Image showing Grit


Yes, grit. No, not the type that has anything to do with the image above. The grit I am talking about is behavioural and defined as follows:

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end-state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.

Take the above definition and modify it slightly, to look like this:

A positive, non-cognitive trait based on an organisations passion for a particular long-term goal or end-state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. 

The study of grit is steadily gaining traction and at the helm is the remarkable Angela Duckworth whose work focuses on grit in school children. But when I came across her TED talk, I couldn’t help but wonder about the implications of grit in organisations, and how becoming  grittier could change some of the fundamental issues we face within organisations today.

Further reading and research led me to an article by detailing 5 characteristics of  someone with grit. Whilst reading the article I was surprised by the relevance it carries and how easily all of the characteristic can be related to business.

The article quotes the Merriam-Webster dictionary as defining grit in terms of behaviour as follows:

“firmness of character; indomitable spirit.”

A business with an indomitable spirit will weather the hard times and come through them a lot better than a business without such spirit, the same goes for firmness of character. In the rest of this article I will unpack each of the characteristics mentioned in the article and how they carry weight with regard to business.

1. Courage

“Ability to manage fear of failure is imperative and a predicator of success. The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process.”

Businesses that are risk averse and stuck in their “this is what we know” thinking, stagnate. Their message becomes boring, they are lost amongst the clutter of other organisations doing things differently, better. However the start-up mentality, of continually remaining agile in a sort of ‘beta-phase’ where things are never set in stone but always able to change, allows for much more courage and boldness. Taking risks is where the awesomeness starts. As South African entrepreneur Ian Fuhr says: “only statues stand still”.

2. Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness in this context means, careful and painstaking; meticulous.

Achievement – orientated conscientiousness particularly is a key component of grit. Businesses with a true drive to succeed knuckle down and do so. It’s all about tenacity. If you are going to do it, do it properly, in other words: “commit to go for the gold rather than just show up for practice”. Showing up and just doing what you do everyday is not going to result in much growth. But showing up and doing more than what you did yesterday day after day – thats grit.

3. Long term goals and endurance

“… achievement is the product of talent and effort, the latter a function of the intensity, direction, and duration of one’s exertions towards a long-term goal.”

Most businesses have clear long term goals, but they are not working towards them efficiently. It’s the 10 000 hours theory: being great at something takes 10 000 hours worth of practice. The theory was proposed by Malcolm Gladwell, but Angela Duckworth’s research agrees, to the hour. If businesses want to achieve those goals and hone their skills in a particular area, they need to practice – a lot. But the businesses that do practice, win. Take Zappos, they were not always so service driven, but when they made the decision to focus on service as their USP, they practiced tirelessly to the point where they mastered the art of customer service.

4. Resilience

“Resilience is a dynamic combination of optimism, creativity, and confidence, which together empower one to reappraise situations and regulate emotion – a behavior many social scientists refer to as ‘hardiness’ or ‘grit’.”

When a child falls off their bike and scrapes an elbow they don’t abandon biking. Neither should companies.

5. Excellence vs. Perfection 

“Perfection is excellence’s somewhat pernicious cousin. It is pedantic, binary, unforgiving and inflexible.” whereas; “excellence is an attitude, not an endgame”. Excellence as an attitude, combined with resilience means that when businesses stumble or fail to meet an objective, they can get up, dust off the dirt and start again.

Continuously striving for excellence, having the courage to do so and the conscientiousness to meticulously plan and practice are important, however if there is no long term goal to achieve and no resilience against the slip-ups and setbacks,  your organisation is doomed from the outset. But when these 5 elements work together then it’s all about the excellence attitude, it’s all about the grit.

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