Want to give a hundred and ten per cent? Well now you can…

Those looking for a penetrating insight into the salty spread used to prevent vehicles pirouetting on frozen roads – a big stop sign to you. This is the other variety of grit, the true kind – the virtue that prevents a person from giving up, reaching for the remote, feeding themselves pizza and feeling themselves fill to the brim with self-loathing. It is the very gravel of success and Dr Angela Duckworth, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has made it her business to analyse the stuff so that you can enjoy its benefits too.

Dr Duckworth’s subtitle is “Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success” – note: NOT talent. Talent is not the secret. It is an ingredient, yes, but not the magic.

Grit, by Angela Duckworth

While in graduate school, Ms Duckworth is told by her not very cheerful supervisor that “You haven’t had a good idea in two years,” and that she needs to come up with a theory. After going home to cry, she comes up with this: talent x effort = skill, skill x effort = achievement. “Effort counts twice”, she explains, because first you need it to turn your raw ability into a reliable and valuable skill (which explains why it is not always the best players as kids who make it as professional athletes), then you need to polish that skill with yet more effort to enable you to glide over wherever you have drawn the finish line.

It looks to me like this is the same, single process, of just refining and developing your talent, rather than two separate steps, but anyway, she’s the one with the certificates on the wall. And here’s the actor Will Smith to help those slower on the uptake: “The separation of talent and skill,” he says, “is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

This doesn’t explain why he cast his son Jaden in After Earth, an actor who had clearly neglected to beat, beat and beat again on his craft for the requisite hours, or indeed, at all. Nonetheless, such subplots don’t concern the Doctor as she explains how one goes about developing sufficient grittiness for dream achievement.

You can start by taking her “How Gritty Are You?” test, an entertaining diversion, but one which may produce similar results to the test which revealed that 90 per cent of college professors believe they produce above average work.

There are anecdotes and examples and the whole thing bounces along most agreeably, but…haven’t we been here before? Didn’t Malcolm Gladwell demonstate in Outliers that the key to success is not being born brilliant but to practise for 10,000 hours?

At one point, in discussing an argument between two academics over the characteristics of expertise, the needle skids off the record when she writes “More research is needed to settle the question.” This is like the argument of the gun lobby – that the solution to the problems caused by a grotesque excess of weaponry, is…more weaponry. Can’t these two academics just disagree? Can’t they both be right? It also brings to mind a comment in Weike Wang’s novel Chemistry: “Somewhere I read that the average number of readers for a scientific paper is 0.6.”

The idea that more study is getting more people over more metaphorical finish lines may be misguided.

Still, it’s a pleasant enough read, with a chapter on how to instill grit in children, presumably your own, even if Dr Duckworth is a little fierce with hers. (The Duckworth family imposes a “Three-part hard thing rule”, a hard thing being something that requires daily practice, can only be quit at the of the season and which you pick for yourself. *Fed up face*.

Dr Duckworth is clearly onto something, as she has parlayed her many academic qualifications into a consulting role with lots of formidable enterprises, the kind which pride themselves on their appetite for competition and winning such as the NFL and “the White House”, although her credits don’t specify which room of that building.

So she knows her stuff, and she can write a readable book, but it stills boils down to a four word summary: Get on with it.