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Is Grit the Key to Success in Work and Life?
In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth argues that an individual’s grit is a better predictor of long-term success, more than talent or IQ. Grit is a combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Director of strategic initiatives Chrissy Daniels shares three key insights from the book and shines a light on Utah's grit.

’ve led our system’s patient experience work for over a decade, and Utah’s innovative approach attracts national attention. In my role, I’m often asked by people both inside and outside our system “what is Utah’s secret to success?” This book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, has part of the answer. Our people—our physicians, our nurses, our custodians, our medical assistants, our leaders—embody grit every day. If you’re wondering how we got this far, and how we’ll continue to get better in the future, I’ll tell you. Effort counts more than talent, deliberate practice, and a great team.

#1 Effort counts twice as much as talent

Duckworth illustrates how an individual moves from talent to achievement:

Talent x effort = skill → Skill x effort = achievement

Duckworth writes: “Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is another” (page 14). Duckworth explains this premise is both exciting and threatening.

“The attraction of thinking that people are gifted or special in a way we aren’t, call it the “X” factor or call it “genius,” is derived from our insecurity, really. Because if I say that Einstein’s a genius, then you don’t have to compete with him because he is not in your category. When you say “You know what? A lot of that success comes from dedicated hours of practice and thought,” then you are a little bit responsible to see how well you can do.”

Duckworth challenges that believing in grit is about believing that personal and professional success is largely in our own hands.

#2 Growing Grit

Duckworth identifies that gritty individuals have four psychological strengths in common:

People with grit can say:

"I love what I do."

Passion begins with enjoying what you do, which isn’t to say that all work is fun. These individuals have aspects of their work that they don’t enjoy. But, they are committed to the endeavor as a whole.

“Here is how I’m getting better.”

Gritty individuals show their perseverance through the daily discipline of trying to do things better than yesterday. After discovering and developing your interest, the next step is practicing. Practice means focused challenges that lead to mastery. This theory builds on Malcolm Gladwell’s famous theory that 10,000 hours is the magic number for expertise. Duckworth agrees that excellence takes years of work.

What she clarifies is that the work must be in the form of deliberate practice. The basic elements include:

  • A clearly defined stretch goal
  • Full concentration and effort
  • Immediate and informative feedback
  • Repetition with reflection and refinement

“This is important – both to me and others.”

Continued deepening of passion depends on the belief that your work matters. Interest without purpose is almost impossible to sustain. Developing purpose requires connecting your personal interest in your work with the well-being of others. For many, the motivation of purpose develops early. For others, it happens after they see the reaction of others to their efforts.

“I will find a way to get back up and keep moving.”

Duckworth’s research reveals that along every step of the way, it is crucial that improvers stay the course and keep going even in the face of setback and doubts.

#3 Want to be great? Join a great team.

Duckworth emphasized that if you want to improve your grit, you can certainly focus as an individual, but if you really want to be great at anything, join a great team. Hundreds of psychological experiments have demonstrated how quickly individuals change their acting or thinking to fall in line with a group – often without conscious awareness. Over time and under the right circumstances, culture can positively shape personal identify.



Chrissy Daniels

Former Director of Strategic Initiatives, University of Utah Health

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