love doing it all the time.

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