Duckworth, Angela - Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Scrobner, 2016, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

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I initially intended postponing writing this review until next year but given the topic of Angela Duckworth’s book it felt out of place to put it off. This is a book on following through on the goals you set up and the results that over time come with showing grit. The overriding theme is that effort trumps innate talent when it comes to which personality traits that drive success. 

While there are several academics that study positive psychology and related topics Angela Duckworth, who is a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, literally invented the research field of grit. Wikipedia defines grit as “passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve [the] objective.” Related concepts are said to be perseverance, conscientiousness, resilience, hardiness, ambition etc. 

There are three parts to the book. The first lays out the theory framework of grit that is said to consist of two parts; passion and perseverance. The latter is perhaps more intuitive but without passion it’s hard to muster the strength to be perseverant. The passion in question is of an enduring, slow burning kind, allowing a person to consistently and stubbornly over time work towards a set direction despite at times suffering setbacks. It’s the intrinsic motivation that brings hardiness in effort. 

Gritty people often have their priorities in order and consciously or unconsciously work towards a hierarchy of ambitions but doable goals where each lower one supports a higher in a consistent fashion, in the end leading to the desired state where the sum of all the efforts creates something larger. In achieving one’s goals Duckworth shows that effort counts twice as much as talent. Talent multiplied by effort builds skill. That skill multiplied by more effort builds achievement. Hence, putting in even more effort is what makes skill productive. “Without effort, your talent is nothing more than unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.” 

The question is whether the capability for grit that overpowers talent is itself in the genes? The answer is yes, but as the author shows the environment is even more important. One study she refers to assigns a roughly 70/30 split for the environment and for innate talent when it comes grittiness. This means that grit can be grown and part two and three of the book address how to grow grit inside-out and outside-in, i.e. how to grow one’s own grit and how to grow grit in others. 

Part two goes into detail of much of what’s already been stated and the author brings forward 4 key concepts for building one’s own grit: 1) interest – where the quest to find something to arouse passion is usually a trial-and-error process, 2) practice – where we get a quick tutorial in the concept of deliberate practice as popularized by Anders Ericsson, 3) purpose – that adds in the motivation that comes from doing work that in some way matters also for others and 4) hope – that deals with the grinding work with the ambition locked in, helped by what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. Part three addresses how to build grit through parenting or coaching sports teams. Apart from bringing forward the concept of the social multiplier where grit rubs off in groups I found the ending part less worked through, with more anecdotes and the author’s own opinions. 

This is an engaging and at the same personal book. Duckworth starts and ends Grit with how her father had noted that she wasn’t a genius when she was a child. From a fixed mindset this might have been true but Duckworth showed that grit and a growth mindset mattered more. Where Anders Ericsson’s book Peak focuses on the type of practice needed to be an expert performer, Duckworth’s publication answers much of the questions around how to find the motivation to pursue this training. Reading Grit first and Peak thereafter will give anyone the ammunition to become the best version of who they aspire to be – and it also turns out that grittier people are happier than others! 
Mats Larsson, Dec 23, 2016

Ericsson, Anders & Pool, Robert - Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise

Bodley Head, 2016, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

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Anders Ericsson is the world’s leading expert on expertise. Ericsson who is a professor at Florida State has spent 30 years researching human performance – and yes, he is Swedish. Together with the journalist Robert Pool he gives the inside view of how experts are made.

There are several myths when it comes to expertise. Perhaps the most prevalent one is that ability is innate and by this predestined – “I’m simply not good with math”. In fact Ericsson’s research shows that genetic predisposition plays a very marginal role compared to the work put in when it comes to developing a skill. And it isn’t too late. Our brain retains much of its adaptability through out life, so while some things might be easier to learn as a child we can all develop. Other misconceptions are that one gets better the longer one does something, or that all it takes is effort – or 10,000 hours of practice specifically.

What it takes to become an elite performer is instead dedicated training that rewires the brain – so-called deliberate practice. What Ericsson has found is that while true elite performers practiced a lot they all practiced in essentially the same way. Without this specific type of practice, 10.000 hours and spent effort will not amount to much. The hands-on almost physical ring to the expression deliberate practice is carefully chosen. There is a difference between knowledge and skill. The bottom line is what someone is able to do, not what they know. Expert skill in this respect is the practical application of something.

Deliberate practice is purposeful and informed in that it is guided by an understanding of what makes elite performers great and has a clear understanding of how they achieved their excellence. A large part of being an expert is in developing and internalizing what Ericsson calls mental representations, “a mental structure that corresponds to an object, an idea, a collection of information, or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is thinking about” allowing the expert to see patterns where non-experts only sees randomness. The concept is similar to, but broader, than Charlie Munger’s mental models. Ericsson’s concept for example also includes physical and musical skills.

So what is this magic formula? Well the short version is to identify the real experts, identify what makes them great (generally what they do differently) and design a practice that leads you to do the same. The practice should preferably be overseen by a coach that has set up a plan with a number of milestones that in combination leads to a bigger change. The coach also monitors the progress. The practice should be designed to stay just outside the trainee’s comfort zone and as such it requires effort, attention and isn’t always enjoyable and importantly the process involves feedback and modifications of the practice in response to the feedback. The training focuses on aspect after aspect (or mental representation) of something and improves them specifically. Over time new skills are built on top of old skills and skills regarding different aspects combine to form something larger than the sum of the parts.

I must admit that I was initially skeptical of this book as it might well be the tale from the horses mouth, but still a tale that has been told several times as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated and so many other books have already presented Ericsson’s research to the general public. Not unsurprisingly however it turns out that listening to the original source gives a special depth – then the reader will have to accept that he probably has heard all the examples previously and that in the name of being perfectly clear the authors repeat themselves slightly too often.

In the end this is a book of hope and enthusiasm – after having read it you find yourself making plans for how to improve the sub skills that are holding you back from reaching the next level; Focus. Feedback. Fix it.

Mats Larsson, Dec 13, 2016

Newport, Cal - Deep Work

Grand Central Publishing, 2016, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

Buying and reading this book is an excessive exercise in confirmation bias on my part. This is very much what I believe and if I would only rate the book with regards to its importance it has five-star qualities. The hypothesis of Carl Newport, an assistant professor in computer science at... Further reading... Link to Amazon...

Hess, Edward D. - Learn or Die

Columbia Business School Publishing, 2014, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 3

What does it take for organizations to create a culture of learning that will make them prosper? The author’s viewpoint is that winning companies are those that outlearn others and that the formula to create a HPLO, a High Performing Learning Organization, equals the right people + ... Further reading... Link to Amazon...

Iceman, Eli T. - Power Grid Operations

Dog Ear Publishing, 2012, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

In the public discussion about electrical utilities power generation gets most of the attention and the power grid gets very little – apart from some vague remarks about “smart grids”. This is a shame as the grid is a very complex... Further reading... Link to Amazon... 

Carnegie, Dale - How to Win Friends and Influence People

Vermilion, 2006 (first published in 1937), [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 3

This must be one of the best guides to Warren Buffett’s psyche and persona that there is. On the cover Buffett is quoted saying “[Carnegie] changed my life.” Dale Carnegie is the pioneer in the self-improvement genre and in adult education overall and this book remains a best seller... Further reading...  Link to Amazon...

Rodin, Judith and Brandenburg, Margot - The Power of Impact Investing

Wharton, 2014 [Surrounding knowledge] Grade 4

Impact investing is similar to value investing in one crucial aspect: you either grasp its eloquent righteousness instantly or you don’t. If you are one of the people who reflexively turn your back on concepts such as socially responsible investments (SRI), ethical investing or corporate... Further reading... Link to Amazon...

Gawande, Atul - The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Picador, 2009, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

In all professions experts face a rise in complexity due to increased domain knowledge. The traditional answer has been to specialize into an ever-smaller niche to be able to keep the expert status. Besides creating the undesirable second order consequence that too few have the... Further reading...  Link to Amazon...

Young, James Webb - A Technique for Producing Ideas

McGraw-Hill, 2003, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 2

In his last year as an advertising agency executive, James Webb Young was taking an apparently urgent meeting with a client at a well-known magazine. It turned out that the magazine had decided that their future strategy should be to “sell ideas”. However, after that they got stuck... Further reading... Link to Amazon...

Sinek, Simon – Start With Why

Penguin Group, 2009, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

The video “How great leaders inspire actions” has been viewed over 3 million times at YouTube and it’s the 3rd most viewed TED-talk ever. Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle of “Why, How and What” is a hit. This book builds and expands on the presentation trying to codify the reason why... Further Reading... Link to Amazon...

Pink, Daniel H. – Drive

Canongate, 2009, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

To get the job done an employer needs to motivate his staff. According to Daniel Pink the traditional theories on how that’s done are outdated and needs an upgrade. Business managers are using old tools. Pink is an accomplished business journalist who, by popularizing... Further reading... Link to Amazon...

Mlodinow, Leonard - Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior

Random House, 2012, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 5

“Who is the boss between you and mommy?”
 “Who is the boss? You have to ask that? I’m the boss. Mommy is only the decision maker.”
Woody Allen excels at portraying funny, pathetic and often self-delusional characters. These lines from the film Mighty Aphrodite are a case in point...  Further reading...  Link to Amazon...


Marcus, Bernie & Blank, Arthur (with Andelman, Bob) - Built from Scratch

Homer TLC, 1999, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

I was recently recommended this book by a devoted football fan. One of the authors, Arthur Blank, is currently the owner of the Atlanta Falcons. His aim is to create one of the strongest franchises in the NFL - a challenge well in line with building...  Further reading...  Link to Amazon...

Le Fanu, James - The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine

Basic Books, 2012 2nd ed, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

You should only invest within your own circle of competence – but you should also always try to increase that circle. Before Phoenix Asset Management ventured the fund’s money in health care stocks they ploughed through 30 books on the sector. According to portfolio manager Gary Channon, as...  Further reading...  Link to Amazon...

Piper, Mike - Accounting Made Simple

2013, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

An introductory text on accounting should in some form or another include: a) the accounting principles that form the normative base, b) bookkeeping procedures that provide the input for the accounting and c) the financial statements that constitute the output. The question is...  Further reading...  Link to Amazon...

Fisher, Roger & Ury, William (& Patton Bruce for the 2nd ed) - Getting To Yes

Random House, 1991, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

A negotiation boils down to all sides taking their positions, arguing their point of view, making concessions and finally striking a compromise. A good outcome is when the compromise is wise and efficient and when the relationships of those involved are not damaged. This book tries...  Further reading...  Link to Amazon...

Schilit, Howard - Financial Shenanigans

McGraw-Hill, 2002 2nd ed, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

Greed is as old as mankind. Unscrupulous people will try to trick others out of their money. One arena for this is the business sector and especially after the IT-crash there was a number of high profile accounting scandals. Financial Shenanigans has become the de-facto standard work on...  Further reading...  Link to Amazon...

Mayer, Collin – Firm Commitment

Oxford University Press, 2013, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 3

I’m often baffled by the fact that many talking heads never seem to have read any of the important texts on the subject they are scolding. The reader of this book will search the literature list in vain for Alfred Rappaport’s Creating Shareholder Value etc. It would seem that it’s only by...  Further reading...  Link to Amazon...

Ziliak, Stephen T. & Deirdre N. McCloskey – The Cult of Statistical Significance

The University of Michigan Press, 2008, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 5

Suppose I told you I had found irrefutable scientific evidence that a CEO’s golf handicap affects his or her company’s stock performance. Better golfers imply higher stock returns, I’d say. As evidence I would produce a huge regression model, covering thousands of companies, where... Further reading...  Link to Amazon...

Brockman, John (ed) – This Will Make You Smarter

Doubleday, 2012, [Surrounding Knowledge] Grade 4

This book belongs firmly in the surrounding knowledge category, which I suspect to most readers of InvestingByTheBooks is a category we turn to after all of the “real” book titles have been exhausted. Expanding one’s horizons is important I believe. In the words of Charlie... Further reading...  Link to Amazon...