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Imagine I told you that there is something that predicts success more reliably than talent or I.Q. Now imagine that I told you that anyone can learn it.
Too good to be true? Not according to Angela Duckworth, the psychologist who has named this secret sauce. Behold “grit,” a reigning buzzword captivating crowds in education-policy circles, corporate boardrooms, and even professional sports teams, like the Seattle Seahawks.
Grit is a psychological trait that can be reduced to two simple and powerful equations. Talent × effort = skill. Skill × effort = achievement. The equations are the mathematical evidence for why grit often trumps talent – effort counts twice: once for skill and once for achievement. Talent with no effort is simply unmet potential. With the addition of effort, talent becomes skill, and skill – when put to a productive use – becomes achievement.
The levels of achievement garnered by the grit-imbued are staggering. It’s the grittiest who survive at West Point, who become finalists at the National Spelling Bee, and who last the longest in cut-throat sales departments. Grit predicts who makes it across the proverbial finish line when tackling life’s big, hairy goals.
While the importance of grit in the workplace is clear cut, growing this enviable character trait in employees is much less so. At least until recently. As it turns out, some high-profile Bay Area companies, like Google, Tesla, and Yahoo, have tested an unconventional approach. These companies rely on the same advice grit experts dole out to children –to use structured extracurricular sports as a grit-growing vehicle. The initial results are promising. Anecdotal evidence suggests that companies offering structured team sport experiences are, in fact, growing grittier employees.
The concept is the brainchild of Sheena Lister, a sport enthusiast who founded Workforce Athletics (WFA), a company that uses team sport experiences to build more resilient, engaged and gritty employees.
WFA builds grit from the outside in and from the inside out by way of professional coaches, weekly practices, competitive games against company rivals, and “micro-learning” workshops. Together, the experience targets three psychological assets proven to grow grit: practice, purpose, and hope.
Practice. Hard practice – dubbed “deliberate practice” by human performance psychologist Anders Ericsson – is essential to bolstering grit. In fact, this psychological asset is so important to Duckworth that she implemented a “Hard Thing Rule” in her house, which says that every member of the family has to be practicing something difficult at any given time. WFA’s professional coaches adopt this same mindset. Weekly practices are designed to stretch employees so that they have a systematic way to work on the “one hard thing” they want to improve. Off the court, participants learn the latest science-backed practices for setting goals, and sticking to them. After the ten-week season, one participant reported suddenly seeing a work challenge in a different light. In her words, she was now “embracing it, rather than fearing it.”
Purpose. When it comes to growing grit, it’s not about embracing “big p” purpose, like quitting your job to join the Peace Corps. Grit is strongly correlated with a much simpler, “little p” kind of purpose. According to Duckworth, purpose “is doing something for the well-being of others” [l1] or having an “other-centered” approach. The mere act of having employees coalesce around a common team goal and endure both triumph and defeat is the kind of experience that connects “little p” purpose with grit. And yet, as participants shared, carrying this mindset off the court often feels less natural. To help them parlay the new skill from court to cubicle, they learn practical strategies to become more strategic in their workplace collaborations. In the parlance of the best-selling leadership book, Give and Take, they learn to become “otherish givers” – – people who help others while also keeping their own interests in mind – a trait that separates the flourishing leaders from the ones who flounder.
Hope. The kind of hope that breeds grit is distinct from the conventional notion of hope, which favors wishful thinking. Gritty people do not stand still and wish their way into achievement; they take action to make it happen. To do this, they need what researcher Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. It’s the belief that if we try hard enough, we can get smarter, learn a new skill, and continually perform at higher levels. Research suggests that those who have a growth mindset at work pursue more innovative projects, are more committed, and are more collaborative. At WFA, participants carry with them the felt experience of getting progressively better week after week, providing an embodied memory of what it feels like to believe you will get better, and then actually seeing it happen.
If you wonder where you stand on the grit scale, you can get your grit score here. I took mine and promptly decided to sign up for my company’s WFA-sponsored sports team. That’s right, I’m getting gritty about raising my grit score.
Tag(s): Why WFA