By Sonya James
Posting in Cities
Bestselling author Jonah Lehrer lays out how Bob Dylan, Beethoven, and Einstein achieved success.
For the annual 99% Conference, Glei lined up a crew of creative industry thinkers and makers to speak about what it takes to not only have great ideas, but to execute them effectively.
Over the two-day event authors, artists, educators, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and designers unraveled how we can avoid the marshmallows of today.
Remember Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Test? In the late 1960s researchers famously experimented on a group of children (I swear this ends well).
A marshmallow (or other sweet delight) was placed in front of each child. Then the researchers said something along the lines of, “You can eat the treat now, or if you wait 15 minutes we will give you another one.”
The researchers showed up again when the children were in high school. Those who refrained from eating the treat were, in essence, having a better go at it. These early displays of self-control lead to higher grades, less addiction, and being generally better behaved.
But self-control is actually an outdated measure of future success. If Twitter is the new marshmallow, what character trait keeps us from glancing down at our phones? How do we get the air quotes off "that novel we’re writing"? How do we stop refreshing our email or browsing acquaintance's photos on Facebook?
According to author Jonah Lehrer, we use “grit”.
For a bestselling author known for writing on neuroscience, Lehrer is surprisingly chic. He stood in front of the 400 or so attendees with a hip young Brandoesque confidence.
“What defines the 99%? “ Lehrer asked the crowd – and no, not the financially suffering 99%.
Lehrer is referring to the Thomas Edison quote “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration – “ which Behance, the company behind The 99% Conference also referenced (before an international movement re-articulated the equation).
“When you look at highly successful creative people – those epicreators on the far right side of the bell curve,” Lehrer said, “Bob Dylan, Pablo Picasso, Steve Jobs – and you ask yourself, “What makes them special? What makes them different from you and me?” At first glance, the answer isn’t clear.
You can give them an IQ test and it turns out they’ll look pretty normal,” Lehrer continued. “They are not really smarter than the general population. You can give them a battery of old-fashioned personality tests, Myers-Briggs and all the rest. Once again, they’ll look pretty normal.
Instead what psychologists have begun to discover in recent years is sure enough, they are different from us. And the character trait that sets them apart is a character trait called grit.
Stubbornness, persistence, single mindedness. Grit is the stubborn refusal to quit.”
University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth coined the term grit by taking the marshmallow experiment an essential step further.
In 2005, West Point military academy found itself in a tricky situation. Five percent of its new attendees were dropping out. Why were so many kids quitting? Yes it was tough training, but the academy’s submissions process was extensive.
West Point did a slew of tests trying to figure out how to foresee which candidates would succeed. Nothing worked.
In stepped Duckworth.
Duckworth came up with a simple, three-minute, twelve-question survey. It covered two domains: how single minded are you? And, how do you react to the inevitable frustrations and failures along the way?
For the first time in West Point history, success rates were predicted accurately.
“Grit allows us to practice the right way, which is not the fun way,” Lehrer said.
Since 2005, Duckworth has shown in field after field that grit is the single best predictor of success.
“Which entrepreneurs are going to make the most money three years out of business school? The ones with the highest levels of grit,” Lehrer added.
Example after example shows that grit – this uncompromising stick-to-itiveness – trumps the grandeur of a genius idea every time.
“Grit allows us to keep on going,” said Lehrer, emphasizing each word.
On one hand, it is heartening to know that hard work pays off. On the other hand, Lehrer did not seem to notice the elephant in the room.
Is grit something you are born with?
If the answer is no, perhaps other speakers at the 99% Conference can offer some solace. Keith Yamashita will tell you what your superpower is – and I promise, everybody has one.
May 8, 2012
Grit may be the single most important factor, but it still doesn't operate in a vacuum. In the standout cases, it often works synergistically with intelligence and a strong motivation to create/fix/understand something. One can have grit and stubbornly pursue dumb ideas that never come to fruition. And one can have a great idea and hand it off to someone with more grit for deployment. I also doubt IQ tests are always a good measure of cognitive capacity. Einstein, for example, was considered well-endowed in that department, but his test would likely have covered some conventional stuff that he was weak in/couldn't be bothered with. People can have their areas of enhanced ability and still score average on a standardized test.
We would have a lot less occupiers if they had some ambition and decided to provide for themselves and their families instead of sponging off those with grit.
Duckworth did not "coin" the term "grit". That's been around in the English language and the American Idiom for ages, obvious example being, "True Grit", the 1968 novel (1969 film), but well before that. Sort of like saying, I coined the term "Soda Can" to mean "a soda can", or more technically, "a can in which to put soda".
Persistence would be a better word than grit. We have been telling ourselves, through pop culture, that we need faster gratification. We use microwave ovens to cook faster, we get information from the internet on everything from competitive prices on goods to instant messaging to contact people. We have come to expect fast and easy solutions to problems just like we see on TV shows. Our attention span has decreased to the point that we lack patience to put up with more than a few minutes of distraction. If one can get immediate gratification for one's wants then why would anyone be willing to wait? This is as good a reason why when the going gets tough people decide to do something else. So, average people can look like geniuses by being persistent and not giving up so easy. Edison is famous for saying that he had learned hundreds of ways to make a light bulb that don't work, but he did keep trying until he succeeded. It takes hard work to get to the point of making what you do look effortless, look at musicians and even jugglers who spend hours of practice to improve their skills. Goals are something that we tend to short cut, instead of pushing ourselves we are happy to dabble in many things. Those who can maintain a focus on their own goals, even in the face of adversity, will go a long ways further than the rest.
Uh, um, I think this topic is in the wrong place. The 99% I have been seeing are complaining about those who are self made successes. Demanding that they "share" their wealth to forgive the 99%'s loans. The 99%s I have been seeing are demanding support from the 1%. Demanding jobs for which they are unqualified. Demanding that the earnings of the people who are at the top due to their hard work, ideas, and entrepreneurship, be docked and their "wealth" be shared with the 99%s. Demanding that government/tax payers provide "for free" their basic needs. Golly, gee, if one applies "grit" as defined in this article, the 99%s will be demonstrating on your doorstep! After all, you didn't get to that position of success without using someone else's stooped back as a stepping stone. Today one cannot be successful without a hand-up from government or by cheating! Right? LOL! Yeah, definitely in the wrong place.
At least at this moment, http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/cities/good-luck-if-you-have-no-grit-highlights-from-the-99-conference/www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/images/12-item%20Grit%20Scale.05312011.pdf is 404 not found. Interesting article otherwise!
Here is the only applicable definition (I've found) of grit that would apply to the grit depicted in "True Grit" : . firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck: She has a reputation for grit and common sense. (from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/grit). It does not say anything about persistence.
"Instead what psychologists have begun to discover in recent years is sure enough, they are different from us. And the character trait that sets them apart is a character trait called grit. Stubbornness, persistence, single mindedness. Grit is the stubborn refusal to quit.'" It's the reference to Thomas Edison that irks me. He did not invent the light bulb. His lab invented the first commercially-successful, long-lasting light bulb. A huge difference to my mind. Not to say that he wasn't good at what he did, he knew how to direct his people, but the genius and 'grit' of Bob Dylan and Pablo Picasso are discinct from that of Edison. Dylan and Picasso created without knowing what reaction their creations would have. Edison 'created' only for the reaction. He was a businessman, after all. Being a child of the 60s, the genius and grit of Steve Jobs escapes me. Maybe someone can explain it to me.
Agreed: grit doesn't effectively define the people who were showcased and others like them. Persistence - coupled with all that implies - does.
The writer made it clear at the beginning of the article that the occupy 99% was not the 99% referenced in the conference or being discussed here.
All these words can be applied to they who keep on keepin' on for whatever reason and in spite of whatever is happening or whatever is being said that would have stopped the less persistent or gritty or spirited or plucky.
Edison also had some grit when it came to promoting direct current for general distribution systems. Nobody's perfect in it's implementation? :-)
Leher and others see persistence as an aspect of grit. I recant my above statement to say seboverie and they are both right and add that the two are related, maybe even parallel qualities. It takes grit to be persistent. Persistence can make one gritty. Same idea expressed a bit differently as regards the situation.