Grit has been a hugely popular character trait in recent years, with Angela Duckworth famously regarding it as the key to success. She defines grit as the sustained persistence, often driven by passion, towards a long-term goal, and with no real need for rewards or recognition along the way. It's a potent cocktail of resilience, ambition, and self-control, and indeed it's something that has been cited by research as one of the key ingredients of success and happiness in life.
It is perhaps no surprise that it is also regarded as a fundamental ingredient in turning adversity to our advantage by Harvard Business School’s Laura Huang in her latest book Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage. Huang argues that while grit and determination are undoubtedly important, however, they are not enough on their own to guarantee success.
She told the Harvard Business Review recently that it is something of a myth that hard work and perseverance are all we need to thrive at work, as no two people are starting from the same point, nor have the same resources at their disposal. It is hard for even the hardest working individual to overcome a lack of time, money and connections to climb to the top of their profession.
Finding your edge
Nonetheless, she believes that if we can find that thing that gives us an edge over other people, and then work to ensure other people are able to see and recognize our value, then doors can open and we can go where we want to go. With this approach, Huang argues that we can take the various adversities that face us, and use them to our advantage.
Laura Huang hones things down to five key steps you can take to help achieve this:
1. Identify something you have that can enrich others
Huang advocates exploring your strengths, and what might set you apart from your peers. Perhaps you can consider what people most take away from encounters with you, while also being honest enough to accept your flaws. This will help you to define something Huang refers to as your ‘circle of competence’, which will guide you from here on.
2. Own any constraints you have, so that others may see past them
We all have things we are not good at, but the key is to not let these failings come to define us. Huang argues that we too often discount ourselves from the running because we perceive our flaws to be too great to give us any chance. We, in essence, defeat ourselves before anyone else has the chance to. It is a difficult balancing act to strike, but if we can learn to accept our constraints without letting them define and defeat us, then it places us in a good place.
3. Emphasize things that delight others
Delight is a fantastic emotion to elicit in other people and a great way of overcoming any skepticism about you and your abilities. Huang warns against over-preparing and suggests that often the best impressions are impromptu and improvised, yet if you can find a way to delight people, even in ways that do not revolve around charm, charisma, and entertainment, then it gives you a tremendous edge.
4. Guide how your work and worth is perceived by others
Many of the levers that influence our success are outside of our control, but those who control the levers often do so based upon a perception of our character and competence. Huang says, therefore, that it is vital that we have a good understanding of how other people see us, and how we might mold those perceptions so that our true value comes through. Snap judgments are a natural part of human interactions, and we often view them in a negative sense, as they can so often mistake our true selves. Huang argues that rather than complaining about people making snap judgments, we should use them to our advantage, and make sure that the judgments people make of us are positive and to our advantage.
5. Be the ‘prom queen’
Not in the sense of glamming up in a nice dress, but rather to be someone that everyone wants to be around. It is guidance that Huang was given while seeking her first academic appointment, because “everyone wants to date the prom queen.”
This can often be especially hard to do when you are starting out in your career as you lack the credentials and experience to truly walk the walk, but this supposes that we take the traditional route to success where those garlands are what matters. Instead, Huang argues that we should try and capture what makes us unique, and use our personal narrative to help guide people in their understanding of our value to them.
Success, whether professional or otherwise, almost certainly requires hard work, so grit and determination should be a given in whatever you are trying to achieve. What Huang argues is that finding your edge gives you something in addition to just hard work to enable you to tie it together with other strategies that will really put wind in your sails.