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This is part of our monthly TED Talk Tuesday series, spotlighting can't-miss TED Talks and their key takeaways. You can learn more about our partnership with TED here.

A psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Lee Duckworth studies how certain intangible traits shape academic and professional achievement. After quitting her job as a consultant, Duckworth became a middle school teacher and struggled to understand why some students succeeded, while others struggled.

At first, she was tempted to assume it had something to do with IQ, but she quickly realized this was not the case. Top performers didn't necessarily have exceptionally high IQ scores, and underachievers often had relatively high IQs. The differentiating factor, her research eventually showed, was grit, which she defines as passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.

In her TED Talk, Duckworth explains why grit is an indicator of success for learners.

Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from her talk.

"We need a better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective."

Students are all driven by different factors, Duckworth explains. Some are motivated by good grades, while others thrive off the promise of more delayed gratification, like future employment opportunities. It's critical to identify what motivates them in order to engage them in learning, according to Duckworth.

The same holds true for employees. While the promise of a raise or bonus can be enough to inspire some employees to gain new skills or develop existing abilities, for others, career growth is more important. To motivate employees to better themselves professionally, they need to know what they're working towards, so be clear about the reward at the end of the tunnel.

"The ability to learn is not fixed. It can change with your effort."

While some students are innately capable learners, others aren't as equipped. But the ability to learn isn't unattainable—like other skills, it can be developed with desire, understanding and hard work, Duckworth says. The more students understand about how their brains work, for example, the more likely they are to persevere through learning challenges, because they start to realize that struggle is not a permanent condition, she explains.

For employees, understanding that failure in the work environment is also temporary can help them get past difficult times. After all, trying and failing means that learning is taking place, Duckworth says, and learning leads to growth.

"Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint."

Gritty students understand that hard work pays off—eventually. They see learning as an investment in their future, and realize that it might be some time before they reap the benefits, according to Duckworth. That's why they're not discouraged by small failures.

Workers should embrace a similar mindset, and think about their careers holistically. One assignment, or even one job, doesn't make or break a gritty employee. They see every opportunity as a learning experience, and look at their career as a journey—this ability, Duckworth says, is the true predictor of success.

Photo: TED