Self Improvement

BOOK REVIEW: GRIT

GritGrit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth
Recommended for: improvement agents, systems thinkers (as a counter to their beliefs), parents, the education community, people wanting to reach their life goals.

I’ve seen this books floating around the educational circles. Its part of the growth mindset movement in our schools. The book’s premise is that our ability to be gritty (i.e. being able to relentlessly pursue an objective) is what will determine our ability to succeed in life and lays out strategies on how to get more grit.

The book and Duckworth’s ideas have been criticized by systems-thinkers who believe that most of our problems are systems/culture/environment related and praised by those who believe that we need to become better individuals in order to become successful.

Here’s my top 25 takeaways:

  1. Americans endorse hardworking over intelligence by five times when asked about hiring a new employee. However, in practice, we have a tendency to favor “naturals.” (I have personally seen this. We want people who ‘just get it.’)
  1. There’s a grit test in the book. I scored in the 60% which, according to the survey, means I’m grittier than 60% of the population. Should I put this on my resume? Heh.
  1. Grit is about working on something you care about so much your willing to stay loyal to it. Its not about just falling in love, but staying in love.
  1. “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” Good quote.
  1. She suggests envisioning your goals in a hierarchy. The top level goal (your life philosophy) is supported by mid-level goals which are supported by low level goals. The lower level goals change in order to meet the higher level goals. Top level goals are written in ink. Lower level goals are written in pencil.
  1. You might have to do things in your lower level goals that you don’t want to do in order to reach your higher level goals.
  1. Grit is about holding the same top level goal for a very long time. This is your life philosophy and is so powerful that it organizes a great deal of your waking activity.
  1. Positive fantasizing is when you have a high level goal, but no lower level goals to reach it. You live with the short term great feelings about your goal, but in the long term, you live with disappointment of not having achieved the goal. This is common.
  1. Grit, just like other character attributes like honesty and generosity are genetically influenced, but also experience influenced.
  1. She had a chart that showed the older you are, the grittier you are. It was quite pronounced. Two ways to interpret this—the older generation grew up in a time when grit was more important (i.e. they just worked harder as they’ve always claimed) or we become more grittier as we get older.
  1. For some, purpose dawns early, for others, it takes many years of refinement. (I fall into this camp. I’m definitely a late bloomer).
  1. For the beginner, novelty is anything they haven’t encountered before. For the expert, novelty is nuance.
  1. “Some people get twenty years of experience, others get one year of experience twenty times in a row.” Another great quote.
  1. Grit paragons exude kaizen. There aren’t any exceptions. (Glad to hear this).
  1. This is how experts practice (called deliberate practice)—they create a stretch goal. They are very specific on what they want to do. Instead of practicing what they do well, they strive to improve weakness. They then give the goal great effort and undivided attention. Experts typically practice when no one is watching. Experts hungrily ask for feedback on how they are doing. They are more interested in what they are doing wrong rather than what they are doing right.
  1. Experts say they do the practice that they don’t like so they can better enjoy what they love.
  1. Doing crazy hours of practice is not the same as deliberate practice. There’s a story of the Japanese Rowing team inviting Mads Rassmusen (Danish rower and double World Champion and Olympic Gold winner) to visit them. He was shocked at how many hours they were putting in. Its not hours of brute force exhaustion you are going after he told them. Its high quality training goals pursued for just a few hours of the day.
  1. Infants and toddlers don’t seem to be bothered when they can’t get something right. They practice it over and over again until they do. What happens? It seems to be that once they get older, they realize their mistakes cause a reaction in some grownups. We frown. Our cheeks puff out. We point out that they are doing something wrong. What does this teach them? Embarrassment. Shame. Fear. Between coaches and parents, they’ve learned that failing is bad. After awhile, they aren’t willing to stick their necks out and give their best effort.
  1. Paragons of grit all believe their hard work and struggles are worth it because somehow they see it helping other people.
  1. Don’t say setbacks aren’t discouraging. That’s not realistic. Of course they are discouraging. Instead believe that setbacks don’t discourage you for long. Always get back on your feet.
  1. You don’t need to be a parent to make a difference in someone’s life. If you care about them and get to know what’s going on, you can make an impact. Try to understand whats going on in their life and help them through that.
  1. Learned industriousness—the idea that hard work and reward can be learned. Without experiencing the connection between reward and effort, animals, including people default to laziness. Calorie burning efforts is, after all, something that evolution has shaped us to avoid whenever possible. Psychologist Robert Eisenberger at the University of Houston has done research on this (this sounds like evidence for X style management).
  1. If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture. (aha! So there is systems-thinking in this book!)
  1. It seems the hard way to get grit is to learn it yourself. The easy way is to use conformity—the basic human drive to fit in—because if you are around people who are gritty. You’re going to act grittier.
  1. Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own.

Duckworth admits there needs to be inquiry into exploring the possible downsides of grit. For example, she admits there is a danger in sticking with something for too long. What is the cost of the pursuit? Our family? Relationships? Health? Money? Time? Duckworth says that people with grit are often described as obsessive. When does this go too far?

Overall, I found this book inspiring and I often find myself thinking on what Duckworth has to say, particularly on how we go about setting and accomplishing our goals.

As noted, her ideas and research seem to run, at first glance, counter to systems-thinking. Her thesis is that we need to strengthen the individual in order to get ahead. However, she also argues that gritty culture creates gritty individuals, which is a systems idea.

After reading this book, I’m thinking we need both. For us systems-thinkers, we need grit when our influence is low, because we are unable to improve the system, but when our influence becomes greater, we have the responsibility to improve the system (Deming often remarked that our system is destroying the rugged individual—we need to fix this).

My concern, though, is that within our dualistic culture, we will concentrate on one or the other and because we are an individualistic society, we will focus more on the individual. This book may be giving those with this mindset too much ammunition. Perhaps this is why, Alfie Kohn, who I admire a lot, has been highly critical of Duckworth’s work. His argument against it can be found here.

The book can be bought here.

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BOOK REVIEW: THE WORLD IS FLAT

The World is FlatThe World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century by Thomas L. Friedman.

Recommended for: Anyone who has a job! Students about to enter the real world, parents.


Thomas Friedman is the New York Times‘s Foreign Affairs columnist and the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes. He travels the globe extensively to get a better understanding of his work. The World is Flat, which explores globalization was #1 New York Times bestseller and received the inaugural Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in November 2005. I’d heard a lot about this book over the last year or so and was glad to finally get a chance to read it.

Friedman said the purpose of the book is to create a framework to maximize and manage globalization to our benefit. Many of us are uneasy about the ‘flattening’ of the world (some of his stories certainly scared the bejezus out of me). Friedman says its natural. He says it happens every time we have a technological revolution. The difference this time is its happening a lot faster.

This was another book that was tough to narrow down to my favorite parts. Friedman had fascinating examples of outsourcing, the reasons why the world globalized, how India became our tech center, and the dangers of oil dependencies.

After a lot of work, I narrowed it down to 25 points:

The Scary Stuff

  • He didn’t use these exact words, but Friedman makes no bones that what can be outsourced will be outsourced.
  • Venture firms want new companies to become profitable quickly so they can then sell them, also, they want to make sure companies are hiring the brightest– this leads to outsourcing.
  • The average wage of a high skills mechanist in America is $3,000-$4,000 a month. The average for China is $150.
  • The problem is not just that outsourced companies will work for less, that will work more hours, they don’t take the same amount of holidays or days off. Other countries’ employees will work 15-18 hour days and come in on the weekends. They are doing this because they have a dream to work at Microsoft.
  • Other countries do not want to work for us or be us, they want to dominate us. They want to be the ones creating the companies of the future. They are not content on where they are.

Why Are We Struggling?

  • We are a leisure-time society. In China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In the U.S., Britney Spears is Britney Spears.
  • Our culture needs to better prize education. Immigrants’ children inhabit the top ranks of math and science. Our kids aren’t interested in it. China and India have a long tradition of parents telling their children that the greatest thing they can be in life is an engineer or a doctor. (My wife pointed out that this is actually not prizing education as much as it is prizing an occupation. We still need firefighters, teachers, public servants, etc.).

The Upside

  • This has happened before. It happened when we connected New York to California by rail. It happened when we connected America to Western Europe and Japan. It happened again when we connected America, Europe, Japan, to India, and China. We will get through it and get better because of it.
  • One reason people fear globalization is because they believe that there are only so many jobs to go around and we are losing them. This is wrong headed. The pie is not a fixed amount. As these jobs are sent overseas, people have more of an income to spend, and it creates a larger pie.
  • It is easy to demonize free markets and the freedom to outsource and offshore because it is so much easier to see people being laid off than being hired.
  • In the end, everyone is going to benefit, there will always be fear, but the fear is good, because it stimulates a willingness to change and explore and find things to do better.
  • America still has huge advantages– we have innovative businesses, good universities, labs, retailers, and the best regulated and most efficient capital markets in the world for taking ideas and turning them into products and services. We are the best country for taking a risk on an idea. We also have an advantage with intellectual property protection, the most flexible labor laws, the world’s largest domestic consumer market, the most first adopters (if you starting something new—you better have a presence in America). We also have had political stability. Finally, we are a great place for different types of people to come together and meet. China, India, and other countries will not be successful until they have successful capital markets and they won’t have these until they have rule of law that protects minority interests under conditions of risk.

What to do

  • As the world flattens and new ways to collaborate are made available to more people, those who will succeed will be those who learn the habits, processes, and skills the quickest (there is no guarantee that this will be America).
  • You have to constantly upgrade your skills. There will be plenty of good jobs out there in the flat world for people with knowledge and ideas to seize them.
  • People need to become less specialty tools and become more Swiss army knives.
  • The most important attribute you can have is creative imagination—the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools can be put together in new and exciting ways to create products, communities, opportunities, and profits.

Change Management

  • Management, shareholders, and investors don’t really care where the profits come from, but they do care about sustainability.
  • “Transformation begins with a sense of crisis or urgency. No institution will go through fundamental change unless it believes it is in deep trouble and needs to do something different to survive.” Lou Gestner.
  • Sometimes the best strategy is to get the big players to the right things for the wrong reasons because waiting for them to do the right thing for the right reason can mean waiting forever.
  • When it comes to economic activities, one of the greatest virtues a country or community can have is a culture of tolerance.
  • Trust is essential in a flat world—you have up to a thousand people involved in a company and who have never met before.

Respect for People

  • Friedman believes terrorism is spawned by the poverty of dignity, not money. Terrorists often talk about being humiliated. He said humiliation is the most underestimated force in international relations and in human relations.
  • Ali Salem, an Egyptian playwright said terrorists are “walking the streets of life, searching for tall buildings—for towers to bring down, because they are not able to be tall like them.”
  • People do not change only when they must. They change when they see that others like themselves have changed and flourished.

Other/Interesting

  • He used to say that no two countries that had a McDonalds had ever gone to war with each other. He calls is the Golden Arches theory of Conflict Prevention. He now has the Dell Theory– no two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain will ever fight a war against each other as long as they are both part of the same global supply chain. It would bring both countries to their knees and wouldn’t be worth it.

The book isn’t without its critics. Many have argued the world is not as flat as Friedman is making out. I tried a couple of things he said we can do now (such as finding the address of someone just by Googling their phone number and looking up people on the internet to find out more about them—no dice). Still, I think we can all agree that we are heading in that direction, though, and we need to get a jump on it. This book certainly gave me a wake up call, increased my awareness for what the world has become, helped me better plan what I can do to do a better job in it, and what I can do to help others be prepared (such as my kids.)

The book can be bought here.

It Starts With Us

I don’t practice what I preach. This became a hard reality for me recently. I was reading Mark Graban’s book and he talks about how easy it is to find fault in others and not see what we may be doing wrong.

morpheus-red-blue-pill

WARNING: Studying Deming will haunt you for the rest of your life!

Deming talks about the transformation of the individual. Its really true. I equate it to taking the red pill. Afterwards, I was often angry with others—why didn’t they get it?? It was too easy to climb up on my soap box and start preaching. It wasn’t really getting me anywhere, though. This added to my own frustration. But wait, didn’t Deming talk about the need for understanding Psychology? Wouldn’t I need to understand it in order to change people’s minds? If so, why wasn’t I doing that? Worse, was getting angry and telling people what they should believe increasing their own knowledge and adding to their joy? I wasn’t practicing what I preached!

And what about my own life? I’m out of shape. I don’t eat the greatest. Was I chasing short term pay offs instead of focusing on the long term like I had been preaching? And then there’s my own family. Was I improving their life? Was I teaching my children the importance of collaboration and helping them find pride in their work and showing them how to continuously improve?

I read a book some time ago about how we influence others and I remember taking away from it that my strongest ability to influence was by modeling. People are watching me. Whether its my Kanban board at work or just watching how I interact and treat others. When one chooses to take the red pill, you’ve entered a new world and have a huge responsibility to help others.

Some things I could be doing better:

  1. How’s my constancy of purpose? Do I even have one? Once I identify it, do I even have the willpower to pursue it and achieve it?
  2. I need more energy and focus. In order to do this, I need to eat more healthy and exercise. In order to do it, I’ll need discipline. I need to go out and get some.
  3. If I want to help others improve, I need to learn how to influence them. I need to be studying psychology more.
  4. I need to be reducing variation in my own life. I can do this by building quality in. For example—just maintaining what I already have (oil changes, taking care of my clothes, keeping my house tidy and clean, finding ways to simplify).
  5. Identify when I’m being short-term minded. I’m stunned at how easy it is to fall into this trap.
  6. I need to be conducting my own experiments and PDSA. Currently I’m experimenting with meditation to boost my will power.
  7. Be more humble. I don’t have it all figured out and I never will. There are others out there who have knowledge.
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So easy to get into this mindset. I need to check it at the door.