In the past decade, particularly the cognitive ability - intelligence - has received increasing attention. As headhunters, we, as most of our clients today, require candidates for new jobs to undergo ability testing measuring their cognitive abilities – IQ being the preferred. There is no question that intelligence is a largely reliable predictor of future work performance. Especially, IQ has proven to be a fitting predictor of performance on new and unfamiliar tasks and thus in an onboarding situation; however, it predicts nearly nothing about performance when a person has been in a job for just a few years.
So, what really differentiates high performing people from their average- or low performing peers? Well, it is not intelligence or other cognitive abilities – it’s GRIT.
GRIT is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual's passion for a particular job, task or long-term goal, coupled with his/her perseverance i.e. strong sense of motivation and effort contributing to the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie on the paths to accomplishment.
Essentially, the combination of passion and perseverance is THE unbeatable cocktail that serves as the ultimate driving force in achieving something.
Personally, I reached a point where I got so fed up with hearing accomplished and successful rock stars, sports icons and business leaders sharing their view on their own success by advising; “just follow your passion”. Easy for them to say, I thought. Well, it turns out they are pretty much right – passion is truly one of the two key ingredients to success.
The other one is perseverance. The need for achievement, resilience and not giving up – all are they engulfed in the concept of perseverance – and all are they strong predictors of success when combined with passion. In fact, the ability to stick with and pursue a goal over a long period is probably more important than most of us anticipate.
I have often asked myself the question: "Why do some people accomplish more than others of comparable intelligence?" Well, according to research - GRIT is the defining factor (1+2). In fact, unlike traditional measures of performance, GRIT is not tied to intelligence, explaining why some highly intelligent individuals do not consistently perform well over long periods of time and why some less intelligent individuals make it all the way to higher office (3)…
Like myself, most parents with teenage children struggle with giving advice to their sons and daughters on what educational and career paths to pursue. With disruption being the new norm, we seem to be even more at a loss than ever before. Who knows exactly how the job market will look just 5-10 years from now? I know that I don’t, and although I have gained unique insights into a wide array of companies across several industries, I cannot answer this question with true conviction. Neither can most of my clients.
Some time ago my daughter was invited to a P4 radioshow. The invitation was motivated by a linkedin update she had posted telling the story of her pursuit of an apprenticeship as a car mechanic. The post quickly received a remarkable123.800 impressions, 1153 likes and 136 comments. Most of those comments either activated people in the authors network or offered my daughter to come for an interview. But why did so many kind people lend a helping hand? First and foremost, her linkedin post visualised a girl that possesses GRIT. A girl that is passionate about becoming a car mechanic and a girl who demonstrates perseverance in working hard to reach her goal. The combination of those two ingredients evidently triggered something in people, because we love for people who display a combination of humbleness combined with passion and perseverance - to succeed.
However, what came as quite a surprise to me in the radio interview, was her story of how she ditched her final math exam - without telling her parents - to accompany me to her first ever Formula One race...;o) Knowing what I know now, that it was this race that sparked her passion for cars and repairing cars, I have since decided to forgive her....
So, what can we learn from this? Well, my learning was that passion and perseverance should be the guiding beacon. But also that one without the other breaks the GRIT formula. Previously, I used to tell my daughter: “intelligence oblige” (inspired by the old French saying; “noblesse oblige”). I still say this to her and remind her that being bright comes with a responsibility and an obligation of mindful diligence. However, I also now tell her with equal vigour, that GRIT i.e. passion and perseverance, should be the key driver guiding her choices on her path to personal accomplishment.
Finally, I remind her and myself of the fact, that a passionate, dedicated and persevering person with limited talent is more likely to become successful in achieving great things, than a passive person with great talent.
(1): Duckworth, A.L.; Peterson, C.; Matthews, M.D.; Kelly, D.R. (2007). "GRIT: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 92 (6): 1087–1101.
(2): Duckworth, A.L.; Quinn, P.D. (2009). "Development and validation of the Short GRIT Scale (GRIT–S)" (PDF). Journal of Personality Assessment. 91 (2): 166–174.