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Being Gritty: The Role Perseverance Plays in Outlasting Your Competition

We’ve all looked back at our high school yearbooks before a class reunion to freshen up on people’s names, faces and activities. Once at the event, while catching up with folks, have you ever been surprised by who has done exceptionally well professionally and who hasn’t? Sometimes we find that the person voted “most likely to succeed” (probably the class valedictorian), while successful, hasn’t accomplished anything all that extraordinary, while the unassuming straight B student who you barely remember has built a highly successful business, lives in a million-dollar home and drives a Porsche. Why is that?

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The power of perseverance.

Achieving one’s business goals doesn’t necessarily require being the smartest person in the room, but it does require having the drive to constantly push to be the best at what you do and the willingness to put in the time to acquire requisite knowledge and skills, as well as provide service to customers. This is not to say that “any idiot can do it,” but research has shown that perseverance is a greater indicator of success than academic success, leadership potential or genetics.

Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, studied cadets in entering classes at the United States Military Academy at West Point. During their first summer on campus, cadets are required to complete a series of brutal tests. Duckworth studied achievement in this group and, more specifically, how mental toughness, perseverance, and passion impact a person’s ability to achieve goals. At West Point, she tracked a total of 2,441 cadets spread across two entering classes. She recorded their high school ranks, SAT scores, leadership potential scores (which reflect participation in extracurricular activities), physical aptitude exam scores (a standardized physical exercise evaluation), and Grit Scale (which measures perseverance and passion for long-term goals). What she found was astonishing.

Neither physical strength, intelligence nor leadership potential accurately predicted whether a cadet would successfully complete the tests. Instead, the cadets’ ability to finish was based entirely on grit – the tenacity and passion to achieve long-term goals. In fact, cadets who were only one standard deviation higher on the Grit Scale were 60% more likely to successfully complete the tests than their peers. It was mental toughness that predicted whether a cadet would be successful, not talent, intelligence or genetics. According to Duckworth, talent × effort = skill; skill × effort = achievement. In other words, “effort counts twice.”

Translating grit into success for your business.

Passion can take many forms, and a parallel can be drawn from Duckworth’s study to your own enthusiasm, and that of your team, for your business. It’s spending hours educating yourself and everyone on your team about the markets, applications and equipment so that you are better versed than anyone else. It’s your willingness to go the extra mile for a customer who is in a bind, like working through the weekend to meet a deadline, or taking the time to research possible solutions to a challenge. It’s also important to hire “gritty” individuals who share your resolve to make that company the best in the industry. In a nutshell, it’s outsmarting the competition by outworking them. If you’re willing to go beyond where they’re willing to go in terms of quality, service and reliability, you will succeed. In the words of billionaire Mark Cuban, “…it’s the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone when it comes to your business.” Of course, talent is a factor that can and should be cultivated, and you can’t completely rule out the role of luck, but you can overcome many obstacles with grit – the sheer desire to make something happen – the passion that drives you.

Where do you fall on the Grit Scale? Visit angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale to find out.

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Contact Jim Joyce for more information or to uncover what's possible for your company.