Here is the whole candidate score, this is a weighted average of your SAT, your GPA, how many push-ups you can do, literally. And you can see that, it’s actually true that if you’re in the bottom 25% of their whole candidate score you are more likely to drop out, but isn’t it interesting that the top 25% of people on this score, which West Point has spent many years and lots of your tax dollars trying to figure out, the best predictor of performance. You know, the people in the top 25% were actually just about as likely to drop out, and self-discipline which is being able to resist temptation, it’s also an important quality, but not such an important quality when it comes to high achievement. Very good quality when it comes to staying on your diet and doing your homework, not such a good quality, in terms of predicting extremely high challenge achievement. That seemed to be predictive as well, not quite as predictive when you run the statistics as grit.
We replicated the study, every single year in the last five years at West Point Military Academy leading lots of military people to call me and ask me how to increase grit in their cadets, or in their special forces officers or navy seals, or in their air-force cadets. But, the point here is that grit is predicting something, people who stay in a very very challenging environment are not just the very talented ones, it’s something else.
In fact, in this study, and in every study that I’ve run since then, I was looking to see whether the gritty people were the ones who were the talented ones. Maybe when you’re really good at something it makes you stay in. In fact we find quite the opposite, at West Point and elsewhere we find that the gritty people on measures of talent have less. So it’s by no means a guarantee of grit that you actually start of as one of the gifted.
Here I am going to run quickly through some other studies. This is a grit measured by looking at peoples’ resumes for consistency and follow through. I would have gotten a terrible grit score for my resume, would have gotten grit for breath, low for grit. This is actually looking at grit in college resumes as a predictor of the teacher effectiveness in a teacher’s under resourced communities. And we measured teacher effectiveness the way it should be measured, which is the academic progress of their kids. And no other thing, I think, would substitute for that.
We did a great study, and I mean it was just fun, of the National Spelling Bee kids. I called up the director of the National Spelling Bee, who herself was a National Spelling Bee champion, she corrected the spelling on my email on her return, and that was fine too. And these kids are extraordinary children, and I think many people have this stereotype that Spelling Bee kids are verbal geniuses and the ones who win the Spelling Bee are sort of more genius-like than the ones who don’t win the Spelling Bee.
So I asked the director if that were true and she said, “I don’t think so but I don’t know what it is.” So we surveyed kids before they actually went to the Bee and what we found was that, again grit is the dark blue line, so the kids who actually placed higher in the finals of the National Spelling Bee were higher in grit and here is their verbal IQ, verbal IQ did predict, but again, the kids who were really high in verbal IQ tended to be lower in grit. So they were not merit, they were inversely related and self-discipline here, being able to resist temptation, stay on a diet, do your homework when you need to — Interestingly, the kids who were very high in self-discipline did do better.
But there was also the slacker group, in a bottom 25% of self-discipline who also did quite well but just about as well as the top. So again self-discipline, great for doing homework, terrific predictor of GPA, not such a great predictor of are you going to find a blue man group and stay with it, etc.
In a follow-up study to this one we investigated why is it that gritty kids are wining the Spelling Bee. So we recruited another sample of kids from the following year Spelling Bee, we sent them surveys, we measured their grit on self-report questionnaires, but then we asked them very detailed questions about what they did.
So it turns out the kids who were in the National Spelling Bee competition, they’re studying anywhere from an hour a week to scarily 35 or 40 hours a week. But what differentiates kids who are gritty from kids who are not gritty is not just the hours of work that they are putting in they’re putting the hardest kind of work in. They are not studying the words that they already know, they’re not sitting around being quizzed on what’s already pretty much coming easily, they isolate what they don’t know, they identify their own weaknesses and then they work just on that. And that seems to be characteristic of high achievement and of what grit enables you to do. It’s basically, being in a very uncomfortable place for some part of your day working extremely hard and then to get up and do it all over again and again and again.
There is a graph that goes with this 10-year-rule, that I mentioned at the beginning of the talk. This is the deliberate practice graph. This graph actually accurately describes the rise of skill, the gain in skill over time for really just about any domain that’s been studied. Even Mozart, who some would argue is proof of concept for genius — Mozart must have been born as great as he was because who else could have been composing melodies that we’re still listening to, at the age of 5 or 6.
It turns out that Mozart also fits this graph but he was doing probably 8 hours of deliberate practice a day, from as early as he could sit up, whereas most world class performers only do 4. But Mozart at very early age had already accumulated basically 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
Here is the interesting thing on the graph. So it’s really 10 years since you started discipline till you get to world class peak performers. And another interesting point about this which you can’t see from this graph is that most people do this. They don’t have the grit to essentially sustain this deliberate practice over all this time and they basically plateau here.