Why Grit Matters More Than IQ

“Hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard.” That’s an old saying my coach would always tell the football team.

That notion is captured by Duckworth’s equations in the early chapters of Grit:

talent * effort = skill

skill * effort = achievement

Is IQ talent or skill? That’s actually a deeper question than it seems. Consider that it’s an exogenous property of an individual, then we should consider it talent. Now, consider that it is possible to change your own IQ. Then it is a skill. In the real world it seems to be both:

  1. IQ fluctuates and may not be a great indicator of g, the general intelligence factor.
  2. Specifically, g explains about 40-50% of IQ.
    1. So there’s alot of stuff in IQ other than intelligence.
    2. Intelligence isn’t a big deal as we will see later.
  3. Financial incentives affect IQ test scores, which indicates that IQ scores themselves are explained by grit. Here’s another citation on the same thing.
  4. IQ is measured via a standardized tests, which indicates that IQ may largely be a measure of test-taking skill rather than intelligence.
    1. This makes me laugh when people argue that IQ proves intelligence because it is associated with high test scores, for example.
    2. If you’re more interested in academic performance than actual success, you might want to re-prioritize.
    3. Not budging? Then read this: Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents
  5. Having a high IQ score may be its own incentive to certain persons. This seems to be the passion component of grit, so again, grit is explaining IQ.
  6. IQ is improved through training and practicing IQ tests. Ironically, if you improve IQ by training on an IQ test you are really exercising grit.
  7. There is good evidence that genetic factors influence IQ. Genetic factors seem to explain half of the differences in IQ.

So the IQ we observe seems to be about half exogenous and half not. Once we get that IQ score, it seems to be about half related to intelligence and half not. So IQ matters, but I’m going to argue that it’s overrated, as I have argued in the past. That’s previously cited above in point 2.

Importantly, I would note that if IQ is entirely exogenous then it is not important or interesting. Grit, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be exogenous. Almost by definition it seems to be a choice variable. So it’s already more interesting and we haven’t even gotten to its predictive power.

You know what matters more than test scores? Success. Success is the ability to accomplish some goal. So one problem with test scores as a measure of success is that there is no in-built correction for people who took the test and don’t care. It’s like there is an assumption that everyone wants to try their hardest on these IQ tests, but research cited above and anecdotal evidence confirm the contrary.

On the relationship between grit and success:

  1. First, let’s define our terms. Success is accomplishing some goal. Grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
  2. In a landmark study, Duckworth noted that grit explained about 4% of the variation in success.
    1. But it did not correlate positively with IQ. This indicates that the relationship between grit and IQ is not two-way. More grit raises IQ, but more IQ doesn’t raise grit.
  3. Another example of success would be business success. The US Small Business Administration has published widely circulated data indicating that about one-third of small businesses survive for ten years. If this status is defined as success, then it can’t be reached without grit almost by definition. A person has to keep working for at least ten years to get there.
    1. Practically speaking, I think the number of businesses which operate for less than ten years and yet the owners would consider it a success is small though not zero.
  4. Graduation rates, marriage preservation, and employment are all improved with more grit.
  5. Productivity and productivity resilience under stress are improved with grit.

I also have a theory I’ll mention as it’s kind of related. My theory is that Duckworth’s grit is usefully decomposed into passion and cold grit.

  1. Cold grit means a person has perseverance with no passion. Maybe I should call it something else. They have a high work ethic even when they aren’t really interested in the task at hand.
    1. A soldier might have display cold grit. This person may not enjoy carrying out war, but does so with a steely resolve.
  2. Passion means a person means a person is engaging in a kind of activity which they are particularly interested in.
    1. A musician might be a passionate. This person enjoys making music so much for it’s own sake that this person ends up working hard and consistently at this kind of thing, although not in general or with regard to other kinds of things which they care relatively less about.

What about criticisms of grit? The big one is that IQ matters more. I think I dealt with that. Otherwise I think they are pretty rare but here is one. Problems with it:

  1. Tampio has 68 citations to Duckworth’s 7547. Duckworth’s work is largely applied, Tampio loves to write about Kantian political philosophy. So far I’m not impressed.
  2. Tampio criticizes Duckworth and Seligman for research on learned helplessness which may have been used by the CIA.
    1. Folks at the CIA used waterboarding too. Would Tampio criticize God and nature for inventing water, which is also used for daily nutrition?
    2. It’s another straw-man. Duckworth and Seligman uncovered truth, which is the point of research. That the CIA may have used it for shady CIA stuff is not blood on the hands of grit researchers. In fact, if it worked it’s evidence on the validity of grit research.
    3. If a lack of grit has negative effects then that is useful knowledge, just like it is useful knowledge that the presence of grit has benefits.
  3. Tampio says some people playing football for a long time get brain injuries.
    1. And other make millions of dollars. Is Tampio advocating that being pro-football is immoral?
    2. I for one love me some football.
      1. I played in high school in the Texas heat.
      2. Yes, they did tell us there is real risk we could snap our necks, break limbs, overheat, get a concussion, or even die. I still happily continued.
      3. I credit it with plenty of good things: health, work ethic, and more.
      4. So there are benefits and risks, why not let individuals decide for themselves?
  4. Tampio argues that the education system should foster independent thought, not grit.
    1. First, public education will never foster independent thought.
    2. Second, why can’t you have both? To advocate for grit is not to advocate for thoughtlessness: This is Tampio’s key anti-grit straw-man.
  5. Tampio seems to be arguing that grit leads to authoritarianism.
    1. First, I’d like to see anything resembling data on this. I don’t buy it. Would an authoritarian have more or less difficulty controlling a grittless population? It could go either way.
    2. Second, grit includes passion by definition. If authoritarianism means no freedom, then passion goes with freedom. So authoritarianism seems to require the absence of grit.
    3. Finally, Democracy is not all it’s cracked up to be. That’s a whole separate conversation, but Tampio saying “grit will ruin Democracy” is first wrong and next irrelevant.
  6. The fact that Tampio sees all bad and no good in grit is the final nail in the coffin.
    1. Duckworth acknowledges grit has benefits with some caveats.
    2. A credible critique would respond with an equal ability to acknowledge a mix of good and bad. Saying it’s all bad seems to miss, like, alot. To the point that it’s disingenuous.

So IQ is a weak but significant indicator of intelligence, while grit is a strong indicator of success. Case closed: Grit matters more than IQ.

If you can have both that’s even better. I guess Coach was on to something.


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