Global Competence via Angela Duckworth’s Grit

Looking into continuous improvement, inspired by Angela Duckworth.

I am currently reading Grit by Angela Duckworth and seriously enjoying it. So much so, that I’m inspired to talk about one of Duckworth’s topics with you today: Kaizen.

The direct translation of Kaizen is “continuous improvement”

Kaizen is an influential concept from Japanese business philosophy. In addition to “continuous improvement”, Duckworth describes Kaizen as “resisting the plateau of arrested development.” Grit shows that Kaizen is applicable for everyone, particularly those pursuing global competence.

In an interview within Grit between Hester Lacey and Duckworth, Lacey explained Kaizen as “it’s not looking backward with dissatisfaction. It’s looking forward and wanting to grow.” Throughout my blog, I emphasize how a “normal” person can achieve global competence. Applying the Kaizen approach is a realistic way to seek continuous improvement of our understanding of others. What’s one way for the everyday person to continuously improve, no matter where they are in the world? Reading.

The “stop reading and start doing” philosophy

In the Effort Counts Twice chapter of Grit, Duckworth received harsh advice to “Stop reading so much and go think.” From there, Duckworth actually began to formulate her ideas which eventually lead to the birth of Grit. Although I do think it’s important to move away from constant reading  without action, I also think that “reading” is imperative to our “doing”.

All the time, I see people quoted as saying “stop reading and start doing.” Well, why should it be one or the other between reading and doing? The hours Duckworth spent pouring over text beforehand enabled her to eventually create her ideas with a solid scientific background. Grit is extremely effective because it’s filled with study after study to prove Duckworth’s point. Her time spent reading literally gave Duckworth the tools to make her work successful.

Why reading is relevant to Kaizen

My mom used to get so mad at me when she brought me to the public library as a kid. She tried to prevent me from hogging all the books by issuing a three book limit per visit, which I ignored (I ignore Mom’s advice a lot). Most visits, I would check out at least ten books at a time, and even more in the summer when I was off from school. I consistently hit the library jackpot whenever Dad brought me, because he never paid attention to the big pile of books being checked out by the rogue ten-year old.

The books that truly captivate me are those which change the way I see the world. My experience is similar when I connect with people who are different from me. My affinity for books is what made me so open to the world. By the time I set foot off my first plane in a foreign country, I already had “lived” all over the world- at least in my mind. That’s why I strongly encourage you, wherever you are in the world, to read. I disagree with the idea to “stop reading and start doing.” Instead, we should teach “start reading to enable doing.”

My point is that reading accompanies doing- they are directly correlated!

Reading changes our conversations

To wrap up, I’ll tell a story of how my reading influenced my doing in a positive way. Last week, I interviewed an especially globally competent Indian business owner. Somehow, we veered from talking about his business to a controversial topic: arranged marriage.

As an American, I only ever heard horror stories about arranged marriage. My view on arranged marriage stayed relatively negative until I read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Especially with the global climate surrounding the recent war in Afghanistan, I’d never seen media which depicted Afghan people positively. The Kite Runner showed me the true picture of humanity in Afghanistan- something I’d never recognized prior.

I gained a basic understanding of traditional marriage from reading The Kite Runner. This insight enabled me to actively listen without judgement when my interview landed on the subject of arranged marriage. Although arranged marriage is abused by some (which is all we hear about on the news on the subject), I learned how the true motivation is actually to protect women rather than exploit them. Most Indian families want to see their daughters as educated and successful first and as a wife second. Typically, there is a years-long process of research that families go through to find an ideal match for their beloved children. Furthermore, consent is required from both families, including the man and wife, before an arranged marriage happens. Finally, I learned that a traditional arranged marriage is perpetuating the idea that marriage is about unity between families.

Now, I’m not saying “go out and have an arranged marriage!” Rather, my point is, reading opened my mind to an insight that I’ve had a stereotype about, my entire life. From reading before doing, I was open to learning from someone who is different from me. Reading was an investment into finding meaning in my everyday life.

The Takeaway

Kaizen is about continuous improvement, which connects with the global competence initiative to continually seek learning about other ways of life. Instead of “stop reading and start doing” we should strive to “start reading to enable doing.” We can use reading to continually improve, no matter what we’re striving to improve in.

Your Voice

Have you read any great books lately that taught you about the world? Tell your story in the comments below!

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