To Be Successful, Grit Is A Most Valuable Asset

Angela Duckworth won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” for unlocking the psychology of achievement. Grit, she says, is what you need.

To Be Successful, Grit Is A Most Valuable Asset
[Image: Flickr user Donna & Andrew]

When Angela Duckworth was completing her PhD thesis at Penn, the psychology of achievement scholar found a career-shaping conclusion: that students’ self-discipline scores–rather than their IQs–predicted their academic success.


In other words, the 2013 MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient found, character is at least as important as intelligence when it comes to students’ success. This comes in two flavors: self-control, your ability to resist donuts, snooze alarms, and other temptations, and more importantly, grit, your ability to sustain interest and effort to complete long-term goals.

Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit

So how can you measure grit? As Maria Popova notes at, one way was a “deceptively simple” test called a Grit Scale, which asks how much you self-identify with statements such as “I am a hard worker” to “New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.”

And though it’s intensely simple, the Grit Scale scores predicted success not only in schools, but the National Spelling Bee and West Point. As Paul Tough notes in How Children Succeed:

At the National Spelling Bee, Duckworth found that children with high grit scores were more likely to survive to the later rounds. Most remarkable, Duckworth and Peterson gave their grit test to more than twelve hundred freshman cadets as they entered the military academy at West Point and embarked on the grueling summer training course known as Beast Barracks. The military has developed its own complex evaluation, called the whole candidate score, to judge incoming cadets and predict which of them will survive the demands of West Point; it includes academic grades, a gauge of physical fitness, and a leadership potential score. But the more accurate predictor of which cadets persisted in Beast Barracks and which ones dropped out turned out to be Duckworth’s simple little twelve-item grit questionnaire.

Getting gritty

Duckworth’s findings in how grit predicts achievement runs parallel to other things we’ve learned. Creativity, we know, is mostly persistence, and if we want to learn a new skill, we need only do it every day. More and more, it seems as though your hustle is your trajectory–or so the genius says.

Research Psychologist Angela Duckworth, 2013 MacArthur Fellow | MacArthur Foundation

Hat tip: Brain Pickings

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.