Got Grit?

Karl R. LaPan President & CEO, The NIIC

What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Sure, a great idea and funding helps. But there’s one key element that separates the winners from those with less favorable outcomes. That variable is grit. Call it persistence, stick-to-it-tiveness or tenaciousness. Grit is a theme that runs through the back stories of some of the most successful entrepreneurs.

Everyone loves to read accounts of the underdog coming out on top. Often these people were able to rise above their circumstances to achieve greatness. In business, so much of our success hinges on good connections and a strong network of support, among other things. However, grit is an internal quality and not something bestowed on a privileged few. People from the most modest of means or dire of circumstances can have grit. It doesn’t discriminate on socio-economic status, skin color or gender. Anyone can be gritty.

Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance is worth the read. One of the many insights is to take the assessment she administered at West Point. You can find it here: Grit Scale. Succinctly, grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Greater self-awareness and reflection are key aspects of the assessment – there is no good or bad. It is how you see yourself. If you are unhappy with the result, the good news is grit can change over time, but like anything that can be nurtured or developed you have to be intentional about it.

I believe grit is what can take aspiring entrepreneurs to the next level. The key is to strike a balance and temper it with patience. People with grit know when to step away from situations and revisit them with a clearer head. It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive or giving up or persisting.

Omer Shai, the CMO of Wix.com said it best in an Entrepreneur.com article: “Starting something isn’t enough. The ability to persevere and be resilient after that something has been started is the true stamp of an entrepreneur. It’s the people who stay the course and continue to invest in developing their enterprise beyond the starting point that should be the model for successful entrepreneurship.” Resilience, adaptiveness, perseverance and courage (one of my favorite words) are proxy words for gritty.

Shai makes an important observation when he talks about the necessary conditions for going beyond the starting point. The challenge is, that unlike interpersonal skills, grit is a difficult thing to practice or affect. There aren’t really many good exercises to flex your grit muscle. It’s more of a case of experiences happening to you that require you to adapt and adjust—and thus become more gritty.

Who in your life is gritty? What can you learn from their behavior? How did you score on the grit scale? I scored a 4.0 out of 5 putting me in the 65th percentile of American adults. Quite frankly, I was hoping for higher. If you add up the odd-numbered questions and divide by 5, this gives you your passion score, if you add up the even-numbered questions and divide by 5, this gives you your perseverance score. I bet one of those two descriptors trumps the other. This is where I will be doing some future self-reflection.


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