“True grit is making a decision and standing by it, doing what must be done.” (John Wayne)
In American popular culture, few names evoke the idea of having grit and determination more than John Wayne. Heck, he even starred in an iconic movie called “True Grit”. The image of Americans as being gritty, determined, go getters has been in vogue for more than 2 centuries. Stick-to-itiveness was a concept drilled into me as a youth. We Americans stick to the job until the job is done, I was taught. The popular World War I song even told us that we “won’t come home ‘til it’s over over there.”
The assumption in this quote, of course, is that the decision was the correct one to begin with. After all, I if I stick to a bad decision with true grit, then I am just wasting time and sending myself down an incorrect path.
As I grow older I see fewer and fewer decisions in life that are worthy of the Duke’s grit and determination. I am not suggesting that I should not be determined to get things done, I am saying that I find myself more flexible sometimes. And when I am, results usually are improved.
I used to work in a standards setting organization. Our job was to set and publish standards for projects and programs to make them more successful. At the time every project in my company had a different way to do things. As a result it was difficult for people to move between projects to work, and also difficult for management to get an accurate, objective picture of how one project was doing compared to another.
One of my assignments was to develop and deploy a scorecard for evaluating projects. We didn’t have money to buy corporate tools for this, so we developed something in Excel. It wasn’t perfect, but it got things started. Part of my job was to get it deployed.
We weren’t seeking advice on how to improve the tool. We wanted people to use it for a few months, gather some data and evaluate. Each time I went to a new group I was met with resistance. People didn’t want to be measured at all, let alone by an organization that was external to theirs. The more they resisted, the more rigid I became in the notion that they had to do it our way.
Ultimately that portion of my job failed. We didn’t get nearly the volume of data we needed to make good evaluations. Since then many things have changed, and the tool I developed was retired for one that was far more accurate (and expensive). Along the way that standards setting body got a lot of support from senior management, so their success rate went up dramatically.
What I learned at the time was that I wasn’t picking my battles well. In my zeal to have a standard way to look at things, I missed the opportunity to get traction with the groups. Rather than accepting the data from them in an imperfect state, and using that knowledge to develop the tool further, I stood firm. My own true grit got in the way.
What I am saying in all this is that for me, sometimes, I need to be more flexible than the Duke. I definitely need to have grit and determination, but I have to first make sure that I am determined to do what is ultimately the right thing to do.
Gritty determination toward a bad decision, is still a bad decision.