The Reality of Talent vs. Grit

Episode Aired on March 20, 2019

Angela Duckworth, Founder and CEO of Character Lab, psychologist and bestselling author of GRITIn this episode Angela reveals:

  • How talent can actually serve as a distraction to unlocking your full potential
  • Strategies to enable your GRIT as a permanent attribute to help you achieve your largest goals
  • Tips on how to challenge yourself, your team, and your children to strengthen GRIT

Show Transcript

Amy Dufrane: Hello everyone. It’s great to have you with us today, and we’re really excited to have Angela Duckworth, the author of GRIT joining us, and we’re going to start by asking you, Angela, how did you come up with the concept of grit and what led you to make this your life’s research?

 

Angela Duckworth: When I was in graduate school, I was 32, even in my first year. I had been a teacher before that and I had had a few other jobs and I had observed, I guess, just in the classroom where I was teaching and in my other occupations that the gap between what we do. I mean, in the case of the kids that I was teaching, what they could be doing and what they were doing was a big gap. I just saw so much potential in these kids and I wasn’t unlocking that potential as a teacher. I think I was frustrated with myself.

 

Angela Duckworth: One of the things, well, certainly not the only thing that you need to be happy and productive and helpful in life, one of those things that seemed to me important was to stick with things even when it was hard or even when you might be tempted to do something easier. That is, that idea about sticking with things is grit.

 

Amy Dufrane: How true for sure. And when you talk about getting distracted by talent, tell us what you mean by that and what is the relationship between talent and grit and the relationship between skills and grit?

 

Angela Duckworth: Talent’s a funny word. I mean, we use it all the time, right? I’ve actually been checking my own language and listening to other people and it’s not crazy to think that you might use it almost every other day. Companies are looking for talent. You watch a sports game … You pick your sport and it’s on fire or sometimes when things don’t go well, it’s like oh, kind of lack of talent.

 

I think that when we talk about talent, sometimes we mean one thing and sometimes we mean another, but the word carries this kind of like sense of giftedness or being innately, naturally good at things and I think that’s why we have things like gifted and talented programs where kids who are seven years old are like gifted and talented or they’re not.

 

I think the distraction of talent is that if we think innate ability or how quickly you learn something is going to be the only thing that matters to becoming excellent, then there’s just a lot of us who will count ourselves out too early. There are a lot of late bloomers in life or there are a lot of people for whom they could say, “Maybe I wasn’t the most talented person on my team or in this group, but I had such heart. I loved this so much and I stuck with it longer and that’s why I was successful.”

 

So, it’s not that I don’t think talent exists or that I don’t think it matters, but I do think it can be a distraction from intrinsically loving something and staying with it and being open to feedback and growing.

 

Joe Mechlinski: That’s great. So when you first came up with this whole concept, I remember watching the Ted Talk and going like jaw hit the floor. I was like, wow. It really brings to light a lot of the things that I personally experienced as a student or an athlete or an entrepreneur. I also started to think often about that concept that you just brought up, which was sticking with things for the long-term. So now that the book has been out for a bit and you’ve now had a chance to reflect on that and then you watch what’s happening to whether it’s tenure in a workplace or the ability for all of us to stick with anything. Have you had any new reflections about this grit concept and how we’re thinking about sticking with things for the long term?

 

Angela Duckworth: Just last night I was on the phone with someone who had read GRIT, he said he read my book all in one sitting, which was interesting. I was like wow; hope you like at least got up to go to the bathroom.

 

Joe Mechlinski: (laughter) Right. 

 

Angela Duckworth: It wasn’t shortly after I heard this story that I called him. We had this conversation because he had written and said, “Having finished GRIT, I want to provocatively suggest that really what we should be doing is we should quit things more, not less, and we should quit things earlier, not later and that laziness can be like a really good thing.” So, I was very intrigued. By the way, this is actually a very successful person. They had a career in finance. They are able to retire in their 40s. So, it wasn’t like they had no credibility.

 

The conversation was about how sometimes we do stick with things too long. Say your parents say you should go to medical school and without even thinking, there you are taking your MCATs and sitting through organic chemistry, but maybe it wasn’t the best choice for you. On the laziness point, this person made a persuasive argument. I agree that sometimes if you think like, “Oh, I’ll just work till 1:00 in the morning, 2:00 in the morning,” you’re probably not working efficiently. And for example, going to bed early and getting up the next day and going for a run and taking it easy sometimes is the very best thing to do.

 

I will say this, I still believe that the people who do great things in life are not able to do them in a matter of days or weeks. It just takes time and energy and a lot of failure to do things that are worthwhile. So I stand by that, but I think it’s a good corrective or it’s a good footnote to say that it doesn’t mean that you have to do things just because you started them or because someone else told you them, which is maybe the worst reason to do something. It also means that you should always be trying to complement your grit with creativity and with a kind of instinct for efficiency.

 

When you look at Olympic athletes and how they train, they’re not putting in stupid hours. They’re trying to put in the most efficient hours in that they can, but they’re willing to put in 100% effort at that. So, try to be clever and try to do things that are smart, but I stand by the fact that even when you do that, it’s still a marathon and not a sprint.

 

Joe Mechlinski: Wow, that’s good. That’s really good. I think that’s an interesting nuance that he came up with. So what do you think about the idea millennials are trying to find their way, and not just millennials, but because they get cast all the time in this they don’t stick with anything long and they work for 2.7 years and then they leave and then … So, the older generations like me would say, “Well, they just don’t know what they want yet,” or we’re to the point of they don’t stick with things.

 

But in some ways, I agree with what this guy said to you, which is like I think in some ways it is okay to quit on things. So how do you … Not how do you fix what you wrote about in GRIT, but I think to your point, what’s the next footnote in terms of like if you want to be great at something and you find out that you, let’s say you don’t want to be in sales, have you learned or reflected on any other things that you’ve sort of noticed about this application of grit and say the workplace?

 

Angela Duckworth: Young people, and the younger you’re talking about, the more this applies, but say millennials or even the generation that’s coming after them, and I’ll go all the way back to like early childhood and say the younger you are, the more you should be exploring and trying new things. It’s a very good thing that four-year-old’s say one day they want to be a baker and the next day they want to be a policeman. It’s okay and it’s good because they’re trying out everything.

 

Now, when you’re in your 20s and you’re in your first job, gosh, you’re learning so much but the odds that that very first job is going to be your last job are really low and there’s no shame at all in leaving that. I think that the question is if you’re 65 and you’re still forming, what am I going to do with my life? That’s the obvious thing. At some point we have to trade off this exploration, which is very adaptive when you don’t really know the terrain, you don’t know yourself very well, you’re still developing, trading that off against excellence, which does require a kind of pursuit that is concentrated and you’re not all over the place.

 

What will be the magical age at which you commit to something? For me, I was 32 when I decided to become a psychologist. I mean, I literally hadn’t had really any background to speak of, and that’s pretty far into the lifespan, at least it felt like that for me. For some people it’s even later. And then again, for some people, they figure things out much earlier. I do think there is one difference between just kind of casually exploring for all those years and maybe what’s more productive in my view, which is while I was in my 20s I was looking for something that I could commit to even when I was quitting things. So at least I had a yearning to settle down.

 

I mean, it’s not entirely unlike dating, and I guess I’ll just be personal here. When I was dating, I mean, pretty much every guy I dated I was like, “Are we going to get married?” And then if you weren’t wanting to get married, I was like, “Well, let’s stop dating.”

 

Joe Mechlinski: Right?!

 

Angela Duckworth: I dated a lot of guys, but I do think it’s good to yearn for something that you want… I don’t want to tell people what to do. This is a personal decision, but for me, I think it was good for me to be looking for a commitment even when I was sampling things that didn’t end up working out.

 

Joe Mechlinski: That’s a great answer. I get that and I get the personal thing to, which is like, why are we wasting time? Why are we doing this?!

 

Angela Duckworth: Yeah! We don’t have to go out on Saturday night if we can figure this out on Friday night.

 

Joe Mechlinski: That’s exactly right. I want my time back!

 

Angela Duckworth: Yeah, exactly. I can read a book on Saturday.

 

Joe Mechlinski: That’s exactly right, yours in one sitting apparently. That’s the new thing to do on a Saturday night.

(laughter)

 

Amy Dufrane: I’m going to transition a little bit, you talked a little bit about individuals, but not organizations. I think that your research really showed us that grit helps to drive individual success, but can grit drive group success, particularly in the workplace, and is there such a thing as a gritty company and are they more successful? And I know that you wrote about this, in Harvard Business Review, but can you talk a little bit about that from an organizational perspective and what you found?

 

Angela Duckworth: Many of your listeners I’m sure read business books like Good to Great, and I think one thing that I would just speculate, because I don’t study companies for a living, I study individuals. So I’ll just go out beyond my comfort zone a little bit to say that when you read these business books, many talk about a company or an organization having a vision and having clarity about where you’re going in the long term and then being able to say, “Okay. Well, that’s why we have these three-year milestones because our long-term vision is this and this is how we do things here.”

 

That is in a way a kind of microcosm of what it is to be a gritty individual. You have a long-term goal. You have a real authenticity about why you have that goal. It comes from very deep places to say, “I want to do this.” And then you go in there and you grind, and you execute because you see where it’s all adding up. I think there is a real kind of resonance between the individual grit that I study and what I see in these … I mean, you can buy a different management book any day of the year because they come out that frequently, but they so often have that through line, and I think it’s because it’s true.

 

I do think the role of a gritty individual who wants to build a great organization, maybe one thing that’s helpful to think, how do I scale up my individual passion for this and my individual capacity and willingness to work hard and learn from feedback? How do I create a whole organization that has that kind of culture?

 

Joe Mechlinski: My follow-up to that would be, so is it best because of these 35,000 books that are published every single year in business and there’s a lot of noise there, is your thinking as you step outside your comfort zone, as you said, is it really best for an organization, yes, get clear on your long-term vision and your milestones, but really … I mean, you worked at McKinsey, so it’s fair to ask you this as one management consultant to an old one. Is it best for them to focus on the individual or … And not that it’s binary but at some level is that really what you would do as a starting place, because now you’re working with kids and teachers and I’m so curious about the turn that you took in terms of your research. How do you think about that?

 

 

Angela Duckworth: It’s about focusing, I think, on the individual and the group, which is the collective. Being part of something that is bigger than yourself is a deep human need. We’ve all, I hope, experienced it at some point. If you’ve ever sung in a choir or even at the end of a yoga class where everybody says, “Namaste.” I mean, for a moment you feel what it is like to be part of a group and the group is bigger than yourself and the group is more important than yourself.

 

So I do think that organizations that I admire have a focus on individual development, like how do we get each of these people, each of them to realize their individual dreams, each of them to keep developing and growing no matter how many years they’ve been with the organization, but it’s more than that because you could have 100 gritty people all going in different directions and not adding up to more than 100 gritty people. A magical organization has 100 people who add up to something more than 100 because they’ve created a culture where people don’t always put their own individual development first. And in fact, they’re there for a purpose, which is beyond the individual. That’s how football teams win the Superbowl. That’s how visionary companies do great things.

 

And I’ve been very fortunate to be able to be around, certain organizations and it’s really palpable, I think, when people have a sense of shared mission and it’s a wonderful thing when people can come to work and feel like there’s nowhere else that I could come where I could grow as much as I can grow in this place. I’m getting better and smarter and kinder and more skilled. At the same time, I’m part of something bigger than myself that I truly believe in. And I think those are the people who would say that it’s a calling for them and they have the most gratification from their work.

 

Joe Mechlinski: That’s great.

 

Amy Dufrane: To springboard a little bit more into this, when you think about how can a leader really cultivate that individual development of somebody that’s on their team. When you were talking about this and having people who are connected to the organization, who are … In order to give more of themselves, you as a leader want to make sure that you’re developing people. How do you do that? What are some of the clues that you can share with our listeners, other than what they’re reading in business books, but from your perspective and your research?

 

Angela Duckworth: I was recently interviewing a very successful investment banker and his two protegees, his two basically successors. And I was sort of half joking … Well, I actually was fully joking. I was like, “Oh, this is like the happy ending to King Lear.” You have a senior person who doesn’t go crazy. They actually very deliberately create a path for the two people or however many people to succeed them. I just started asking these three people in the room like, tell me the story, tell me the story of how this happened.

 

I got stories of like well, this person here is a really hard person to work with like. The emails start at 4:30 in the morning. The phone calls start at 5:30 in the morning. And that’s the beginning of a very long day, and there’s a kind of demandingness. So, one theme is this like oh, yeah, here’s a time where like I honestly didn’t know what I was doing yet and he pushed me into like okay, you run the meeting for everybody. I’m not even showing up. Go.

 

So, I think one of the themes that I see for people who are able to cultivate grit and to do it well is that there’s really a high level of challenge and it’s very deliberate. It’s not accidental. It’s like, the senior mentor person is thinking like, “I’m going to push this person just a little bit farther than they’re comfortable because they won’t grow otherwise.”

 

But the second theme is really important because it only works, I think, not only if you challenge people, but if they also feel supported. When I started listening to stories and I just heard the motion and these three people were just joking around with each other. They’re all men, so I’ll just say these three guys were joking around. There was such a kind of like feeling of family and I could tell and so I asked explicitly, but my guess was, as a psychologist, I said, “It feels to me like, wow, tough person here to be working for, but also that you felt this kind of unconditional support.”

 

And they are like, “Oh yeah, we knew that he had total confidence in us and that he wasn’t expecting to be perfect. I mean, we did make mistakes, but really just like love.” So I think this support and challenge, you could call it tough love, it’s magical in combination and I think it’s what every great leader is trying to do, as an individual mentor, but also in creating a culture, which is demanding but supportive.

 

Joe Mechlinski: That makes me think about when you think of high-performance and you study sports teams and flow states and being in the zone and they often talk about not making it so chaotic that you can’t see through the forest of trees, but not too much order because then it’s dull and boring and you have to use like half your brain, but what I’m hearing you say is, maybe there’s another way to think about this in the sense that if I can be as demanding on you as possible to help potentialize who you are as long as you feel that I’ve got your back no matter what. There’s this, you used the word unconditional support. Is that the way to think about it?

 

Angela Duckworth: I would just qualify; I love that description. And by the way, flow is fascinating to me as a scientist. I mean, I think the flow state is very real. I think it’s actually quite rare when at the extreme. Certain high-performing individuals will say they only had it like half a dozen times in their life. It’s amazing. So yes, and flow state, of course, is typically understood, at least where we are in science now, as being very high demand, but very high skills. So, you can just surf this wave, but any harder and you probably wouldn’t.

 

So, you’re at the brink of what you can do. Now, I think that kind of relationship that you were talking about just then is right with the … Maybe I would just adjust the language. It’s not that you want to be as demanding as possible or that there’s no limit. I do think the support part should be there’s pretty much no limit and go all the way. It’s not like when you come home to your kids, you’re like, oh, I’m going to love you 7 out of 10. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with loving your kids 10 out 10, but the challenge part does have to be carefully titrated.

 

A great coach, and I’ve seen this in like really great coaches. Is they’re able to figure out exactly what level challenge the person is ready for, but it’s not like maximum? You have to put in front of the junior person what they can almost do, what they can barely do. Vygotsky, the great developmental psychologist called this the zone of proximal development. It’s just beyond a reach. And actually, Vygotsky said with thinking about three-year old’s and four-year old’s, that the zone of proximal development is when the child can do something with support, but not easily without support.

 

And you want to put people in that zone a lot and then kind of, it’s like if you’ve ever taught a kid to ride their bike, you want to like kind of like take your hand off the seat while they’re  trying, and they’ve got to put it on again. But you don’t want to take a toddler and put them on a bike. So, the challenge part is really hard from a mentorship point of view.

 

Joe Mechlinski: That’s great.

 

Amy Dufrane: To transition a little bit, to talk about grit and the application or potential application to workforce diversity…is it rewarding? First of all, does grit apply to the issue of workplace diversity and is rewarding or hiring for grit a way to improve diversity in the workplace or is grit more prevalent in particular groups or rewarding for grit may exacerbate diversity issues?

 

Angela Duckworth: It’s a great question. I don’t have any particularly well-developed ideas on this. My thought would be that they’re just two separate things that people would want to do as leaders. I don’t see how having a really gritty team would necessarily work against diversity. If anything, I think diversity tends to lead to growth because people challenge each other, and it’s not always comfortable, but I think in the end it’s always a good thing to confront somebody else’s perspective, because people have a different lens on the same world and there has to be some truth or legitimacy from these different angles. So, you get a much richer, truer picture when people are maybe even at first not agreeing with each other. I think diversity is really important. I think grit is really important, but I don’t really see them as being at all antagonistic.

 

Amy Dufrane: That’s good to hear, and from an HR perspective, clearly having diversity in your team is key because that diversity is important and can really project your team in a way that you didn’t know, you didn’t imagine, you didn’t think about. When we look into the future, are there ways that companies can recruit, reward, train for grit? And are there companies that are doing this now? Any companies that you have talked to, that you found in your discussions of talking to some of these folks that you’ve been in contact with?

 

Angela Duckworth: I am quite certain because I’ve met a few really great leaders and spent some time in some really admirable organizations that there is plenty of places on the planet Earth where grit is being cultivated. I also want to say that I really want to honor the language that … Companies have, I hope, a language, like their core values. Sometimes they’re printed out on posters on the wall. Sometimes they’re embroidered into the back of jackets. They’re like engraved into pencils. And those core values, sometimes they’ll use their own words.

 

By the way, I don’t care if people use the word grit. I think most companies will have a value that does talk about holding yourself to a high standard. So that might come out as fortitude. That might come out as perseverance or whatever it is. Whatever company calls this quality of sticking with things and trying really hard to always continuously improve, I think the question is there anything a scientist could say that would sharpen those efforts? Because it’s naive to think that companies aren’t.

 

Of course, companies are already trying to do this. The question is, is there anything helpful that we can say that might make those efforts even more effective? So I’ll just speculate here, which is that one thing to maybe try to be mindful of as a pitfall is that if you get an organization all psyched up about trying to aspire to some new standard, It’s not a great thing to have your hopes elevated and then to have just a series of failures.

 

People need wins and small wins are very effective and if you get everyone excited about growth mindset and grit or whatever it is and then life teaches them a completely different lesson, then that’s not great. And again, like that kind of goes back to earlier questions about mentoring, that’s why the level challenge in part is so important because you cannot get a person to become gritty just by having them excited about it verbally and then life teaching them that like, oh, yeah, but then you went to five subsequent like presentations and each one was more disastrous than the last.

 

So, they do need to have success. So, you want to get people to be excited about things that are feasible that they can do. And then I think modeling is the other thing that I think is so important. And we know from psychological research that human beings are instinctive modelers. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a conversation with someone. It happens to me and like they have a certain accent and oh my gosh, by the end the conversation I’m like talking to them and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I have to apologize, I’m like, I don’t even know what I’m doing. I don’t want to pretend that I’m British, but somehow when I’m talking to you, that’s supposed to happen.”

 

And that’s because we’re imitators. When you’re in a company and you want people to have work-life balance, but they see you sending out emails at 2:00 in the morning and working seven days a week, the rift between what you say and what you do cannot differ. It undermines culture. I think every leader struggle of this, but being an intentional role model, I think, is the other, I guess piece of advice I’d give.

 

Joe Mechlinski: Well, I would just ask then, when you created the Character Lab, tell us a little bit about the word character and the relationship you think it has with grit or you’ve seen that it has with grit?

 

Angela Duckworth: Six years ago, I met two educators named Dave and Dominic and they were education leaders. Dave co-founded the KIPP Charter Schools and Dominic is the headmaster now of the Riverdale Country School in New York. They had the idea that their students needed to develop character in order to be happy, healthy and helpful. And by studying grit and self-control said, “What do you mean by character exactly?” And they said, “Well, Aristotle said, and Martin Luther King said that like this is kind of the piece that compliments intelligence when you think about leading a successful life.”

 

We got together and we created this organization, which I eventually ended up leading, and it’s the idea that character is not just being honest, although of course it’s about being honest and kind. It’s also grit and self-control and it’s also things like creativity and curiosity, having an open mind, being humble and hungry for new ideas. I mean, I hope the way Aristotle would have wanted, which is the broadest use possible and we believe that science can help, so that’s why it’s called Character Lab.

We have scientists from places like Harvard and Stanford who do research with us on kids to see whether we can take age-old wisdom and people’s intuitions personally and sharpen a bit using the scientific method so we can say more definitively like, “Well, if you want kids to be grateful, do this. And if you want kids to have greater capacity to control their own impulses, do that.”

 

Joe Mechlinski: Amy, I know you might have questions, but I’m a new parent so I have to ask, what is this and that? Can you give me … Because that’s the part we will be working on as a family with an 8-year-old and a six-year-old I don’t even think we’re to that part yet, but I will take good notes. So, if you’re willing, indulge me.

 

Angela Duckworth: Okay. I’ll give you two things from science. With gratitude, which is the feeling that you have a lot that’s been given to you and it’s actually the … Gratitude is the feeling that you’ve been given things that you didn’t even have to earn. So, when we feel especially grateful to someone, it’s not a transaction. It wasn’t like, “Well, you told me that you were going to pay me $100 for 10 hours and I put in my 10 hours, here’s my $100.” It’s more like when for example; kindness of a stranger or someone that goes out of their way to help you.

 

So how do we get our kids to experience gratitude and also to express gratitude? We want them to both feel grateful, but also to express appreciation and to try to reciprocate that kindness. One tip from behavioral economics really is that you should make it easier. I’ve been nagging my kids to do thank you cards since they were born. They’re now teenagers and it’s like, oh, nobody even remembers it.

 

But if I were a behavioral economist, I would do something different, which I actually have started doing, which is have thank you cards right there on the dining table with a pen and a list of addresses for your relatives and stamps and just to make it more convenient and easy and salient so they kind of are tripping over the thank you cards just from the living room to the kitchen.

 

And even with myself, I have a Ziploc bag in my backpack and it’s my emergency thank you card kit, and it has thank you notes, it has a marker in it, and it has stamps. So, when somebody does something nice for me, I don’t have to remember. I could just do it right there, it takes me a minute, write a note, send it off, it’s done. So that’s one tip, which is if you want your kids to be more grateful, think like a behavioral economist and make it easier.

 

And then on self-control, which I study more than gratitude really, I would say that one of the most important things with self-control is that kids need to at some point figure out how they can change their physical environment to make self-control easier. It’s similar, but with self-control I think in particular you want kids to eventually take the reins. They have to say, as my 17-year-old said to me last night, “Take my phone.” And she knew what she was doing.

 

I’ve dragged her to my own talk. So that is a technique in self-control called situation modification. She was changing her … She was like, “If I give my phone to my mom, I’m not going to be on Snapchat.” And she did and she gave it to me and then a couple hours later she asked for it back. In those two hours, she got a lot done. So, I think kids have to be encouraged to develop strategies and in particular I would ask my kids like … You could even ask your kids, “What’s really tempting to you? What is the thing that you do? That’s kind of really fun but you probably shouldn’t do it too much.

 

And they’ll tell you and then you say like, “What would be a way that we can physically change things?” So, you take willpower out of the head, like, “What could you do?” And they’ll tell you, “Put your phone down upside down.” Or like, “Why did you put a TV in my bedroom? I probably shouldn’t have one. Maybe we shouldn’t have treats on the counter. Maybe they should be in a cupboard. We should hide the Halloween candy.” So those are some things that they … And they all are coming out of scientific research, which is again why I think Aristotle would be happy if he were alive today to see his legacy continued but using the scientific method.

 

Joe Mechlinski: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Amy?

 

Amy Dufrane: I was curious a little bit more to pull this thread on the family thing. When you talk about the self-control and gratitude, are there any techniques that you found with kids who learn differently in expressing gratitude and self-control? And I don’t know if that’s anything that you’ve looked at or not, but it’s more of a curiosity question for me.

 

Angela Duckworth: Differently it can mean different things, but I will say that we ran a study once … Well actually, we’ve run a version of the study several times, but it’s an advice-giving study. So, kids are so often given advice, “You should study this way. You should do that.” Some of the things that we were just talking about. You can imagine a parent saying like, “Oh, you should.”

 

Angela Duckworth: But in this study we turned the tables and we asked students what their advice would be to other kids who are slightly younger than them. You can imagine asking an eight-year-old like, “Hey, you know kids who are seven. You were just seven last year, right? Remember that?” It’s like, “Yeah.” It’s like, “Okay, what advice would you give a seven-year-old about,” and then fill in the blank. And when we did this with high school students, what we found is first of all, they loved it. They loved giving advice.

 

We asked them like, “You know, a lot of kids who are a little younger than you really procrastinate. Does that ever happen to you? What advice would you give?” And they have great advice, they really do, and it really struck me that some of the kids who were in special education programs and not doing very well in school, they especially enjoyed doing this activity and they said to us, “Nobody ever asks us what we think and nobody ever asks us for help.”

 

There’s a deep human instinct, I think, to be helpful and to be put into a position of being asked for your help and not being given help. And I think it unlocks a lot of the things that you already knew. They’re in your head. We didn’t tell you any of these things. In those studies, we actually increased motivation and confidence and also increased academic performance actually when we looked at report card grades.

So, I think there’s a lot of power to kind of turning the tables a little bit and then asking kids to be responsible and be helpful as opposed to being the recipients of all our care and all of our wisdom.

 

Amy Dufrane: Wow.

 

Joe Mechlinski: I love that. I think one of the things, it happens a lot, which is we don’t give people responsibility and I think when sometimes you don’t, particularly kids, to your point. I mean, they don’t feel the load, and if they don’t feel that heavy load then there’s real no reason, as you say, to go do something excellent. And it’s almost like we’re creating that environment, this loop that doesn’t stop for them because we’re trying to make up for our past childhood of pain and suffering and tragedy and then we basically screw our kids up is what I’m hearing you say.

 

Angela Duckworth: It’s not easy to do any of this. I mean, I would never hold myself up as a model parent and I am sure my kids would not hold me up as a model parent either. It’s not like people can listen to this conversation and it becomes magically easy, but I do think this is the right idea. It’s like anything else, you go back, and you try to do it better the next time.

 

We’re one of the only cultures that doesn’t really have a real rite of passage. In many cultures you have a bar mitzvah, or you go out into the woods and you go to the ceremony and you come back and you’re a woman or a man or you’ve crossed some bright line. In American culture it just sort of very gradually at some point you start doing your laundry or something. I don’t think there is a rite of passage and I almost wish there were one because I think it would be easier to get responsibility.

 

Amy Dufrane: One more thing that I’m kind of fascinated with, going back to the gratitude. It’s just a point to note only that this is something that leaders, leaders who are really successful do a great job at expressing gratitude. There are leaders who need prompting of this and there are technologies that are being built right now to sort of prompt people to say thank you to their team and the people that they’re working with, and not just your direct reports, but the matrix organizations that we all work in now, that need to be and to express gratitude.

 

I’m interested in and intrigued by this at an early age, continuing to sort of have that drumbeat on gratitude and how those are two of the kind of components that you found, gratitude and self-control, of being important components of growing up. Anyway, I just thought it was more of an interesting point.

 

Angela Duckworth: No, gratitude is wonderful, and I think the feeling of like, oh my gosh, I’ve been given so much. We’ve all been to graduation speeches where we’ve heard from those to whom much has been given much is expected. And, there’s new research from University of California Riverside. There’s a professor by the name Sonja Lyubomirsky, who’s found that the motion of gratitude actually comes not only with a feeling of positivity and connection and elevation, which is why gratitude feels so darn great, but also a feeling of indebtedness, which is a little bit of a negative emotion actually.

 

It really does give you a sense that you need to help another person, or you need to pay it forward. I think it’s a wonderful combination because I don’t think we want our kids just to be … Everyone says they want their kids to be happy. And of course, we all want our kids to be happy, but we also want them to be helpful and I think the emotion of gratitude does both.

 

Joe Mechlinski: That’s awesome. Well, speaking of gratitude, thank you for doing this. I know you’re super busy.

 

Angela Duckworth: It was my pleasure. You guys are great. I really enjoyed our conversation. I’m sure these are the questions that you go to bed and wake up with every day. I do.

 

Joe Mechlinski: Yeah, and particularly in the workplace I think one of the things that we’re all trying to get our hands around, which is the relationship with innovation and technology, this hierarchical structure that these companies have been built on. All of that is going through a transformation and then we’ve got five generations in the workplace. We’ve got a crazy tenure. We’ve got unskilled labor.

 

We’ve got all these confounding variables and we’re trying to figure out what’s what and I think simplistically there’s some things that certainly you said today that everyone should be trying to do, and I love that you’re doing this with young people by the way. If we could have used your superpowers for good, teachers and kids need this. Screw the business. We’ll figure that out later, but seriously, thank you for all the work that you’re doing and thank you for being here today.

 

Angela Duckworth: Thank you. Thank you both.

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