Monday, November 26, 2012

Need for Achievement

Need for achievement is not just an expression but an area of study in Psychology. This desire known as N-Ach can be tested in personality tests such as an AVA and TAT. For Managers, Business Owners and Senior execs, being able to determine N-Ach and Grit should be taken into consideration when recruiting and promoting people talent.

Need for achievement (N-Ach) refers to an individual's desire for significant accomplishment, mastering of skills, control, or high standards. The term was first used by Henry Murray[1] and associated with a range of actions. These include: "intense, prolonged and repeated efforts to accomplish something difficult. To work with singleness of purpose towards a high and distant goal. To have the determination to win". The concept of NAch was subsequently popularised by the psychologist David McClelland.[citation needed]
Need for Achievement is related to the difficulty of tasks people choose to undertake. Those with low N-Ach may choose very easy tasks, in order to minimize risk of failure, or highly difficult tasks, such that a failure would not be embarrassing. Those with high N-Ach tend to choose moderately difficult tasks, feeling that they are challenging, but within reach.
People high in N-Ach are characterised by a tendency to seek challenges and a high degree of independence. Their most satisfying reward is the recognition of their achievements. Sources of high N-Ach include:
  1. Parents who encouraged independence in childhood
  2. Praise and rewards for success
  3. Association of achievement with positive feelings
  4. Association of achievement with one's own competence and effort, not luck
  5. A desire to be effective or challenged
  6. Intrapersonal Strength 


The pioneering research work of the Harvard Psychological Clinic in the 1930s, summarised in Explorations in Personality, provided the start point for future studies of personality, especially those relating to needs and motives. David C. McClelland's and his associates' investigations of achievement motivation have particular relevance to the emergence of leadership. McClelland was interested in the possibility of deliberately arousing a motive to achieve in an attempt to explain how individuals express their preferences for particular outcomes — a general problem of motivation. In this connection, the need for achievement refers to an individual's preference for success under conditions of competition. The vehicle McClelland employed to establish the presence of an achievement motive was the type of fantasy a person expressed on the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), developed by Christiana Morgan and Henry Murray, who note in Explorations in Personality that "...when a person interprets an ambiguous social situation he is apt to expose his own personality as much as the phenomenon to which he is attending... Each picture should suggest some critical situation and be effective in evoking a fantasy relating to it" (p531). The test is composed of a series of pictures that subjects are asked to interpret and describe to the psychologist. The TAT has been widely used to support assessment of needs and motives.[2]

The procedure in McClelland's initial investigation was to arouse in the test audience a concern with their achievement. A control group was used in which arousal was omitted. In the course of this experiment, McClelland discovered through analyzing the stories on the TAT that initial arousal was not necessary. Instead, members of the control group — individuals who had had no prior arousal — demonstrated significant differences in their stories, some writing stories with a high achievement content and some submitting stories with a low achievement content. Using results based on the Thematic Apperception Test, McClelland demonstrated that individuals in a society can be grouped into high achievers and low achievers based on their scores on what he called "N-Ach".[2]

McClelland and his associates have since extended their work in fantasy analysis to include different age groups, occupational groups, and nationalities in their investigations of the strength of need for achievement. These investigations have indicated that the N-Ach score increases with a rise in occupational level. Invariably, businessmen, managers, and entrepreneurs are high scorers. Other investigations into the characteristics of the high achievers have revealed that accomplishment on the job represents an end in itself; monetary rewards serve as an index of this accomplishment. In addition, these other studies found that the high achievers, though identified as managers, businessmen, and entrepreneurs, are not gamblers. They will accept risk only to the degree they believe their personal contributions will make a difference in the final outcome.[3]

These explorations into the achievement motive seem to turn naturally into the investigation of national differences based on Max Weber's thesis that the industrialization and economic development of the Western nations were related to the Protestant ethic and its corresponding values supporting work and achievement. McClelland and his associates have satisfied themselves that such a relationship, viewed historically through an index of national power consumption, indeed exists. Differences related to individual, as well as to national, accomplishments depend on the presence or absence of an achievement motive in addition to economic resources or the infusion of financial assistance. High achievers can be viewed as satisfying a need for self-actualization through accomplishments in their job assignments as a result of their particular knowledge, their particular experiences, and the particular environments in which they have lived.[4]


The techniques McClelland and his collaborators developed to measure N-Ach, N-Affil and N-Pow (see McClelland et al., 1958) can be viewed as a radical break with the dominant psychometric tradition. However, it should be recognised that McClellend's thinking was strongly influenced by the pioneering work of Henry Murray, both in terms of Murray's model of human needs and motivational processes (1938) and his work with the OSS during World War Two. It was during this period that Murray introduced the idea of "situation tests" and multi-rater / multi-method assessments. It was Murray who first identified the significance of Need for Achievement, Power and Affiliation and placed these in the context of an integrated motivational model.

Whilst trait-based personality theory assume that high-level competencies like initiative, creativity, and leadership can be assessed using “internally consistent” measures (see psychometrics), the McClelland measures recognize that such competencies are difficult and demanding activities which will neither be developed nor displayed unless people are undertaking activities they care about (i.e. are strongly motivated to undertake). Furthermore, it is the cumulative number of independent, but cumulative and substitutable, components of competence they bring to bear while seeking to carry out these activities that will determine their success. Accordingly, the N-Ach, N-Aff and N-Pow scoring systems simply count how many components of competence people bring to bear whilst carrying out activities they have a strong personal inclination (or motivation) to undertake.

An important corollary is that there is no point in trying to assess people’s abilities without first finding out what they care about. So one cannot (as some psychometricians try to do) assess such things as “creativity” in any general sense. One has always to ask “creativity in relation to what?” So McClelland’s measures, originally presented as means of assessing “personality”, are best understood as means of measuring competence in ways which break radically with traditional psychometric approaches. (See Raven (2001) for a fuller discussion).

Monday, November 12, 2012

What is Grit?

Thinking of some of successful people, one of the greatest attributes they hold is grit. It's an odd term and not main stream in most talk paths, more studies have come out on how grit contributes to over achievement.

I pulled this off Wikipedia as a reference and it has some interesting definitions, links and empirical data.

If you DISC or personality test your candidates, perhaps a "Grit" test would be a better gauge of future success, especially in sales.

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization. Commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include "perseverance," "hardiness," "resilience,” “ambition,” “need for achievement” and conscientiousness. These constructs can be conceptualized as individual differences related to the accomplishment of work rather than latent ability.This distinction was brought into focus in 1907 when William James challenged the field to further investigate how certain individuals are capable of accessing richer trait reservoirs enabling them to accomplish more than the average person,[1] but the construct dates back at least to Galton, and the ideals of persistence and tenacity have been understood as a virtue at least since Aristotle. Although the last decade has seen a noticeable increase in research focused on achievement-oriented traits, there continues to be difficulty in aligning specific traits and outcomes.

Definition of Grit

Grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” [2] Building upon biographical collections of famous leaders in history, researchers and scientists have reached similar conclusions about high achieving individuals. Specifically, those individuals who were deemed more successful and influential than their contemporary counterparts typically possessed traits above and beyond that of normal ability.[3][4][5] While ability was still critically important, these individuals also possessed “zeal” and “persistence of motive and effort.”[2] Duckworth and colleagues (2007) believe this dual-component of Grit to be a crucial differentiator from similar constructs. Grit is conceptualized as a stable trait that does not require immediate positive feedback.[2] Individuals high in Grit are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods of time despite experiences with failure and adversity. Their passion and commitment towards the long-term objective is the overriding factor that provides the stamina required to “stay the course” amid challenges and set-backs. Essentially, the Grittier person is focused on winning the marathon, not the sprint.

Literature Comparisons

Grit and Positive Psychology

Grit also ties in with positive psychology and in particular, with perseverance. As mentioned earlier, the ability to stick with and pursue a goal over a long period of time is an important aspect of Grit. This area of positive psychology has been interested in the process of perseverance as a positive indicator of long term success.[6] Grit’s inclusion of the perseverance construct is perhaps unsurprising as Angela Duckworth was a doctoral candidate under Martin Seligman.

Grit and Intelligence

One of the best predictors of future achievement has been intelligence.[7] This relationship has been found in scholastic achievement as well as in job performance.[8] As such, one might expect that grit would be strongly correlated with intelligence. In fact, this prompted one of the early questions asked in Grit research, “Why do some individuals accomplish more than others of equal intelligence?”.[2] Somewhat surprisingly, in four separate samples, Grit was found to be either orthogonal to or slightly inversely correlated with intelligence.[9] This means that Grit, unlike many traditional measures of performance is not tied to intelligence. As the researchers have suggested, this helps explain why some very intelligent individuals do not consistently perform well over long periods of time.

[edit] Grit and Personality Measures

The Grit measure has been compared to the Big Five personality model, which are a group of broad personality dimensions consisting of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.[10] In one study by Duckworth and Quinn, the Short Grit Scale (Grit–S) and 12-item self-report measure of Grit (Grit–O) measuring Grit was strongly correlated with conscientiousness (r = .77, p <.001 and r = .73, p <.001) (2009). While Grit is related to conscientiousness measures, it also differs from conscientiousness in important ways. For example, while both Grit and conscientiousness are often associated with short term accomplishments, Grit is also associated with longer term and multi-year goals.[2] This long-term persistence and dependability are important aspects that make Grit distinct from conscientiousness. Another personality characteristic that is often linked to Grit is the need for achievement. One way in which Grit differs from the need for achievement is that individuals with high scores in Grit often set extremely long-term goals for themselves and pursue them deliberately even without positive feedback,[2] while need for achievement lacks this long-term component.

Comparison with related psychological constructs

Traditional constructs in this area include perseverance, hardiness, resilience, ambition, and need for achievement. Grit has been argued to be distinguishable from each of these in the following ways. Perseverance is the steadfast pursuit of a task, mission, or journey in spite of obstacles, discouragement, or distraction. In contrast, Grit is argued to be trait to perseverance. Grit enables an individual to persevere in accomplishing a goal despite obstacles over an extended period of time.[2] When compared with the construct of persistence, Grit adds a component of passion for the goal.[11] This goal passion also contributes to the ability of the individual to sustain effort over the long term.
Maddi (2006) defines hardiness as a combination of attitudes that provide the courage and motivation to do the hard, strategic work of turning stressful circumstances from potential disasters into growth opportunities.[12] While Grit is primarily a measure of an individual’s ability to persist in obtaining a specific goal over an extended time period (Duckworth et al., 2007), hardiness refers to an individual’s ability to persist through difficult circumstances and does not address the individual’s long term persistence toward a specific goal.[2] Maddi (2006) developed a theoretical model of hardiness as a tool for developing resilience.[12]
Resilience is a dynamic process in which an individual overcomes significant adversity, usually in the form of a life changing event or difficult personal circumstances. Resilience can be conceptualized as an adaptive response to a challenging situation.[13] Grit involves maintaining goal focused effort for extended periods of time, often while facing adversity but does not require a critical incident. Importantly, Grit is conceptualized as a trait while resilience is a dynamic process. Finally, resilience has been almost exclusively studied in children (cf. Luther, Doernberger, & Zigler, 1993) who are born into “at-risk” situations.[13] Although resilience researchers recognize that adults likely demonstrate resilience in a similar manner to children, the resilience process has not been studied in a mature population.[14]
Ambition is broadly defined as the desire for attainment, power, or superiority. In contrast to ambitious individuals, Gritty individuals do not seek fame or external recognition for their achievements. Ambition is often associated with a desire for fame.[15] Unlike ambitious individuals, gritty individuals do not seek to distinguish themselves from other people, but to obtain personal goals.
McClelland (1961) describes need for achievement as a drive to complete manageable goals that enable the individual to receive immediate feedback.[16] In contrast to need for achievement, Gritty individuals consciously set long-term goals that are difficult to attain and do not waver from these difficult goals, regardless of the presence of feedback. Additionally, need for achievement has been studied for almost 50 years and has been found to positively correlate to self-efficacy and learning goal orientation.[17][18] These links have not yet been tested in the Grit literature.

Scientific Findings

The primary scientific findings on Grit come from Duckworth and colleagues’ examination of Grit as an individual difference trait capable of predicting long-term success.[2] It was proposed that individuals who possess a drive to tirelessly work through challenges, failures, and adversity to achieve set goals and are uniquely positioned to reach higher achievements than others who lack similar stamina. In a series of six studies Duckworth et al. proposed, developed, and tested a two-factor Grit scale with notable results. In addition to validating their Grit scale, the authors also found support suggesting that Grit provided incremental predictive validity for education and age above and beyond the Big 5 personality traits (Study 2); that higher levels of Grit were more highly associated with cumulative grade point average (GPA) in an Ivy league sample when compared to those with lower Grit levels (r = .25, p < .01; Study 3); that Grit predicted retention after their first summer in two classes of cadets at the United States Military Academy (Study 4); and that participants in a National Spelling Bee with higher Grit scores typically work harder and longer than less Gritty peers, ultimately resulting in better performance. This series of studies provides empirical evidence that an individual difference conceptualized as Grit can account for significant variance in performance across a variety of settings. Grit predicts beyond the typical and unrelated cognitive construct of IQ and can account for variance over and above what is observed in the Big 5 personality construct of conscientiousness.
In 2009, Duckworth and Quinn found additional support for the Grit construct when they developed and validated a more condensed version of the Grit Scale (Grit-S) by removing four of the previous items and improving its psychometric properties. Using samples from the data collected in their 2007 studies, the authors were able to achieve complementary results that suggested the positive relationships between Grit and educational attainment, GPA, retention in college, and success in a national spelling bee competition.

Future Directions

Questions may surface relating to what additional cognitive and non-cognitive traits play complementary roles in the development of Grit. Of additional interest may be how the distinctive environmental conditions, specifically the interrelationships of emotional and cognitive load, might moderate and assist in explaining why some individuals succumb to significant challenges or struggle with obstacles that block their path to goal achievement, while others are able to overcome these barriers. The United States military believes that this and similar constructs may assist in explaining why some soldiers are better equipped to handle the psychological trauma of combat.[19] Other on-going work includes investigations of the combined or multiplicative impacts of both cognitive and Grit-like predictors of achievement in leader adaptability situations.[20]