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There's an excellent quote from the Korean file "My Sassy Girl" about this. To paraphrase, "Never tell a child he's smart, after a while he'll begin to believe it and start to get lazy."



It's such a shame that people who want to be popular define "smart as"

    smart = results/effort
It gives them an incentive to slack, and while that may work in the lower tiers of the school system, they're going to hit a brick wall at some point, and for many, it will be too late for them to do anything to catch up.

I also recall someone on Quora referring as the distorted picture in places like Stanford described as the "duck syndrome": on the surface, everyone seems to be coasting calmly, but below, they are paddling like mad.

* * *

Praising kids and people can be so friggin' difficult. I remember playing football (soccer) in school, and I was a bit of a geek, but when I played, I would sometimes get all these "compliments": "Nice one, kmfrk!", "You played a great match today" from class mates and the gym class teacher. Most meant well by it - some didn't - but even though I wasn't very old, what was going on was very transparent. (I was a blatantly bad player, except as a goalie, so I took the compliments about my role as the latter more to heart.)

It downright annoyed me, because I knew that I was awful.

It has made it very hard for me to discern actual praise in my life.


Your equation is mathematically equivalent to:

    results = effort x smart
The problem is optimizing this equation for smart, rather than for results.


I like that construction. The article also emphasizes teaching kids another contributing equation:

  smart = sum(previous efforts)
Giving a final equation:

  immediate results = immediate effort * sum(previous efforts)


I don't think aiming at the results/effort equation is a bad heuristic for lots of things, depending on how effort is defined. Though maybe it isn't a good equation for schooling in particular, and I agree defining people as unintelligent based on them putting in effort isn't a good strategy.

It's the basic heuristic of elegant code, for example: elegant code maximizes the ratio of results to coding effort. The opposite is when you get the results, but by slogging through a bunch of inelegant boilerplate.

It's also the whole premise behind the "hacking the workweek" type ideas, though I realize not everyone likes those.

If anything, I'd say it's a pretty pervasive part of hacker culture, and what differentiates it to some extent from "normal" engineering culture: hackers aim for that results/effort win, the cool hack, virtuosic performance, etc., rather than the N-hour straightforward, carefully managed slog. Not even just because it saves time/money, but because somehow it's intrinsically interesting to see people finding ways to get great results via a route other than "I just plowed through it and got it done". That's sometimes necessary too, but it's not the part that gives the hacker spirit a spark.


The problem here is that you were comparing yourself with the rest of the people.

I have trained track and field for some years now and if I would try to compare myself with Michael Johnson, I would always be a failure. But in every sport you are (at the end) just trying to improve yourself and competing against yourself. My point is that you could have been doing a good game (for you) even without being anything similar to Pele, and maybe they were praising you for that.


I totally get that it'd be okay to praise me for making progress of putting effort into it, but - at least - in these cases, I weren't really. That's why it annoyed me.

It's also a reminder to be specific about your praise, too - nebulous praise is useless.


"It gives them an incentive to slack, and while that may work in the lower tiers of the school system, they're going to hit a brick wall at some point, and for many, it will be too late for them to do anything to catch up."

Agreed. I hit the wall in the final year at University. Worst time ever.


Story of my life.


been there, done that :)


Haha, wow. That's the first time I've ever heard reference to that film outside Korea. Awesome. And it's totally true. It took me decades to get over my I'm smart syndrome.


Or the child will be obsessed with living up to the high opinion everyone has of him and avoid anything that might make him look dumb.




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