Sunday, August 21, 2016

Honor, Courage, Commitment: Grit Wins the Gold

Review by Bill Doughty

Like having Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky as anchors, the last few chapters of Dr. Angela Duckworth's milestone, "Grit" (2016, Scribner, Simon & Schuster), completes an extended relay of a book–filled with life advice and examples of achievement and success.

In fact, Duckworth talks about Phelps, Ledecky, Kevin Durant and other Olympics heroes–along with dozens of other public and private individuals in this powerful book subtitled "The Power of Passion and Perseverance."

Readers will want to race through this book to pick up valuable tips about potential, resilience, character, training and achievement. From diverse fields or endeavors such as sports, zookeeping, NASA, cartooning, spelling bees and more, Duckworth delivers examples from her own life as well the lives of people including Jeff Bezos, Steve Young, Tom Seaver, Julia Child, John Irving, Aristotle, Ta Nehishi Coates, Benjamin Franklin, Will Shortz, Warren Buffet, and the nation of Finland.

A Navy SEAL monitors youth training camp. (Photo by MC3 Geneva G. Brier.)
Duckworth explores West Point's "The Beast" (barracks boot camp) as she and other scientists attempt to predict who will succeed and who will drop out. The same evaluation is done, no doubt, in all military branches especially in hyper-competitive areas such as Navy BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training.

Natural talent, initial physical strength, and inherent skills are not most important. Mental toughness–grit–is.

Winners like Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Usain Bolt want to go head-to-head with other people, are willing to train continuously and with passion, and can accept failure as motivation for the next challenge. They understand "there are no shortcuts to excellence."

It helps, Duckworth notes, to have "purpose-driven grit"–a vision and calling, whether it's the Olympics, service in the military or as part of an NBA or NFL team. Each has its culture of teamwork,service and, some more than others, a concept of a greater good.

After seeing Duckworth's TED talk on grit, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, author of "Win Forever," contacted her and invited her to the Seahawks camp. Carroll's philosophy is, "Do things better than they have ever been done before."

The day after Carroll's team beat the Denver Broncos to win Superbowl XLVIII in 2014, he said this in an interview:

"We're looking for great competitors. That's really where it starts. And that's the guys that really have grit. The mindset that they're always going to succeed, that they've got something to prove. They're resilient, they're not going to let setbacks hold them back. They're not going to be deterred, you know, by challenges and hurdles and things ... It's that attitude–we really refer to it as grit."

Carroll had this to say about Duckworth after he shared a town hall with her in Seattle last year: “She has such a big personality and attitude, she’s really fun to work with. She goes really fast with her thoughts and ideas, which is just fine with me, so we’ll cover a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. She’s got a real sense of urgency about discovery as well, so we see things in a similar fashion in that regard as well.”

Duckworth examines Carroll's reaction to the next year's Superbowl XLIX and the Coach's decision to pass rather than run the ball with Marshawn Lynch, resulting in a historic loss. Failure became another opportunity for resilience.

Carroll's idol-mentor was Coach John Wooden, a World War II Navy veteran and epic winning coach of UCLA Bruins basketball team. Wooden's advice comes across in this found (unintentional) haiku from the great coach:

success is never
final; failure is never
fatal; ... courage ... counts

Duckworth is impressed by this Japanese saying: "Fall seven, rise eight." People with grit don't give up. They rise to the challenge. They learn that it takes at least 10 years and 10,000 repetitions to become an expert or master. They have purpose and passion.

Duckworth offers great words of wisdom, including her own found haiku:

our potential is
one thing; what we do with it
is quite another

As a neurobiologist and psychologist, Dr. Duckworth can explain the neuroplasticity of a "remarkably adaptive" brain that allows people to achieve their vision.
"Like a muscle that gets stronger with use, the brain changes itself when you struggle to master a new challenge. In fact, there's never a time in life when the brain is completely 'fixed.' Instead, all our lives, our neurons retain the potential to grow new connections with one another and to strengthen the ones we already have. What's more, throughout adulthood, we maintain the ability to grow myelin, a sort of insulating sheath that protects neurons and speeds signals traveling between them."
This book is packed with advice for individuals, leaders and parents. It includes a self-test and practical how-to advice, along with personal and public examples of people and situations where grit wins "the gold."

It's a perfect Navy read in the context of preserving a resilient workforce and fostering core values: Honor, Courage, Commitment."

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