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November 05, 2015


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I agree that smart people grossly overestimate the importance of intellectual abilities when it comes to success.

Another thing to point out though is that since so much of success is based on having practiced one's skills in one area, the belief that because someone is really great at one thing that they must be great at everything (ie. the notion that because one is a great CEO of company X, they are going to be a great CEO of any company) is highly suspect, and I would say that we are surrounded daily by the evidence of that.

lower middle class

Even a lifetime of hardwork can be undermined by the malice of others. Success is as much a function of others actions toward you as your own actions toward self improvement.

Scott F

A Meta-analysis of the 10,000 Hour Rule from Case Western Reserve:

"We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued"

I have learned - much to my disappointment - that most of Malcolm Gladwell's claims do not hold up well to scrutiny.

Grit is an overwhelmingly attractive notion which is why it must be subjected to our highest level of skeptical examination. Even if 10,000 hours of "the right kind" of practice (Weasel Alert!) were a determining factor in success in any endeavor, why do we assume Grit is not a heritable trait just like any other "talent".



I've not read Syed's book, but I have read articles of his on this subject and, well, I'm surprised you rate him!

That everyone that succeeds at, say, sport practices a lot, tells us very little about the balance between hard work and talent, because they're all naturally talented. It simply tells us that the balance between success of very talented people depends on hard work and points us to this self evident truth - success at anything depends on nature, nurture and luck.


"Beyond a certain point - attained by most readers of this blog"

Oh, you.


@ Donald, Scott - I see your points. One difficulty here is the hindsight bias and selection effects: we see successful people and then look for grit/talent whatever. We need also to look at failures.
One virtue of experiments such as the one I cited is that they overcome these problems.
Also relevant here might be the case of the Polgar sisters:

The Peoples Pawn

I agree with the writer; in my experience initiative matters more than raw talent. However, this assumes all else being equal. Take two teenaged aspiring piano players. Access to a good instrument, teachers, time to play, general levels of stress and health, all matter much more than talent and grot combined. Clearly the same caveats extend to aspiring doctors, artists, scientists, etc....The aggregate data show this in that the more financial resources one's family has, the higher his or her chances of success. The less appealing side is that luck almost matters much more than talent and grit combined.


I don't dispute the value of practice/experience and persistence.

However, I think it's worth noting that all of this is biased towards really constrained, stable fields of endeavour.

Sports, chess, anagrams, music.

The reason plenty of individuals who have grit aren't at the top of things is that much of advancement in life and careers isn't about constrained rule optimising.


@Chris I'm not sure you do see my point. I didn't make it very clearly though.

Your theory - grit trumps talent - is probably true most of the time, (as you say is true of lots of things in the social sciences). And the experiments you mention support this theory.

But at the top level of sport or music we can't measure talent and effort accurately enough to say. Theory would, though, suggest that neither trumps the other. If success depends on genes and hard work you need an awful lot of both to make it to the top of sport or music.

All of which is why I don't rate Syed. He fits the data to a thesis to sell some books/articles.


Yes grit trumps talent when you're already fairly talented. So what? Grit is mostly just conscientiousness. In general, for predicting income, IQ is somewhat more important.

But neither of these things predict more than 25% of the variance in income. How about talking about what actually does explain that variance? Now that would be interesting to read about...

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