What “Grit” Research Tells Us About Who Is Likely To Succeed
In our continuing series about Angela Lee Duckworth’s research into “Grit,” today we will look into greater detail about one of the first research studies which was conducted to discover how resilience plays a role in performance levels and even employee engagement.
Duckworth and her team visited West Point Military Academy in the United States to study the impact of resilience among the cadets. They looked at how would it affect dropout rates among new arrivals and whether it would be a better indicator of success and failure than the general aptitude tests that the Academy were already implementing.
To find out Duckworth asked cadets to fill out what she called a “Grit Questionnaire.” West Point have a rigorous recruitment process to find the best cadets with testing being dependent on what they call the “Whole Candidate Score”, a collection of statistics including their physical abilities, their SAT scores, class level and leadership qualities. Despite such attention to detail, 1 in 20 of cadets would drop out before the first academic year during the gruelling summer training. The questionnaire which Duckworth used was filled in before the summer and then again at the end of the summer by the same cadets.
The results were significant. The Grit Questionnaire, which is a short psychological test for resilience, was the best predictor of who would drop out, compared to West Point’s Whole Candidate Score or any other variables which were tested. In fact the Whole Candidate Score was not able to predict who would stay and who would drop out, even though it was better at ascertaining who would succeed academically in the military academy and who would perform better physically. Grit was in fact by far the best indicator of success and achievement, something that was reinforced in later studies into National Spelling Bees and first year teachers.
In fact one of the most surprising discoveries from the West Point study was that there was an inverse relationship between Talent and Grit. As mentioned in our last blog post, this is down to the fact that talented individuals require less effort to achieve success and therefore have a far lesser need for resilience and Grit. Those who have less talent however, and do succeed in getting high grades, work harder and have built up resilience, learning from their mistakes and making small incremental improvements in order to achieve success. In an interview with the ASCD, Duckworth uses a 1997 study into Taxi Drivers as an important example of why this is the case:
“When it’s raining, everybody wants a taxi, and taxi drivers pick up a lot of fares. So if you’re a taxi driver, the rational thing to do is to work more hours on a rainy day than on a sunny day because you’re always busy so you’re making more money per hour. But it turns out that on rainy days, taxi drivers work the fewest hours. They seem to have some figure in their head—”OK, every day I need to make $1,000″—and after they reach that goal, they go home. And on a rainy day, they get to that figure really quickly.”
To extend the metaphor then, Taxi drivers on rainy days are Talented Students with no Grit. They achieve an end goal but they don’t extend their efforts further when they could perhaps achieve even more.