Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review of "Grit" by Angela Duckworth - The Power of Passion And Perseverance

I was carrying a copy of "Grit" with me as I visited recently with a professor in the Behavioral Sciences Department at West Point. I asked Colonel Ryan if she were familiar with Angela Duckworth's book, and especially the portion that discusses West Point's difficulty in predicting which cadets might drop out of the challenging Beast Barracks at the beginning of their Plebe year. She laughed, and said that her department had just had Dr. Duckworth on campus to discuss that very issue.

"Grit" fits wonderfully with two other powerful books I have recently read the deal with the pursuit of excellence: "Mindset" and "The Talent Code."

In "Mindset," Dr. Carol Dweck posits that one can learn to develop a growth mindset that allows each obstacle and setback in life to be viewed as an opportunity for growth and refinement of existing skills, and the development of new skills.

White Rhino Report Review of "Mindset"

In "The Talent Code," Daniel Coyle lays out a case showing that deep practice triggers growth in the myelin sheath that surrounds neurons, further insulating them and speeding up the rate at which signals are passed along the neural pathways. With an appropriate ignition event to allow a person to have the persistence to engage in deep practice, one can develop extraordinary levels of talent. The final piece of the triple ecosystem that Coyle describes is a world class coach to keep a person fully engaged in the ongoing process of improvement and refinement of talent.

White Rhino Report Review of "The Talent Code"

In "Grit," Dr. Duckworth emphasizes the importance of persistence, perseverance, and passion in determining success in life. She shares many examples and case studies, including the experiences of West Point cadets, and NFL players for the Seattle Seahawks under the coaching of Pete Caroll, whose philosophy of leadership is in harmony with Duckworth's premise.

Throughout the book, the author points out that achieving true grit results from a combination of inner drives and external impetuses. The most effective external dynamics include becoming part of a group or tribe in which all of the members are striving for excellence.  She quotes sociologist Dan Chambliss in describing how this works in practice: "It seems to me  . . .that there's a hard way to get grit and an easy way. The hard way is to do it by yourself. The easy way is to use conformity - the basic human drive to fit in - because if you're around a lot of people who are gritty, you're going to get grittier." (Page 247)

Dr. Duckworth devotes several key pages to the case study of Coach Anson Dorrance, who has led the women's soccer team from UNC Chapel Hill to many national titles. He inspires grit in his players in a number of ways, including having them memorize 12 key literary quotes that together define the culture of the team. I was struck by the quote about whining penned by George Bernard Shaw: "The true joy in life is to be a force of fortune instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." (pages 257-8)

Finally, the author quotes Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, Superintendent of West Point. In describing the culture of West Point that inculcates leadership in the men and women who make it through the grueling four year curriculum, Caslen points to the words of one of his predecessors, General John Schofield: "The discipline which makes soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment." 

"Schofield goes on to say - and the cadets must memorize this, too - that the very same commands issued in a way that inspires allegiance or seeds resentment. And the difference comes down to one essential thing: respect. Respect of subordinates for their commander? No, Schofield says. The origin of great leadership begins with the respect of the commander for his subordinates." (Page 258)

This book and its insights will be the topic of several gatherings that I will be hosting in the next  few weeks. It is a treasure trove of wisdom, encouragement, and challenge.



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