Grit: An Indicator of Success?


Repeatedly in research, the same question is being presented: Is intelligence the determinant of achievement and success?

The idea was first introduced over a century ago by a man named William James, who asked two questions:

“What are the types of human abilities and, second by what diverse means do individuals unleash these abilities?”

From these questions, the concept of intellect and ways of measuring it were derived. People wanted to know what makes someone smart and how you could distinguish those individuals from others. Since then, IQ has been studied extensively because it is measurable and familiar.

However, if IQ is the determinant of success, then how do individuals of similar IQ vary so widely in their achievement? Do traditionally non-cognitive attributes, such as creativity, motivation, leadership, perseverance and passion, play no role in success?

IQ is an Incomplete Measure of Success

Research demonstrates that understanding IQ is only touching the surface of human intellect and our capabilities for achievement.

The concept of intellect needs to be broadened.

There is a need for the inclusion of soft skills as attributes of intellect just as traditional cognitive processes are. When these characteristics become an addition to the pre-existing understanding of intellect, then a score on a test is not the only determining factor of future success and outcomes. There are far too many forms of intelligence and talent to be limited to one measure of capability.

In settings of which there are many highly distinguished and set apart individuals (such as medicine, law, investing and academia), individuals were asked what makes someone stand out. Frequently, the answers had little to do with IQ.

Grit: What is it and what does it have to do with success?

Distinguished individuals stood out in their field due to what researchers calls “grit”. Grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress” (Duckworth, 2007).

What sets successful people apart is not how smart they are, but rather their innate traits that make them hard workers and over-comers of obstacles.

Another study surveyed 140 eighth grade students to examine just one aspect of grit: self-discipline. These findings showed intelligence alone does not determine success. The study produced significant data showing self-discipline is a substantial predictor of academic performance, more so than IQ.

Intellectual factors (including those discussed above like soft skills) as well as non-intellectual factors (such as self-discipline or grit) have to work together to produce outcomes. IQ alone is not enough.

Think of your most successful co-worker or employee. What sets them apart from the rest? Is it their intellect? Or are there other factors contributing to their achievements? We’d love to hear your feedback!


Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.