On Grit: Why IQ Does Not Determine Success

Does the name “Angela Duckworth” ring a bell?

It might if you are familiar with Duckworth’s TED talk titled “Grit: the power of passion and perseverance,” which reached more than 13 million people worldwide.

Duckworth is a researcher, educator, and ex-consultant at prestigious McKinsey & Company (a position she left in favor of chalkboards and math equations). In her presentation, Duckworth introduces the concept of “grit,” which she defines as “passion and perseverance for long term goals.”

Grit vs. IQ

Grit, Duckworth states, is psychological and motivational, as opposed to IQ, which measures only the ability to learn “quickly and easily.” In her research, Duckworth has found grit, not IQ, to be the determining factor for success. Furthermore, she has found that grit is a consistent indicator of success in a variety of contexts.

As outlined in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth gathered data from students at Chicago public high schools (CPS,) sales personnel, students completing the Cadet Basic Training at the West Point Military Academy, and soldiers in the the United States Special forces (better known as the Green Berets).

The four study groups are similar in two key ways.

1. All four operate in high-pressure environments.

The Cadet Basic Training fittingly termed “Beast” is a grueling, seven-week selection process through which a final pool of applicants is narrowed down to a select few.

The sales profession is not only competitive, but testing: sales representatives face rejection daily.

While graduation rates for students at CPS have been climbing consistently and the city has set a goal of 85 per cent graduation by 2019, Chicago-based public high school students remain at risk for dropping out of school.

The Green Berets are trained to remain calm and collected in preparation for unconventional warfare.

 2. All high-performers in the fields Duckworth studies showcased a unifying character trait: determination.

This determination plays out in two ways: direction and resilience.

Successful people know what they want and move toward their goals zealously. And when they come up against roadblocks, successful people do not veer from their paths. On the contrary, they persist in spite of adversity.

Duckworth designed what she termed a Grit Scale: a questionnaire made up of statements such as “I finish whatever I begin” (Grit: The Power of Passions and Perseverance). The participant is asked to respond with a number from one to five, one denoting “very much like me” and five “not at all like me.”

Duckworth found that the Grit Scale predicted who made it through Beast, graduated from CPS, stayed on as a sales associate, and persevered through the Green Berets Selection Course.

Gritty students

Michael Kang, an education consultant with Ivy Global, has seen his fair share of ‘gritty’ students. Kang considers himself fortunate to work with students with varied interests: student athletes, musicians, artists, top-ranked debaters, and those who have started their own companies or charities, to name just a few.

Kang says some of his students are well-rounded, but have difficulty pinpointing what they want to pursue. A Grade 11 student whom Kang mentored is the perfect example of this: top student in her school, an athlete, and an artist. But she did not know what she wanted to pursue in college.

Through trying different hobbies, she landed on municipal government, which shortly after ignited in her a passion for public policy.

Another Grade 11 student whom Kang worked with knew that he was interested in computer science and engineering, but struggled with carving out a path for himself. Through participating in hackathons, this student learned that he loved the hardware aspect of computer engineering.

He went on to participate in every hackathon he could get his hands on and eventually organized a massive youth hackathon in China.

Kang states that passionate students look for additional opportunities to cultivate their skills, such as summer camps, competitions, and volunteer positions.

Taking on additional responsibilities can be especially challenging for student athletes and musicians who spend long hours practicing in addition to keeping up their grades and preparing for standardized tests, but these students are willing to dedicate both time and effort to cultivate their passions.

Gritty students are not only passionate, but also resilient. Having a passion entails coming up against challenges.

A Grade 12 student, whom both Kang and this author have worked with, had good, but not exceptional grades and average standardized testing scores when he started with Ivy Global. But he had an ambitious dream: to one day work for NASA.

Over the duration of the next 18 months, this student worked diligently. He secured admission to the top public high school in the city and raised his GPA all the while taking a challenging course load.

The standardized tests did not come easy. He took the tests several times before securing strong scores. He took on leadership positions at his new school and crafted beautiful admission essays, despite stumbling through English presentations only months prior. This past December, he found out that he was admitted to his dream school.

In conclusion

Grit can be broken down to the following:

(passion and direction) + (perseverance and resilience) + long term commitment = grit

Join us for the next blog post on grit to discuss talent vs. effort. If you would like to attend one of our free seminars, you can find them here:


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