The Secret of What Makes a Winner
Let’s first define “winning.” For my purposes here, winning means meeting a long-sought-after goal. It means working at something that is important to you and accepting setbacks, even failures. It means tweaking and fixing and redoing if necessary and still moving on. It means not giving up. It means striving for excellence. It means sticking to something until the outcome is excellence.
In Outliers, a wonderful book about people who have risen to the top of their fields, Malcolm Gladwell writes about what makes amazingly successful people different. His conclusion? 10,000 hours of practice and more than a little luck. 10,000 hours! That translates to around 20 hours a week for 10 years! Whether he is talking about the Beatles, Bill Joy (one of the most influential people in computer programming), Bill Gates or elite hockey and soccer players, what they have in common is not talent (although they are all talented) but time. They put in the time. Lots of time.
As they got better at what they did, they didn’t slack off. They actually increased their practice time. Same thing for professional musicians. Once a student becomes good enough to gain entry into a top music school, what decides who will make it to the top of the top is how hard they work. Not only do they work harder. They work much harder than the rest of their class.
What an interesting idea! But Gladwell isn’t a researcher. He’s a reporter. He came up with the 10,000 hour rule because he dug in and looked for commonalities among people who were exceptional in their fields.
Then along came Angela Duckworth and her research team at the University of Pennsylvania. They decided to study the individual differences that predict success. Like Gladwell, they weren’t looking only at talent. Successful people are all talented. But so are lots of unsuccessful people. Duckworth and her team were searching for something beyond talent. They wanted to know why some people accomplish more than others of equal intelligence or talent.
Grit is What’s Important, Not Hours
Their answer? Grit. Grit is the name Duckworth’s team gave to perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working long and hard toward a personal goal regardless of disappointments, setbacks, plateaus, and even failures along the way. As she says in one of her papers, people with grit approach a problem or goal as a marathon, not a sprint. Short bursts of intensity don’t do it. Successful people are committed for the long haul.
What distinguishes those who are successful is stamina. Sound familiar? Duckworth may not have measured the number of hours that lead to success, but I’m making a guess that anyone who sticks with practicing the piano, working on advanced math or developing a life-saving medical invention for 10,000 hours would meet her criterion for grittiness.