“An ounce of practice is generally worth more than ton of theory.”

E.F. Schumacher (author of the book Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered)

At last year’s Small is Beautiful conference in Glasgow, the first speaker was writer and author Jocelyn K Glei, who at the time was Founding Editor and Director of Behance’s 99U.com and also edited their excellent book series.

“Small focus is beautiful – consistently executing and iterating on a single idea – there’s a lot of beauty in that.”

Jocelyn K Glei

Glei’s talk was a brilliant analysis of the challenges facing creative workers in the age of distraction (and long before it too).

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently.”

Herbert Simon, 1971

Glei came to the conclusion that self-control certainly helps when it comes to making our ideas and projects and careers a success:

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“Being able to pay attention, to truly bring your focus to the project at hand, is actually a competitive advantage. At any given moment there’s all these treats that await us – email, social media, text messages – these discrete little bits of unexpected and novel information that activate our brain’s pleasure centres – it’s addicting.

But it’s our ability to resist those temptations and stay focused on the hard work of creative labor that’s ultimately going to determine our success – the success of our ideas, our careers and our businesses.”

- Jocelyn K Glei

But if productivity is simply self-discipline by another name, is there no hope for those of us who can be somewhat lacking in this quality?

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“Discipline – regardless of century, technology or era – has always been the commitment to choose one thing at the expense of all others. Today, many people call this skill “productivity”, but I still contend that it is simply self-control.”

-James Shelley

Thankfully Glei discovered that there’s another factor that is even more important than the ability to delay gratification – and that is grit.

Catherine Morris Cox studied 300 geniuses to find out what they had in common. After studying Cox’s findings, Angela Duckworth isolated two qualities that she thought could be better predictors of outstanding success:

1. The tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability. Not seeking something because of novelty. Not “looking for a change”

2. The tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness.

Duckworth then boiled these two characteristics down into a single quality which she called grit – which she defined as the perseverance and passion for a long-term goal.

In her research – Grit was, in every single instance, a stronger predictor of success than intelligence or talent [or self-control].”

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Glei concluded her talk on the very positive note that:

“Grit conquers all. None of your other assets matter without it.  It is the talent that will amplify all of your other talents and it will also make up for almost any shortcoming. So if you’re able to keep your eye on the prize and stick with it longer than anyone else, the chances are you’re going to become successful.”

I’d highly recommend watching her talk for the full story and you also can watch most of the other talks from last year’s event at Small is Beautiful’s Vimeo page.

Please note: The various quotes throughout this article are all taken from Glei’s talk.

Oh – and I believe there’s still time to get a ticket for this year’s Small is Beautiful event which is happening this week!

Here are a few more quotes from Glei’s talk for good measure:

  • “We all hate email and we all check it more than 3 times a day. Why sometimes are we addicted to doing something we don’t like to do?”
  • “Indulging in these temptations means we’re constantly interrupting ourselves and distracting ourselves from doubling down our attention on the stuff that actually matters.”
  • “I think we should be paying attention to this notion of creative labour, as Lewis Hyde calls it. Creative labour is the essential ingredient needed to make great art, launch a new product or build a new business.”
  • “A labor can be intended  but only to the extent of doing the groundwork, or of NOT doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, labor has its own schedule. There is no technology, no time-saving device, that can alter the rhythms of creative labor” Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World
  • “We have the almost hubristic notion that we can rush the creative process.”
  • “Total freedom is total responsibility.”
  • “Creation is in large part merely the business of forgoing the great and small distractions.” – E.B.White

2 Comments

  1. Just read this article here (http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/06/15/william-james-the-energies-of-men-second-wind/) which seems to dovetail with your ‘grit’ point, even if it does also tramp all over creation with its other subjects… cool beans! :)
    Margaret Pinard recently posted..From the Travels: Green Growing Things, England Edition

  2. This article resonates with me in a couple of ways – both in terms of the importance of maintaining attention in an age of distraction, filtering out all the noise and so on, and how grit is key to success.

    Since going it alone I probably work harder (certainly in terms of hours, but also productivity) than ever before, no longer commuting, keeping all phone/Skype meetings (and I don’t do many) under 10 minutes and so on. But sometimes the fact that I also know I’ll be working well into the evening (out of choice and necessity) means I don’t feel as guilty about distraction during the day – which is of course part of the problem. Filter it out, and greater productivity could be achieved in less time, and far more in the same amount of time.

    Then there’s grit – which makes me happy and determined to work long hours to begin with, with my eye on a prize I know is achievable. Having said that, if I’d known how difficult (obstacles etc) it would be before I started, I may never have embarked on the solo road. But of course I also wouldn’t be at the point I am now. So thank you, grit, I owe you!