true grit


jonah lehrer says that … well, i’m not sure what he says. he kinda waffles, afaics: innate talents cannot, alone, account for success — one has to have the “grit” to keep on practicing as well — so success (or not) is not just a product of our natures. -??- something like that, anyway.

of course, the question is begged: where does this “grit” come from?

here’s some silliness from his post:

“And this leads me to one of my favorite recent papers, ‘Deliberate Practice Spells Success: Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the National Spelling Bee.’ The research, published this month in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, was led by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at Penn. (Anders-Ericsson is senior author.) The psychologists were interested in the set of traits that allowed kids to practice deliberately. Their data set consisted of 190 participants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a competition that requires thousands of hours of practice. After all, there are no natural born spellers.

no? well, i can tell you about some natural born non-spellers: people with dyslexia. prolly not too many of them winning spelling bees.

and what about people with visual|photographic memories? don’t you think they might have an advantage in a spelling bee? i can tell you the answer to that right now — yes. i don’t have a perfect photographic memory (d*mn!), but i do have a very visual one — and i use it to help me remember how to spell. and i used it a LOT when i used to win all the school spelling bees when i was a kid. (it never occurred to me to go in for spelling bees “professionally” — maybe i just don’t have the “grit.”)

which brings me back to grit. where the h*ck does that come from? mightn’t that be innate? how about the hyperfocusing abilities of aspies? sounds an awful lot like grit to me.

lots of good, sensible comments in response to lehrer’s lame-o post. like:

“Grit has value to the already talented, which motivates them to competitively apply it. The untalented soon realize that grit without a sign of progress is a waste of time. This idea that without grit you would not have talent to begin with simply has the dynamics here bassackwards. Mozart, anyone?”

yeah. can we all just puh-leeeese get over whatever pc hangups we might have and agree that success in a field takes both innate abilities (i.e. talent) AND practice (the driver of which might be innate)? is that really so hard?

previously: you, too, can have perfect pitch!

(note: comments do not require an email.)


  1. “no? well, i can tell you about some natural born non-spellers: people with dyslexia. prolly not too many of them winning spelling bees.”

    Hilarious! I’ve never seen anyone else use that contraction of probably besides myself, but here it really was well used.


  2. ::FACEPALM::… My experience (no data, just anecdote) has been that what people are talented at, they do more of. Either because it is easy, or because it interests them. Thus a person can be really interested in Chess and pursue it endlessly and practice and read about past games and such, but totally suck at say cooking and barely be able to boil water. Do we say he has ‘grit’ because he does so much chess (a generally hard activity for most of us to play well) or do we say he has no ‘grit’ because he can’t sit down long enough to learn how to cook?


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