True Grit: The Best Predictor of Success

The pendulum is swinging towards non-cognitive traits, and one of them is grit. Thanks to some groundbreaking work by education researcher Angela Lee Duckwort of Penn State University, there’s reason to believe that developing grit, which she says is the quality of “living life like a marathon, not a sprint”, can transform lives. Discover more by watching her TED video here, but if you really can’t wait, scroll down to read the highlights of her research.



  • Grit is a significant predictor of future success. To study the effect of grit on achievement, Duckworth analysed individuals she and her team defined as having the characteristics of ‘grit’ and discovered that those individuals with ‘grit’ were invariably the most successful.
  • Grit can be described in various ways, but the underlying theme is commitment and loyalty to long-term goals, i.e.: not giving up on your long-term goals.
  • Little is offered by science on the role of grit, hence there is room for further research.
  • There is an inverse relationship between talent and grit. Data shows that there are many talented individuals who don’t possess grit, who don’t follow through on their commitments. However, being talented does not mean that you will not have grit.
  • Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck’s work on the ‘growth mindset’ is an enabler of grit. This is because a ‘growth mindset’ is rooted in the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed but is subject to change, for example through effort. By viewing failure as part of the process of learning, and not permanent, people are more likely to persevere and pursue their goals, i.e.: be “gritty”.
  • Studies corroborate the idea that when children learn that failure is not permanent, merely a part of the learning process, they are more likely to keep going when they fail.


Perhaps the most interesting finding from Duckworth’s research is that grit and talent are either not related or have an inverse relation. Yet it is rational to assume that being naturally good at something will lead you to invest time and effort in it. However, Duckworth finds that this is not the case. Many of those with talent (and without grit) will put in no more than the effort required to achieve a particular level of proficiency. In an interview with ASCD, she offers an interesting case study of New York cab drivers by way of illustration, which revealed that taxi drivers work the fewest hours when it is raining, in spite of the fact that they are likely to earn more money on rainy days. Speaking about the study, Duckworth comments that the cab drivers set for themselves an earning threshold that dictates whether they work (i.e.: not their ’grit’), and once that threshold is achieved, they choose not to work, even though working on rainy days would appear the rational decision, i.e.: to maximise their earnings.

Talent, it would seem, will only get you so far in life. You need grit, grit that will make sure you see “no limit, ceiling or threshold”. True grit.