G is for Gumption

There are many models for doing fine work. One approach is for a person to focus on the specific activities in which they have the gifts and the gumption required to do great work.

There are several definitions for gumption. These include people having common sense, courage and practical skills required to deliver the goods. Here are two explanations:

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:

The ability to decide what is the best thing to do in a particular situation and then to do it with energy and determination.

The Grammarist website
gives the following background:

Gumption means bravery, get-up-and-go, drive or initiative. Someone who possesses gumption is a self-starter and has the nerve and motivation to succeed.

However, this current definition of gumption didn’t arise until the nineteenth century. Before that time, gumption was a Scottish term and meant having street smarts or common sense, or being shrewd.

People can use this quality to build on their strengths and do fine work. This often involves them focusing on the following steps.


They can clarify the specific activities in which they demonstrate the gifts required to do great work. They can recognise that these may be specialist gifts but that some of these skills may be transferable across different fields.  


They can develop the gumption – the common sense and savvy – required to reach their goals. They can focus on the following themes.

How to apply their gifts to achieve specific goals.

How to show the grit required to achieve the specific goals. 

How to use the gumption required to achieve the specific goals.

Great Work

They can keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance. They can embody the ethic of constant improvement and develop the habit of doing great work.

Looking at your own life and work, can you think of a specific activity in which you have the gifts and gumption required to do great work? This may be in a specialist area or niche.

You may show it when pursuing a passion, practising a skill, managing money or making certain decisions. You may show it when working with specific clients, leading creative teams, managing certain kinds of crises or doing another activity.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific activity in which you may have the gumption required to build on a gift you have and aim to do great work.  

Describe some specific examples of when you have demonstrated gumption when doing this activity in the past.

Robert Pirsig referred to gumption in his book Zen Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. He saw the word as synonymous with quality. Here are some quotes from the book. (Pirsig used ‘he’ to refer to both male and female.)

I like the word ‘gumption’ because it’s so homely and so forlorn and so out of style it looks as if it needs a friend and isn’t likely to reject anyone who comes along.

I like it also because it describes exactly what happens to someone who connects with Quality. He gets filled with gumption.

A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.

If you’re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool.

If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good.

People who make a living doing what they love often need gumption. They need to get the right balance between creativity, customers and cash.

Creativity is a good starting point. But it is vital to provide great service to customers and get cash in the bank. This helps to feed future creativity.

Social entrepreneurs also need gumption. Such people often do work that makes their soul sing, but they also need savvy. This will help them to negotiate the many hurdles they face on the way to delivering success.

Nick Offerman, the actor and author, wrote Gumption: Relight the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers. In it he pays homage to some of his personal heroes and heroines who showed gumption.

The book describes well-known figures such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt and Yoko Ono. It also provides insights into the work done by artisans, farmers and others who pursue their calling. Here are some quotes from Nick.

I am always hugely inspired (and personally relieved) to learn of the hard work that was required of any of my heroes before they could arrive at the level of mastery for which they ultimately garnered renown.

Part of what defines gumption involves a willingness, even a hunger, for one’s mettle to be challenged. 

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. 

Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of you – and go after those things as if nothing else matters. Because, actually, nothing else does. 

Here is a video in which Nick explains more about the book. You can also discover more about his ventures via his twitter feed.


Today there are many websites that describe how people can demonstrate gumption. Some tell the stories of real-life individuals, campaigners, artists, entrepreneurs and pioneers we can learn from.

Some websites describe famous or fictional characters who have demonstrated gumption. Here is an excerpt from one such site. This highlights 30 Women With Gumption Movies. You can discover more via the following link.

Only Good Movies

30 Women With Gumption Movies 

These 30 women with gumption movies are perfect for anyone looking to be entertained by tales of strong and independent females.

From gun-toting cowgirls to determined cotton farmers, this list covers a wide range of genres and time periods. But they all have one thing in common: the men take a backseat to the women, and the estrogen will flow like a raging river. 

And just in case you’re wondering what in the blue blazes the word “gumption” means, let’s take a look at the definitions provided by Dictionary.com:

Common Sense

Here are some of the films that the website mentions.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Julia Roberts captured a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of real-life figure Erin Brockovich, a single mom who gets a job as a file clerk at a lawyer’s office and ends up discovering a massive cover-up involving Pacific Gas and Electric.

Miss Potter (2006)

Renee Zellweger stars as Beatrix Potter, the author of such children’s stories as Peter Rabbit. A strong-willed woman, she starts her career as an author, defies her parents when it comes to marriage, and eventually begins buying up property to help preserve nature.

9 to 5 (1980)

Sick and tired of their sexist boss (Dabney Coleman), a trio of female employees (Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda) decide to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) 

Directed by Ang Lee, this international production features lots of eye-popping fight sequences and wire work, but none is more impressive than the showdown between Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and Jen (Zhang Ziyi), two martial arts masters with plenty of issues to work out. 

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Hillary Swank won her second Oscar for playing Margareth Fitzgerald, a scrappy waitress who lives her Missouri hometown and heads to Los Angeles to become a professional boxer.

Norma Rae (1979)

Sally Field won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a factory worker in Alabama who becomes involved with the struggle to bring in a labor union. Based on the real-life tale of Crystal Lee Sutton.

A key question is: “Is it possible to develop gumption?” The answer is yes, but this comes with several provisos. A person must have the right attitude and want to learn. They must also have some natural ability in the specific activity.

Let’s assume that they meet these conditions. They can then follow the classic steps that people often take when learning about a topic.

Developing Gumption. The person can aim: 

To focus on the specific activity in which they want to improve and clarify what they want to learn about the specific activity.

To study good practice – what works – in the specific activity and also gather hands-on experience by doing the specific activity.  

To clarify what they have learned and how they can apply this knowledge in the future when doing the specific activity.

Let’s return to the specific activity in which you may want to build on a possible gift you have and develop your gumption. You may want to focus on counselling, playing a sport, leading a team, building a successful prototype or pursuing another activity.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific activity in which you may have the gumption required to build on a gift you have and aim to do great work.

Describe the specific things you can do to develop your gumption in this activity. 

Describe the specific benefits of developing your gumption in this activity.

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