Friday, June 10, 2016
I have been following Professor Angela Duckworth's work on grit for well over a year, so I was eager to read her new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In fact, I can't remember the last time I bought and read a book within a few weeks of it being published.
The book is an easy read, written for a for a popular audience, and I was able to finish it in three relatively short sittings.
Below, I reflect on the book, hopefully in a balanced way.
Thesis. As may be evident from previous posts of mine, I like Duckworth's thesis - essentially, that passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals are important in achieving success. Duckworth is careful to caveat her thesis, noting at hard work and passion are important, but are not the only factors that matter in achieving success. With this caveat, her thesis seems rather obvious and uninteresting.
Grit Scale. The Grit Scale Duckworth created for her studies seems easy to fake, and to her credit, she admits that it can be faked, like most self-reporting measures. Given the ability to fake the Grit Scale, I am not sure that it would be of much use in practical settings where the stakes are high (such as admissions or hiring). In one of the more interesting studies, Duckworth discusses how they gave the Grit Scale to West Point cadets before going through Beast Barracks (described as the toughest part of the four years). Supposedly, Grit scores did a nice job predicting who would stay and who would drop out. Given that the scale is easy to fake, maybe the interesting finding is not "those who actually have more grit perform better" but rather "those who think they have more grit (or are willing to lie that they have more grit) perform better.
Parenting and Teaching. As a parent, I appreciated her chapter on parenting for Grit (though she admits that these are just her thoughts, and unlike other parts of the book, the parenting chapter is lacking directly applicable scientific studies). In particular, she notes the importance of being both supportive and demanding. This is also fairly obvious, but easy to forget, hard to consistently apply, and important to remember. This instruction applies to teachers as well -- make clear that you have high expectations, but also communicate you are there to help and believe the students can meet the expectations with work. For a skeptics view, at least on the point of whether grit can be taught, see here.
Creativity, Talent, Structural Barriers: While Duckworth admits that there are other factors that contribute to success, I didn't think she made a strong case for grit being more important than creativity or talent. In fact, most of the gritty people she mentioned had certain natural advantages over many others. While grit may be needed to get things done, it seems like creativity and talent and access are all necessary and may be even more important than grit in some cases.
Anecdotes. There are a number of anecdotes in the book. The stories are less convincing than the academic studies, but the stories help illustrate her points. I especially liked the sports stories, including the ones about the UNC women's soccer team and the Seattle Seahawks. The coach of the UNC soccer team, for example, had his team memorize passages related to each team core value, and then also integrated the values into practices and games. Much better than a meaningless organization vision statement.
All in all, I think the book was worth reading, if only to stay current on some of the theories that are likely to be talked about by educators at all levels, and to inspire more passion and perseverance in general.
For a fair and thoughtful critique of Grit see here.