Several media outlets, including Inc. Magazine and The New York Post, recently published articles about a study following the behavior of West Point cadets over a 10-year period. The study, led by Professor Michael Matthews of West Point and University of Pennsylvania Professor of Psychology Angela Duckworth, observed the actions of more than 11,000 cadets over 10 years to determine what qualities drive students at the school to become successful.
The most important takeaway from the research was the relationship between grit and success. More than both physical and cognitive ability, grit proved to be the most defining attribute in determining whether a cadet would succeed or fail at the finest military training school in the United States.
The importance of grit in relation to success is something that the entrepreneurial community has long known. One of the earliest pieces of advice that industry veterans will give to first-time founders is to make sure that they have the grit it takes to get a fledgling company off the ground. Plenty of new entrepreneurs have questions about what grit is and how to tell if they have it themselves. Below, we review and answer some of the most important questions that first-time startup founders ask about grit.
1. How do I know if I have grit?
In the most general sense, grit is defined by two essential components: passion and perseverance. Researchers also often include conscientiousness, resilience, and courage in the definition as well. Grit is valuable to entrepreneurs because this quality allows startup founders to push forward and work toward long-term goals without giving in to the burnout that can accompany small budgets, long hours, and the many setbacks that must be overcome to achieve success as an entrepreneur.
If you have a strong will, seek out self-improvement, can easily find the positive in negative situations, and have the ability to devote yourself to one important project at a time, you might have entrepreneurial grit.
2. Is it possible to improve your grit if it doesn’t come naturally?
Absolutely. Some of us are lucky enough to grow into “gritty” entrepreneurs naturally, but for many more people, practicing grit as a habit is the only way to become the type of professional we need to be in order to achieve our goals as founders.
Research shows that one of the best ways to grow your grit as an entrepreneur is to exclusively pursue projects that truly interest you. More than financial prosperity or notoriety, passion has to be the primary motivating force behind the line of work you choose to pursue. The other important action you can take to grow your grit is to surround yourself with other people who have it. The people we choose to surround ourselves with have a significant influence on what we do and how we think. You can grow your grit simply by choosing peers who are gritty themselves.
3. How do investors identify grit in entrepreneurs?
Grit has been identified by columnists in magazines like Forbes as “the single biggest factor VCs look for in startup founders.” As such, venture capitalists are experts at evaluating people to determine whether they have this crucial quality.
Showing investors that you have the grit it takes to build a thriving startup requires a balance between showing strength and being adaptable. VCs want to know that you’re determined and have a deep belief in your work, even in the face of others’ doubts. However, they might not support your venture if they feel that your determination is really just stubbornness and unwillingness to recognize truth when it doesn’t benefit you. Grit is about perseverance and passion, but that doesn’t mean ignoring reality. VCs look for entrepreneurs who have self-confidence and resilience, but these qualities must be tempered with an ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
More than anything, grit is evident in authenticity and your own demonstrable appreciation for each step of the entrepreneurial journey. You must be able to appreciate the small steps that lead you to achieve your long-term goals to keep you and your team going when the going gets tough.
4. Is grit really that important in entrepreneurship?
Only you can truly know whether you have what it takes to build a successful startup. If you don’t think of yourself as a person with a lot of grit, but you have a deep commitment to this difficult but rewarding line of work, that doesn’t mean you should give up your dreams. However, it should be noted that many of today’s most successful entrepreneurs and venture capital investors says that grit is non-negotiable for modern startup founders. Notable entrepreneurs and investors like Gary Vaynerchuk, Lori Greiner, and Ashton Kutcher have all spoken at some point on the importance of grit in entrepreneurship.
If you’re not sure whether have enough grit to lead a company to success, you can take this online quiz provided by Dr. Angela Duckworth, the woman who is most responsible for the rising profile of grit as a crucial quality in business professionals. The quiz is based on her research, but it’s not a predictor of success or failure. Think of it more as a tool to help you start to think about grit and how you might cultivate this quality in yourself.