GRIT and Robustness—The “Wear and Tear” Factor


This post is the 5th in a series that focuses on the science of GRIT, and how it may be the definitive factor in closing the skills gap in America, by delivering what employers crave. In case you missed them, you can read my previous posts here.

“He just doesn’t get it.” That was the comment a colleague made to me after hanging up the phone from a frustrating conference call with a college president and several of his top administrators. After an hour of hearing out the significant list of issues they faced, the conversation came around to GRIT. Our call was set to discuss the role GRIT plays not just in student success, but in faculty engagement, staff effectiveness, campus culture, and everyone’s overall capacity to flourish in a challenging environment.

“Paul, please understand,” he pleaded. “We’re honestly very impressed with your research, along with the validation, and your array of methods for growing GRIT. It’s just that, we can’t handle one more thing right now. And, well, frankly, as I think my colleagues here would agree, we’ve shown plenty of good old grit over the years. We’ve weathered plenty of budget cuts, enrollment problems, and worse. And, if nothing else, we’re still here…same goes for our students. If you could see the struggles so many of them face just to show up, let alone pay for school, you’d know what I mean.”

At one level this college president is correct. It often takes plain old GRIT just to stay alive. It sometimes takes serious GRIT to show up. But, is that enough? And GRIT at what cost?

“grit” (grit 1.0) described quantity, or magnitude of effort toward a goal over time.

GRIT (GRIT 2,0) looks at GRIT holistically—quality and quantity—across Growth, Resilience, Instinct, and Tenacity.

Pretty much every organization, institution, administrator, faculty member, and student I encounter has some degree of basic grit. They got there somehow. It took GRIT to create the entity or for those individuals to show up, and it takes GRIT to keep going. For these people and others, the question is, what happens to them over time? Are they fortified or deflated, on fire, or ready to retire?

Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill demonstrated phenomenal grit, and elevated mankind globally in the process. The also both suffered from abject, crippling depression. Their grit took a toll. What I set out to determine in my research was, is the grit-at-a-price algorithm a law or a highly negotiable, even avoidable consequence?

If, by definition, an institution’s GRIT can’t exceed, and is in fact defined by that of its individual members, then the surge of heroic GRIT it may have taken to forge and launch the original vision may or may not be alive today. The same can be said of students, employees, leaders…anyone engaged in any long-term endeavor.

My observation, and as my team’s growing pool of independent research seems to bear out, is that many institutions and individuals lack the sort of GRIT required to fulfill their highest aspirations.

There is a scientific and common sense term for this wear and tear factor, “Robustness.” Robustness actually comes from the world of material science. The formal definition is “How well something maintains its ideal state despite the unexpected perturbations that assault it.”  

Let’s say you were building a house in Nepal. There’s a good chance you’d build it to withstand earthquakes. But how well that structure withstands a completely historic and unexpectedly massive typhoon, is how robust it and its components truly are.  The same applies to us humanoids and our institutions.

Robustness is the wear and tear factor. It is how well you (or any entity will) hold up over time, given the expected and unexpected onslaught of life.

What this college president didn’t understand was A) the incredible toll the collective struggles had clearly taken upon him, his colleagues, and his institution, and B) the roll Robustness plays in his students’ ability to not only show, but sustain the GRIT it takes to stick it out, do well, graduate, and embark on an enriching life.

That’s why Robustness is such a critical, and up to now, overlooked element of GRIT. Having it and sustaining it are two different things. More importantly, how it affects you over time, determines the ultimate cost and/or benefit your GRIT generates.

It just takes serious commitment, effort, and yes, GRIT. The brutal truth is the world will not conspire to preserve your spirit, energy, and resolve. But it will conspire to test them. How much and how often are determined by a confluence of luck, choice, and consequences.

GRIT without Robustness is like love without commitment. What once glowed with promise and possibility, dims and diminishes over time. GRIT with Robustness is what fortifies and energizes you.

GRIT + Robustness=Sustainable GRIT

Stay tuned for future blog posts as we delve deeper into GRIT, the science behind it, and what educators and employers can be doing now to help individuals dramatically fortify their career path and life goals.


If you would like to learn more about how to improve retention, completion rates, or overall student success, I encourage you to join me and David T. Conley, Ph.D., for an upcoming webinar October 20th. Visit this webpage for more information and to register.


About the Author
Dr. Paul G. Stoltz

Dr. Paul G. Stoltz

Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D., is considered the world’s foremost authority on the science and method of measuring and strengthening GRIT. His methods and teachings are used at Harvard, MIT, Cornell, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and by top organizations in 63 countries.  Selected as “One of the Top Ten Most Influential Global Thinkers” by HR Magazine, “One of the Top 100 Thinkers of Our Time”, by Executive Excellence. He is founding director of the GRIT Institute, and the Global Resilience Institute, conducting research in 29 countries, as well as Founder and CEO of PEAK Learning, Inc., the global research and consulting firm, since 1987. Featured in the world’s top media—Fortune, Forbes, Success, Business Week, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Asia 21, Fox, ABC Nightly News, NBC, CBS, The Today Show, and multiple appearances on The Oprah Show—Dr. Stoltz’s top priority is applying his vast experience and research within higher education, specifically to students in their first year of college. Developing effective strategies toward college completion – and sustainable employment – has never been timelier.