GSVlabs hosted its first Pioneer Summit last week. One of the sessions featured a panel that was diverse in multi-faceted ways. The panel included Ken McNeely, Mashea Ashton, and Miriam Rivera—men and women from different parts of the country who identified with different ethnicities and who spanned fields including corporate roles, venture capital, education, and non-profit leadership. Moderated by GSVlabs CEO, Marlon Evans, the panel candidly and passionately addressed diversity in technology and leadership.

Early in the discussion there was a shift in framing—from challenges and limitations to what our life experiences can afford us. Each speaker in their own way expressed gratitude for the challenges, hurdles, failures they faced in their childhood and professional journeys.

“It gave me grit,” one speaker said, and the sentiment resonated not only across the panel but within the room.


Grit: a Super Power for Entrepreneurs and Social Entrepreneurs?


Reflecting on this idea of grit, a few basic questions come to mind.  What is it? How can it be a super power for entrepreneurs—especially social entrepreneurs who seek to create impact and value?

1. Grit stems from failure challenge, disability, setback, differences.

In thinking about grit, I was reminded of  Malcom Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. He surfaced interesting facts about leadership including that an extraordinarily high number of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic and that 67% percent of the prime ministers surveyed lost a parent before the age of sixteen. Being different, learning in unique ways, or suffering tragedy are formidable challenges–from which our actions to overcome, work through, and persevere can build grit.

2. Grit starts where failure ends. 

In the world of startups and entrepreneurship we hear about failure, we are told to ‘fail fast’ and to iterate. However, failure on its own, is little more than demoralizing. It is what happens after—the picking ourselves up, the constructive reflection, the tenacity to soldier ahead, that marks where grit begins.

3. Grit builds different skill sets.

In his book, Gladwell also explains the concepts of capitalization learning and compensation learning—the first being where we build skills by cultivating and maximizing our strengths; and compensation learning being where we build skills out of necessity—to compensate or overcome a particular difficulty.

And somewhere there, right between capitalization and compensation learning, or between what we can control and do and what we do with what we can’t control—is where you will find grit.

4. Having grit doesn’t have to make us “gritty”—it can make us grateful.

I was particularly struck with the overwhelming sense of gratitude the panelists expressed—despite growing up in tough areas or facing formidable challenges on their career paths. They spoke about having great mentors, of opportunities to improve, about making mistakes and learning from them. They showed that accepting our challenges (even welcoming them), doesn’t make us gritty, but can actually lead to immense growth and grace.

5. Our grit is our super power. We can use it for good!

Mashea on the panel noted that those who excel only truly succeed when they bring others up with them. If grit is our hidden super power—we can use that super power to create positive impact in our startups, our careers, and how we vote with our purchases. While we don’t often choose the experiences that precipitate grit, we can choose how to pay forward the strength, resilience, and wisdom we gain and share from it.


Images and videos from GSVlabs’ Pioneer Summit



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