LESSON 5Grit Beats IQ—Most of the Time

Optimism fuels the entrepreneur’s journey past the naysayers. Self-control is a psychological mechanism for beating off temptations that seem irresistible, at least at the moment. But given the high failure rate for startups, successful entrepreneurs typically struggle for a decade or more to build a business that just might eventually appeal to a buyer. To keep struggling requires an additional psychological trait: grit. Angela Duckworth and her colleague James Gross define grit as “having and working assiduously toward a single challenging superordinate goal through thick and thin, on a timescale of years or even decades.”1

Duckworth’s research into the psychological factors affecting achievement has enabled her to predict which teachers and students will succeed in tough inner-city public schools, who will survive the notorious cadet summer training before the first term at West Point, and which candidates will ultimately make it into the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, regardless of IQ, standardized test scores, or even physical fitness.2

Duckworth has not studied entrepreneurs, but her definition of grit pretty much summarizes most of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve listened to over the past two decades. Almost every one of them has faced moments of crisis when the businesses they were building suddenly cratered. Each of them coolly reviewed the situation, came up with a plan of attack, pressed their grit buttons, and spent the next ...

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