The Gumption Approach

There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is for a person to focus on the specific activities where they have gumption and can to apply their gifts to do great work.

Imagine that you want to follow this approach in your own way. Let’s explore these themes.


There are several definitions for gumption. These include people having common sense, courage and the competence required to deliver the goods. Here are some definitions.

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

It 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.

It was originally a Scottish team that meant having common sense or being shrewd. It is the ability to decide what is the best thing to do in a particular situation and then to do it with energy and determination.

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.

Some people have gumption – common sense and savvy – in certain areas but not in others. A person may have developed this through their natural feeling for an activity and also learning through experience.

What are the specific activities where you demonstrate gumption? Here are some answers that people give to this question.

Gumption – I Demonstrate Gumption When I Am:

Helping recovering alcoholics … Buying and selling antiques … Being a chef in a Michelin Star restaurant … Managing certain kinds of crises … Playing in a particular position in a football team … Mentoring leaders in pioneering companies.

Clarifying a specific activity where you have gumption is a good starting point. It can then be useful to clarify whether you have the ability to do superb work in this area. Let’s explore this theme.


Gumption can help you to do several things. First, to see what is happening in a situation. Second, to clarify the desired results; c) to clarify the strategy you can follow to achieve success.

Great workers sometimes also possess another quality. They have strengths they can apply in the specific situation to achieve success.

What are the activities where you have both the gumption and gifts to do superb work? This may be when doing certain kinds of work with certain kinds of people in certain situations.

Robert Pirsig referred to both gumption and gifts in his book Zen Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. He saw the word gumption 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.

Great Work

Some people apply their gumption and gifts to do great work. Different people do great work. Different people do this in different ways.

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. 

Today there are 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 describe famous or fictional characters who have show gumption. Here is an excerpt from the Only Good Movies Blog which describes films in which women demonstrate this qualities.

These 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. 

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 leaves 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.

Developing Gumption – A Person Can Aim: 

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

To clarify the specific activity where they want to improve and to study good practice – what works – in this activity;

To clarify the strategy they want to follow, perform superb work and do their best to achieve their goals when doing the activity;

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

Let’s return to your own work. What may be the specific activity where you have the ability to follow the gumption approach? What are the specific things you can do to follow this approach when doing this activity? What may happen as a result of taking these steps?

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

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>