On the Merits of Grit…and Not Doing it Alone

The concept of ‘grit’ comes up a lot in my research on socially entrepreneurial practices. Whether it’s the story of MASS Design Group’s ‘guerrilla’ wind data collection in rural Rwanda where there was none, in which they opened a suitcase of baking soda to the wind (this may be a myth, I recently learned) or Anne Trumble of Emerging Terrain who organized taxis to drive 500 patrons a few hundred feet to the highway bridge site of her first project opening, because pedestrians were not allowed to walk on highway property….

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The concept of ‘grit’ comes up a lot in my research on socially entrepreneurial practices. Whether it’s the story of MASS Design Group’s ‘guerrilla’ wind data collection in rural Rwanda where there was none, in which they opened a suitcase of baking soda to the wind (this may be a myth, I recently learned) or Anne Trumble of Emerging Terrain who organized taxis to drive 500 patrons a few hundred feet to the highway bridge site of her first project opening, because pedestrians were not allowed to walk on highway property.

Grit means being willing to get it done. Just that. It means no matter what it takes, whether it is part of your official job description or not, or whether you know how to do it or not, you get it done. Jared Della Valle of Alloy, a real estate development company in New York recently spoke about this at the 2014 Boston Architecture Business Expo where he jokingly referred to his company’s divisions as Design, Development, Brokerage, and ‘Whatever it Takes.’

What fuels grit? Naivete sometimes, as Wendy Kopp chronicles in her book about founding Teach for America. She didn’t have the experience to know how ridiculously ambitious and hard to realize her idea for the program really was. Sometimes grit is fueled by sheer force of personality–there are those rare people who just can’t conceptualize not reaching their goals, and sometimes it’s fueled by a commitment to a cause, a vision of a possible future so clear in your mind, a calling.

Cultivating grit is key, but sometimes grit needs to be turned off, or at least rerouted from its bulldozer “I will find some way to push through this” mode into one of “Can I do this with less resistance?”

I recently spoke with Bill Ward who runs an entrepreneurship program for Combined Jewish Philanthropies/Jewish Vocational Service in Boston. I called him to talk about Black Trumpet, a pop up dinner club I run with my partner Gabe Fine. The pop up has been incredibly fun and creatively rewarding to run, but with severely limited funds it feels that all we have is challenges, from finding hosting locations, to identifying prep spaces, to navigating issues of keeping kosher ‘off the grid.’

Bill said that many of the successful entrepreneurs he brings into his workshop talk about a key moment in which they realized they didn’t need to go it alone–whether that was asking others instead of trying to figure something out alone, or putting the resources towards hiring someone to do a job more efficiently and better.

And there are a lot of ways to ask for something. Sometimes it means paying a person or service to take something off your plate, sometimes it means asking your immediate circle of friends or mentors how to overcome a challenge you’re facing. An ask is always an exchange. Whether its monetary or not (I love the barter system) or even just an exchange of positive energy or information, asking in the right way means putting yourself into the emotional market of people helping each other reach their goals.

Remembering to not do it alone is a form of grit. When you’re not bogged down trying to reinvent every wheel by yourself, you free yourself up to get to where you want to go faster. It means more service and scale faster. It means doing what it takes to get the job done.

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