What is this “Grit” I keep hearing about?

Grit is a hot concept right now, but largely in the self-improvement space. I listened to a good Freakonomics Radio podcast interview of Angela Lee Duckworth by Steven J. Dubner about Duckworth’s book entitled, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perserverance. Duckworth’s basic premise is that people with the most grit have the following characteristics, in order;

  1. They cultivate an interest in a subject
  2. They practice that subject deliberately (a la Anders Ericsson’s Peak)
  3. They feel the subject has meaning or purpose in their lives
  4.  They are optimistic about their outcomes with that subject

By the way, Duckworth reveals a great tool to fight off boredom of a subject. It involves nuance versus novelty, but you should listen to hear her talk about it.

So, that is the personal version of grit in a nutshell (according to Duckworth), but what about organizations?

Can organizations have grit?

On my walk yesterday, I came to this question as I pondered an organization that I was talking to recently about their culture and how to ensure they kept it as they grow. It occurred to me that, yes, organizations could have grit, but many organizations have only three of the four characteristics. They have interest in their work, they generally have purpose in their field, and for the most part they are optimistic that their hard work will result in good things. Sometimes, they have deliberate practice in the sexy fields of website and product design (e.g. A/B testing). However, many fail in the deliberate practice characteristic, especially with their sales and customer services work. For certain, they are “practicing” all day, every day at their work. They are answering an increasing number of phone calls, emails, webchats, etc., but are they deliberately trying to improve in a well-chosen and specific area every day in a way that stays true to their mission? Sadly, many are not. This led me to think of grit in another manner. Let’s call it “Strategic Grit.”

What is Strategic Grit?

First of all, it is entirely reasonable to have this conversation based on Anders Ericsson‘s concept of deliberate practice, instead of grit. However, I like to think of it in terms of grit, because deliberate practice is recursive inside of Duckworth’s concept of grit, so you get a twofer. In other words, to want to practice deliberately, you probably have to have an interest in the subject, feel that it has meaning (purpose) in your work, and be optimistic about the outcome. That’s when I started thinking about how, in order to know what to deliberately practice, an organization needs to analyze its current state and compare it honestly against its desired future state. In other words, finding out about what should interest the organization. This is the first step (Diagnosis) in Richard Rumelt‘s Good Strategy, Bad Strategy (Excellent book, BTW. If you have not read it, the Kindle edition is $1.99 right now). But being clear-headed about strategy requires a little grit too. At this point, I was starting to confuse myself, so I tried to simplify what I thought grit was, in terms of analyzing (diagnosing) what should interest an organization. I decided to use Duckworth’s model of four characteristics, in order, that I had personally seen in organizations that truly faced up to what was causing them problems, especially in dealing with customer service and sales. I created an acronym, because that is what consultants do. Here is my attempt to define Strategic Grit.

TJ Linzy’s definition of Strategic Grit for Organizations

G – Guts – Have the guts to face up to the real issues (take interest) that confront your organization based on your core mission and prioritize them for deliberate practice. Not those that everyone else focusses on, but the ones that will most help meet your mission. This is where the nuance versus novelty discussion is often pertinent.
R – Resolve to improve (deliberately practice)  on the issues mentioned above, even if it means changing KPIs, bucking industry trends, or challenging the status quo. For the other issues that are not part of your core mission, resolve to be at the market standard and stop fretting about them.
I – Integrity. Know what you want to be remembered for ethically (feel what your doing has purpose). Ensure integrity with your ethics by ensuring your actions are aligned with your values.
T – Tenacity. Keep going, even when it looks bleak and going back to your old ways seems like a safe bet (optimism in the outcome helps with tenacity). If you honestly diagnosed your gaps, aligned your principles to guide you, and used logic to ensure your actions were coherent with your diagnosis and principles, you’ll be on the right track and only tenacity will separate you from success.

Well, that’s it. Any value to anyone?


Photo credit – By zaui/Scott Catron [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons