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Why Grit is the new Buzzword for Success

'Virtuous' Grit is an Essential Ethical Value

Last week I watch a TED presentation by Angela Duckworth who discussed her findings in a 2013 TED Talk, where she defined grit as passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. I realized this was a hot topic when I saw her presentation had 8.5 million views.

Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, studied people in challenging settings, including contestants in the National Spelling Bee, salespeople new to their positions, rookie teachers in tough neighborhoods, and cadets at West Point and discovered that one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. It was grit.

So what is grit? I tend to think of it as courage and resolve; strength of character. Is grit the secret sauce that drives success? More important than both talent and intellect? What are the limits of grit and how far can it take you in life and at work? More important, how can you attain a level of grit that gives you an edge over others who don’t have it and what might you expect at the end of the road?

Grit is the new buzzword for success. The research shows that grit really does matter after all. More than intelligence. More than talent. Even more than hard work. It’s a combination of unshakable motivation, persistence, and determination. And the belief that improvement is always possible.

Other research has also pointed to a potential downside to grit. Like stubbornness, too much grit can keep us sticking to goals, ideas, or relationships that should be abandoned. We may be unable to give up on an idea and even become obsessed with its completion. In this case too much grit can be unhealthy. Like most things in life a balance needs to be struck between perseverance and knowing when to cut your losses and move on to the next challenge.

Psychologist Gale Lucas and her colleagues found in one experiment that gritty individuals will persist in trying to solve unsolvable puzzles at a financial cost. And that’s a limitation of grit: it doesn’t give us insight into when it will help us prevail and when it will keep us stuck in a dead-end.

Grit is more than work ethic. A strong work ethic is a necessary but insufficient condition for grit to prevail. You might stay at work two hours extra every day and work on weekends but that doesn’t mean you’ll have the courage to resist pressures to do something wrong, such as those encountered in workplace situations. In fact, you may be tempted to take a shortcut if it gets you to your goal quicker, especially when you have doubts about getting there.

So, ethics is also an integral part of grit. Just as one has to want to do the right thing and has the skills to carry it out, even in the face of counteracting forces, true grit requires a dogged mentality informed by following a righteous path, something I call virtuous grit.

Virtue requires integrity. Integrity is the basis for all ethical action. Principled people are motivated to act in accordance with their values regardless of the personal cost or cost to one’s employer if it is done to protect the public interest. This is no more obvious than for auditors who render an independent opinion on a client’s financial statements.

To be gritty, Duckworth said, we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.

That’s good news for those of us who have tasted defeat. We should dust ourselves off, get back on our feet, and strive to do better, work harder and smarter, and act ethically when confronting the new challenges of the day.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz on May 17, 2016. Dr. Mintz is a professor in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at