Last year, Dr. Angela Duckworth wrote a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Dr. Duckworth is a psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, winner of a MacArthur Genius Fellowship in 2013, and all-around super intelligent and accomplished person. Her studies on a quality she labels “grit” showed that the two biggest predictors of success in life aren’t talent or I.Q.
Dr. Duckworth found that the two traits most likely to lead to success are self-control and stick-to-it-iveness. In other words, having a powerful brain is nice, but having unwavering commitment to getting the job done is way more important.
For the last twenty years, I’ve shared a building with entrepreneurs in our startup facility. Many of those entrepreneurs were successful, but some weren’t. However, all of them had talent, and all of them were intelligent.
The difference was exactly the quality Duckworth describes in her book.
Grinding it out.
Never taking “No” for an answer.
That’s what makes an entrepreneur successful. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of great ideas from a lot of smart people, but great ideas and smart people are far easier to find than most of us think.
Grit, on the other hand, is far rarer.
Individuals aren’t the only ones who can have grit. I’ve learned that grit can be a quality an entire community shares.
During my tenure as CEO of the St. Charles County EDC, I’ve seen multiple economic development projects die. The Page Avenue Extension—21 miles of highway that connect I-64 and I-270, including a bridge over the Missouri River—died multiple deaths between 1992 and its opening in 2003. Streets of St. Charles, a booming mixed-use development that’s quickly become one of the premier shopping and dining destinations in the entire St. Louis region, also died multiple deaths before it opened.
There are multiple reasons why big, complex economic development projects die. Politics, regulatory requirements, environmental issues, money (that’s a big one), disagreement between multiple public and private sector entities—the list can go on. As an economic developer, I know that in most communities, when complex projects die, they usually stay dead.
That isn’t the case here in St. Charles County.
Our local leadership—including (and especially) me—is not perfect.
We make mistakes, and we don’t always agree.
But we do have grit. We’ve had a long-term vision for the county, and we’ve stuck to it. We’ve done that even when parts of that long-term vision, like the projects mentioned above, were dead, and not just a little dead, but capital D-E-A-D dead.
Because of our grit, I truly believe we’ve created one of the most dynamic communities in the Midwest.
That’s not just me being an economic development cheerleader for the place I call home. St. Charles County is recognized nationally as one of the best places to raise a family and start a company.
When you’re an entrepreneur, there’s every reason to believe you won’t succeed. The odds are long for anyone who starts a business. In many ways, the same can be said for places. I don’t need to tick off the list of challenges communities face.
But the difference between success and failure for both communities and the entrepreneurs who play an important role in them isn’t raw brainpower or talent.
It’s sticking to it, even when any rational person would quit.
It’s refusing to die, even when you’re dead.
It’s having grit.
Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.