Grit and ability to innovate go hand in hand

By Natalie Turner, Author, Yes You Can Innovate

A Singaporean friend recently shared that despite having a stable corporate role, she missed the challenges involved in running her own business. Despite two previous entrepreneurial failures, she was keen to go back to managing start-ups. Why? Because she has grit.

What is grit? It is the ability to pick oneself up in the face of great disappointment or failure, and have another go. Or as psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth says: “Grit is sticking with your future — day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years — and working really hard to make that future a reality.”

Grit and the ability to innovate go hand in hand. If innovation is the creation of value out of new ideas, the very fact that there is novelty implies something is untested and therefore has a higher propensity to fail. This is probably why we find only a small percentage of people in any population willing to take the risky path of entrepreneurship.


Research is starting to show us that this notion of grit — passion and perseverance for long-term goals — is one of the highest determinants of both academic and professional success.

The Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania has established a predictive power of grit. In longitudinal studies, it can predict who will survive arduous military training, be high academic achievers and so on.

Grit is far more powerful than IQ, levels of fitness, family income and even talent itself. Grit is ultimately about personality and character. It is that internal motor that just will not give up.

Want to find out just how gritty you are? Take Prof Duckworth’s questionnaire on the university’s website.

So how can we get grittier? We may think that our characters and personalities hardly change. But research is starting to show us that, just like our brains, our personalities are not immutable and can adapt to new stimulus and experience.

Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University talks about cultivating a “growth mindset” that believes the ability to learn is not fixed and can change with effort.

She says: “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education and sports.”

Those most likely to persevere are those that believe failure is not a permanent condition. Instead, they accept frustration and confusion as part of the learning process, rather than a sign that they should give up. Both strategies increase our ability to have more grit.

A growth and gritty mindset can be cultivated during young formative years, when our character is moulded. A British newspaper recently carried an interesting article on a school in Bedford, United Kingdom, that is actively pioneering the development of grit in its pupils.

In addition to their academic achievements, students are graded on their character and behaviour.

Singapore is developing a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. It attracts know-how from all corners of the world and funds to help build new enterprises. But these things, on their own, are not enough.

The gritty people, such as my Singaporean friend whose experience at two failed start-ups have not diminished her entrepreneurial spirit, are those who will take the country into new and uncharted territory. They are those with a strong will to succeed, self-belief and the ability to overcome disappointment and keep going. In a word — grit.


This article was written by Natalie Turner and originally published in Today Online on April 30th, 2014