Check out The Calculus of Grit by Venkat Rao. This article is somewhat similar to my Jack of all trades post but goes into far more depth. It is about 20 times longer than my article and well worth reading.

Venkat Rao compares discipline boundaries to extrinsic coordinates and one’s career to intrinsic coordinates. You don’t have to understand the mathematical significance of these terms to read The Calculus of Grit, though it helps. Extrinsic coordinates describe a surface as it sits inside a larger space. Intrinsic coordinates describe a surface as it would be experienced by a bug crawling around on it. A line that is straight in one coordinate system will typically not be straight in the other coordinate system.

For some background on the technical use of the term “grit,” see the Psychology Today article The Winning Edge. (The math in the first paragraph is annoying because the superscripts were stripped in the online version of the article. It says, for example, 32 + 42 = 52.)

Thanks to DavidC for pointing out Venkat Rao’s post.

I’ve been fascinated by “grit” recently myself. I find again and again that grit is an important factor in success, whether it is personal experience, or studying the life of someone I find interesting.

What really blows my mind, however, is that grit in some ways is a finite resource that we are all blessed with to different degrees. I think of it much like a muscle. You can increase your own supply of grit though training, but not everyone is an Olympian.

I was happy to see VR’s dazzling and free-flowing style, bringing together mathematics and career / business thoughts. But, I think there are a lot of problems with the “coordinatisation” he presents. I left some longer comments on VR’s site, but briefly:

* He’s right to question along what dimension 10,000 hours is supposed to add up.

* There’s something to be explained about how 5,000 hours of rocket science gives one an advantage in marketing / business intelligence.

* But “progress” and “zero” don’t work as a linear basis.

* He’s also missing comparative advantage, supply & demand, and I think his theory is twisting itself into accepting & rejecting his preferred & demurred “interdisciplinary fields”.

In short, the intrinsic vs extrinsic coordinate system metaphor sounds more like one rocket scientist’s view of his career trajectory, than a generally applicable metaphor for any given career path.

(Then again, I demurred about your jack-of-all-trades post too. I think my non-academic background has turned me against academic categories … or “dimensions”.)