Organizations and leadership models predominantly popularize a common narrative that leaders must possess "grit." Angela Duckworth characterizes this image of grit as the combination of passion and perseverance toward long-term goals to keep going in the face of adversity, failure, or even lack of immediate success. We often equate it with the determination and tenacity required to scale the highest mountain and overcome insurmountable odds.
But grit has a weakness. It implies that if we throw enough "courage" and "determination" at a challenge and if we're able to "bounce back" from setbacks, this will ultimately lead to success.
But "success" is a nuanced construct involving much more than persistence, determination, passion, or the ability to bounce back in pursuing a goal. Moreover, when we define success, we often fail to account for the unseen and unpredictable alongside the visible challenges. One small variable can knock us off track or make us change course. Or we can end up doubling down on the single-minded pursuit of an unrealistic goal, even when circumstances change, so we end up spending unnecessary time, money, and other resources to pursue an unachievable outcome.
Reliance on grit alone is dangerous. The relentless pursuit of an outcome is no bad thing, but not when it's without flexibility and adaptability or the ability to accept that failure is an essential part of growth rather than a reflection of personal inadequacy, which grit so often implies.
Antifragility beats grit. The danger with grit is that it may push us to continue on a predefined path despite repeated failures. But we forget that we're operating in a world of uncertainty most of the time. This world requires us to exploit randomness, turning them into opportunities for constant iteration, innovation, and improvement. But in doing so, we will fail repeatedly. Whereas grit pushes us "onwards" despite the failures, antifragility allows us to learn from these failures, thrive in volatile environments, and turn unexpected outcomes to our advantage.
As the saying goes, it's never just about surviving the storms but learning how to dance in the rain.
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