Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Grit Not Solution To Everything

In EdWeek, Sarah Sparks reports that a new study suggests that grit might not actually be the dirt from which all flowers of success may grow. It's a study to file in your Captain Obvious folder, and yet such is the world we live in these days, such studies need to be both performed and noted, because Captain Obvious cannot always vanquish his arch-enemy, Commander Oblivious.

When I was in high school, there was a guy in band who worked harder than anyone. Every study hall, extra lunch time, before and after school, he was in a practice room practicing his instrument over and over and over and over and over again. I think it's safe to say that his Grit Quotient was huge. And yet, he never got any better. His technique was adequate, and he played like he had a brick ear. His horn never sang; it barely spoke. Mostly it just spit out notes in a row. To this day, my schoolmates from that era refer to a syndrome named after him, for people who work and work and work but just don't get anything out of it.

Magdalena G. Grohman at the University of Texas at Dallas could have been studying him.

Her analyses (which, I should note, was apparently performed on subjects of convenience-- college undergrads) suggests that grit, consistency, and perseverance did not predict success in creative endeavors. Instead, creativity seems to relate most closely to openness to new experiences.

At Yale, Zorana Ivcevic Pringle at the Center for Emotional Intelligence, working on a separate study that looked at reports of high school students through peer reports and teacher surveys, discovered much the same thing. Grit had nothing to do with creativity, but creativity correlated strongly with openness and passion for the project.

Pringle has suggested an interesting future line of study-- what about the person who has creative ideas that s/he never gets around to actually producing. Does grit come into play there?

Founding Mother of Grittology, Angela Duckworth, noted that she found all this interesting, but since she never studied any links between creativity and grit, she has no thoughts about how Grohman's and Pringle's work connects to her own.

So grit has limits. Of course, if you're of the opinion that creativity is not required in the worker bees of tomorrow, you might not care.


  1. Here's some more science for that:
    "... individual differences in accumulated amount of deliberate practice accounted for about one-third of the reliable variance in performance in chess and music, leaving the majority of the reliable variance unexplained and potentially explainable by other factors. Ericsson's (2014) defense of the deliberate practice view, though vigorous, is undercut by contradictions, oversights, and errors in his arguments and criticisms, several of which we describe here. We reiterate that the task now is to develop and rigorously test falsifiable theories of expert performance that take into account as many potentially relevant constructs as possible."

    Twenty years ago, Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) proposed that expert performance reflects a long period of deliberate practice rather than innate ability, or “talent”. Ericsson et al. found that elite musicians had accumulated thousands of hours more deliberate practice than less accomplished musicians, and concluded that their theoretical framework could provide “a sufficient account of the major facts about the nature and scarcity of exceptional performance” (p. 392). The deliberate practice view has since gained popularity as a theoretical account of expert performance, but here we show that deliberate practice is not sufficient to explain individual differences in performance in the two most widely studied domains in expertise research—chess and music. For researchers interested in advancing the science of expert performance, the task now is to develop and rigorously test theories that take into account as many potentially relevant explanatory constructs as possible.

  2. The thing I like about Duckworth's research is how disarmingly straightforward it seems to be. If you want to know who is going to finish something hard like a military academy, ask applicants, "Are you good at finishing difficult things that take a long time?" and apparently that's better than most other proxies. It is hilarious and brilliant. Obvious, but disarmingly so.

  3. The thing is creativity is useless without actual skill to back it up. I guess you can sit around navel gazing thinking about how creative you are.