Extreme optimism is often said to be the reason entrepreneurs start businesses, but it’s not what makes them successful. Success stories often have the same theme: the “overnight success” built over years, where large doses of determination and persistence save the day. So psychologists are now turning their attention to grit, and it just might be the secret sauce for successful entrepreneurship.
Angela Duckworth defined grit as “an individual’s passion and perseverance to reach long-term goals.” It is grit, according to her, that keeps people chasing their goals, despite regular setbacks, like the ones faced when building a business. Duckworth found grit to be a difference-maker for people in situations ranging from national spelling bee contests to graduation rates in Chicago high schools. She found that the grittiest people perform better than their less gritty counterparts.
The good news is that we can increase grit in companies, both by leaders’ actions and company practices, by focusing on these three core concepts.
1. Pick your passions.
Broadening interests and finding purpose in everyday challenges seem to help people persist toward long-term goals. For entrepreneurs, this means engaging in business ventures that will keep interest high over time. Passing interests of the butterfly mind, however passionate, are a likely route to startup failure. So no matter how great an idea might be, if the purpose of the business doesn’t resonate, it’ll be hard to stay gritty over the long haul.
2. Get by with help from your friends.
Research into stress has shown that diverse, wide-ranging networks help to support resilience and reduce stress. Strong networks tend to be full of different people who can provide technical insights, practical help and emotional support. It’s rare that these three types of support come from the same people, so look further afield than the usual suspects.
3. Stick to goals, not methods.
A recent study looked at 112 companies and found that a company’s ability to be agile meant that it was much more likely to thrive in turbulent times. Nimbleness and unscripted agility consistently led these firms to perform better and be more innovative, despite the challenges they were facing in their environment.
If grit is the ability to stick to long-term goals, agility is the key to getting there. The last thing we want to do is persist with an approach that isn’t working. An advantage to being a smaller enterprise is allowing people to fail fast and change course quickly. Avoid falling into the trap of mistaking long-term goals with the method for getting there. Reflect and refine how you do things on the go.
Sebastian Bailey is a thought leader and co-founder and president of the U.S. branch of Mind Gym, where he consults on the future of learning for global organizations including the likes of Microsoft, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Thomson Reuters.
He is the co-author of four books, including Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, an international best-seller that has been translated into 26 languages.
Sebastian holds a degree in psychology with cognitive science from the University College of London and a Ph.D. from the University of Bristol, where his thesis focused on how to maximize the transfer of learning in organizations.
He is a member of YPO, the premier chief executive leadership organization in the world.