Hard work beats talent

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Grit over the past week. I finished it once and have started listening a second time through. I haven’t written book notes for an audiobook before. I’ll try to write 2 or 3 posts based on Grit. Here’s the first.

In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth writes about the importance of grit in life. She explains why grit is something worth striving for and suggests how to build grit.

One concept discussed, of course, is deliberate practice. She shares this quote from a basketball player, “I probably spend 70 percent of my time by myself, working on my game, just trying to fine tune every single piece of my game.”

There’s a section about deliberate practice and flow. Some think the two concepts are at odds with each other. Her take is that deliberate practice is for improving skills. Flow is for performance.

I remember reading about the same basketball player a few years back. Something I remember sticking out was that he avoided pickup games when he was younger. For a lot of people, pickup games are all they do, so it’s both practice and performance. And probably bad forms of either one.

I looked around and found some of the things his coach made him do instead of playing pickup games. It sounds an awful lot like deliberate practice:

He made the boy write basketball essays, diagram the mechanics to jump shots and told him to memorize a quote that has shaped his life: Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.

That player, of course, is recent nWo member Kevin Durant. That excerpt is from the Seattle Times, a few months before the Sonics (RIP) drafted him. Some more from the same article:

Brown forbade Durant from playing pickup games or scrimmaging. He stressed conditioning and an array of shooting, dribbling, passing and defensive drills. Every day was boot camp. Brown taught Durant three basic moves — a pull-up jump shot, a two-dribble jumper and a baseline drive — that formed the foundation of Durant’s repertoire.

On the other side of that memorized quote: hard work meets talent and now you have Kevin Durant.

As far as how this applies to writing, I’m not sure what the performance would be for a writer. You’re rarely watched during the writing process. Maybe it’s just that you aren’t watched during your performance, because you can certainly enter a flow state while writing. It’s probably what Malcolm Gladwell means when he describes the actual writing as blissful.

The thinking and organizing and editing is the hard part. That’s the deliberate practice.


One Grit chapter covers raising gritty children. Angela’s household has a “Hard thing” rule:

  1. Everyone, including mom and dad, has to do a hard thing. A hard thing is something that requires daily deliberate practice.

  2. You can quit. But you can’t quit until the season is over, the tuition payment is up, or some other natural stopping point has arrived. You can’t quit on a bad day.

  3. You get to pick your hard thing. Nobody picks it for you.

It reminds me of something I heard on a podcast1. The example was editing audio. There are people trying to build platforms and they want to be audio engineers and editors for themselves. It takes a lot of time. Their argument is that they like doing it. Fair point, but it’s also taking up time that could be spent on something more important for their business or on something they enjoy more that’s completely recreational.

There’s a balance, of course. Angela Duckworth gives two examples of things she’s quit: piano and French. Piano didn’t come easy to her and she wasn’t very interested in it. Easy to drop. Dropping French was more interesting, because she found it interesting and she was picking it up quickly. Why stop? Because it was still taking up time.

Less time spent on piano and French freed up time for pursuits I found more gratifying. Finishing up whatever you begin without exception is a good way to miss opportunities to start different, possibly better things.

Applying this to my 100 Days, 100 Posts project, I don’t feel like quitting right now. I’m enjoying it so far. Some days I’m not in the mood to write. It’s fine, I try writing anyway. But you can’t quit on a bad day.

The natural stopping point will be 100 days. Halfway through, it’s fulfilling and I don’t see that changing in the second half.

After 100 days, I definitely want to keep making things every day. I’ll continue writing in some form. Publishing daily might not be quite as important. Trying to write, re-write, and edit in an hour or two each day means I’ll either 1.) write very short things or 2.) skip some steps. Taking the blocks of time I can squeeze into 2 or 3 days should allow me to go through the revision process. That’s where I’ll be able to improve.

Right now, there are times where I don’t edit. Editing and rewriting is the hard part of writing. That’s where deliberate practice comes in. Writing freely and blasting through a first draft is where you can enter flow. If I skip editing then I don’t think I’m getting better at writing.

I’m getting better at posting daily, which is a useful skill to have. It means I’m able to think about something to write about, write about it, then go through the logistics of adding links and images, then sharing it.

All of those things are useful but I want to edit and think more about the structure and paragraphs and sentences and words. (And to stop writing about writing.)

Right now isn’t the natural stopping point, so I’m going to keep posting daily.

  1. I need to deliberately practice remembering my sources.

Warren Buffet’s goals

In Grit, Angela Duckworth says grit has two components: passion and perseverance. Gritty people are passionate about things that take years to achieve. That helps them through the sub-goals, some of which can be a grind.

Having a top-level goal with no low and mid-level goals can lead to frustration. It’s believing in overnight success.

Having low-level and mid-level goals with no top-level goal leads to early passion for a project and quick disinterest. The next shiny new thing will pull you away. It’s totally fine for some things, like jumping from hobby to hobby recreationally. Professionally, though, it can be detrimental because it’s hard to grow career capital if you’re jumping from thing to thing.

Angela describes a top-level goal setting technique attributed to Warren Buffet (though it seems similar to Seinfeld getting credit for marking X’s on a calendar).

  • Write the 25 things you want to achieve in your career

  • Circle the 5 most important

  • You’ve now identified your 20 biggest career distractions

It’s a lesson in focus. Angela adds a few extra steps:

  • From the 25, identify the items that lead to a common goal

  • You’ve now identified your top-level goals

I really like these extra steps. It reminds me of blobs combining to form bigger blobs that then absorb smaller blobs until you see your top-level goals to focus on.

Where does writing daily fit in? Some posts come easier than others or are more fun to write. Collectively I think it’s helping me become a better writer and helping me focus. Being a better writer helps with organizing thoughts and telling better stories.

What top-level goal does this lead to? I’ll think about it, because right now I’m demonstrating early passion that I hope isn’t followed by lead to quick disinterest.