Can This Secret Characteristic Every Entrepreneur Possesses Be Taught? Researchers are looking at whether children can learn a trait that people need to build successful business.

By Gene Marks

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There's a secret characteristic that just about every successful entrepreneur has. It's not just brains. It's not just passion. It's not just capital.

Do you know what it is? It's called grit. Educators are trying to figure out if it can be taught. Because if you can teach grit, you can create entrepreneurs.

According to Angela Duckworth, a leading researcher on the topic, grit "is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals." Duckworth is trying to figure out whether kids today can be taught grit. If people can learn grit, they can do great things.

Related: Ashton Kutcher: What Matters Is Entrepreneurial 'Grit'

Duckworth has found that "grit predicts surviving the arduous first summer of training at West Point and reaching the final rounds of the National Spelling Bee, retention in the U.S. Special Forces, retention and performance among novice teachers, and graduation from Chicago public high schools, over and beyond domain-relevant talent measures such as IQ, SAT or standardized achievement test scores, and physical fitness. In cross-sectional studies, grit correlates with lifetime educational attainment and, inversely, lifetime career changes and divorce."

Do you know entrepreneurs and business owners who have grit? You do. You see them all the time. And grit answers a lot of questions.

For example, do you ever ask yourself, "how come that guy is so rich? How come his business is so successful?" You've met him. He's not winning the Nobel Prize anytime soon or breaking new IQ records.

How many people do you know who didn't go to the Ivy League, don't read books, can't focus on a movie (unless it has lots of action) and prefer to spend their time drinking beers and watching football rather than splitting atoms? And yet, they're successful in their business.

How about those super smart people who scored high on their SATs and went to those elite colleges and yet never seemed to take off? What makes them all so different?

Angela Duckworth knows. And so does Malcolm Gladwell. "Nothing happens without desire and passion," Gladwell said in a recent interview.

This is grit. This is you back at college studying nights and weekends while your friends are partying so that you can get that "A" on your chemistry exam that comes so much easier to those smarter kids. This is you at your first job working extra hours to really understand the business and your responsibilities, never saying no, always up for more work. This is you starting a business with nothing and sacrificing, sweating, running and fighting because it seems like every day there's another challenge, another competitor and another problem that's getting in the way of your success.

Related: True Grit: What You Really Need to Succeed

It never stops. You're 40. You're 50. You're 60. And you're still battling.

This is you succeeding, because you have grit.

Can this be learned? Can kids at an early age be taught grit? Think about what a difference that would make to their futures, their quality of life, their success. This is what Duckworth is trying to figure out. This is what our teachers are discussing.

There are no definitive answers yet. But maybe our educators will come up with a way to help that really smart kid realize his potential, even if he's not the best student.

"In terms of intentional change, one promising direction for research is the correction of maladaptive, incorrect beliefs," Duckworth reports. "For instance, individuals who believe that frustration and confusion are signs that they should quit what they are doing may be taught that these emotions are common during the learning process. Likewise, individuals who believe that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs may be taught that the most effective form of practice (deliberate practice -- see research by Anders Ericsson) entails tackling challenges beyond one's current skill level."

Research like this may someday help reduce the number of failed businesses and broken dreams. Nothing comes easy. People with grit know that. They use that ability to move ahead and accomplish their goals.

You need grit to succeed in business, more so than book-smarts. If you're one of those who have succeeded, then you already know this.

What do you think? Can grit be taught?

Related: Richard Branson on Entrepreneurial Determination

Wavy Line
Gene Marks

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

President of The Marks Group

Gene Marks is a CPA and owner of The Marks Group PC, a ten-person technology and financial consulting firm located near Philadelphia founded in 1994.

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