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This was probably taken from the work of Carol Dweck[0]. I recently read a book she wrote (Mindset[1]) that was recommended on a thread here. The book title sounds like some corny self-help book, and honestly some of the stories in it seemed a bit sappy to me, but I think the underlying idea is solid and I definitely see it myself a lot in my day to day life (full disclosure: recovering fixed mindset person :)).

The basic premise is there are two types of mindsets, a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Those with the fixed mindset are those that believe that intelligence, ability, etc.. is basically fixed. You have some certain amount and that's that. The growth mindset believes the general range of these things may be strongly influenced ('fixed') by things like genetics, life circumstances, etc... but improvement within this range is definitely possible and the key to that is hard work and honest assessment of where you are relative to where you want to be.

This relates to the achievement vs. hard work thing because she claims children who are praised for 'being smart' or 'being good at X' tend to gravitate towards the fixed mindset (i.e. 'I get praised because I am smart, I am smart because I can do X well/X comes easily to me, if something doesn't come easily to me it must mean I am not smart/talented'). This causes them to not put in effort when the going gets tough and in fact to avoid challenges because if they fail they view it as a judgement on their core self/competency (not simply an indication of an area for growth).

The growth mindset folks (children praised for doing well because they worked hard at it as opposed to some natural talent or 'smarts') tend to seek challenges as they view them as the engine of growth/improvement.

Using these frameworks as a lens on which to view human behavior can be interesting. I have definitely seen both mindsets in action (in myself and others). I definitely , consciously, try to stay in a growth mindset now, but I think our culture heavily pushes a fixed mindset where someone either has 'it' or they don't, they are smart or they are not, they are talented or they are not. We prefer the 'instant success due to massive talent/smarts' story over the 'worked their ass off for years to build amazing talent and then succeeded due to that hard work'.

The book Talent Is Overrated[2] also touches on this and points out most people that we generally consider 'naturals' at things, if you interview them/study them/look at their past, all have something in common, a tremendous amount of effort in learning/training, above and beyond what most people put in. This also veers towards the 10,000 hour theory of Anders Ericsson[3]

EDIT: Fixed a bunch typos/misspelling I saw in re-reading. Originally typed in IE with no spell check. Area for improvement: spelling.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Dweck

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Mindset-The-New-Psychology-Success/dp/...

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Overrated-World-Class-Performer...

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K._Anders_Ericsson

The problem I have with this is that in real life, it doesn't matter how hard you work on something; what matters is the quality of the result. While I understand that praising kids for being smart causes problems, as Dweck suggests, I'm concerned that the approach she recommends will encourage the belief, already widespread, that effort alone is deserving of reward. This belief encourages struggle and mediocrity.

I think the hidden assumption is that "hard work" is also applied to learning not just pure rote doubling of effort to pick twice as many apples in a day. Rather the key is "persistence" and even more saw "persistence in learning".

This can make a huge difference if a breakthrough occurs on a meta-level and eventually you get better at learning, by repeatedly trying to learn something, you learn how to learn better, then learning anything is easier.

How is the quality of results what matters?

When you focus exclusively on the quality of results, you stop growing.

It's not about "effort", so much as the deliberateness in which you go about things. (The word "effort" is weighed down with a number of baggage and connotation). Or to put in different words, how mindful are you as you are doing whatever it is you are doing?

> what matters is the quality of the result

Actually, I think what matters is the right mix of quantity and quality. Too much perfection wastes time for nothing. And sometimes I am too perfectionist unfortunately.

If you are simply focused on that task in front of you, sure, it looks like that. The change is in the person and how they approach future problems and tasks.

Yes, I likely oversimplified her message, sorry. She never advocates praising effort in isolation from outcome. She advocates praising effort as the key factor in successful outcomes, and analyzing failures to understand what caused them and how you can grow your skillset to avoid them in the future. Her concern with a fixed mindset is that a loss/setback simply means someone else was better/smarter than you and there isn't much you can do about it. That or, to protect your ego, perhaps they cheated or the judges liked them better, or they were born to wealthy parents and had advantages you didn't or whatever other excuse people come up to explain a loss when they feel a loss labels them as a loser for all time. If you have the mindset that you can learn/improve from these experiences then a loss/failure isn't something to be hidden in shame, but something to be analyzed and used to make yourself better.

She has a story about a parent whose daughter was competing in gymnastics and at the local level always did pretty well without much practice. She went to a regional meet and did well relative to her skills but was outperformed by others and ended up not winning any medals/ribbons. On the way home the dad basically told her she didn't win because she didn't deserve to, i.e. the other competitors had put in more practice than she had and it showed in their performance. He didn't say 'they beat you because they are more talented' or 'they beat you because they are superior athletes', those are the kinds of statements that imply there is some core quality that the winners had that his daughter didn't have and thus she could never be better than them. Instead he basically said 'they buckled down and put in the long hours, if you did that you would have had a better chance'.

Dweck pointed out that he wasn't saying this to be a dick, and of course feedback like this much be couched correctly for people to hear it, but he wanted his daughter to know that to compete you have to put in the effort to learn/practice. If others put in more effort than you then they deserve to win, all else being equal. The story ended with her doubling down on her effort/practice (since she realized her local competitors which she could easily beat were only indicative of her talent vis-a-vis them, not some absolute barometer for her skills) and going on to compete successfully at a national level.

You are right that if I try and deliver some project at work and it fails I can't tell my boss 'but I tried really hard!' :) That said, if you look at most successful projects/people you see a LOT of hard work at some point to deliver on things. Some people make it look easy, but that is likely because they have done all the hard work years earlier building their skillsets. If they have done more of that than you then it shouldn't be surprising that their skills seem so superior to yours. They weren't born being masters of anything (hell, babies can't even manage to not shit themselves for a few years :)), but they put in time and effort even when there was little/no reward for that investment (in the immediate here and now, obviously there is reward later when you are able to do seemingly super-human things easily).

Ah. Thanks for the clarification.

One a related note: Aaron Swartz wrote an article series he calls "raw nerve". One of those articles expands on Carol Dweck's work: http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/dweck


>The problem I have with this is that in real life, it doesn't matter how hard you work on something; what matters is the quality of the result.

What makes you think the two are unrelated? If one is hopelessly incopetent maybe, but for most people hard work equals better results.

It's something that has been stated time and again regarding geniuses / very productive people et al, in the form of, say, the "10,000 hour rule", or the "99 perspiration, 1% inspiration".

Results may be correlated with effort if you consider a single person. However, in real life, you're usually competing with someone else.

Let's say we're comparing two employees: X works hard 80 hours a week; Y works only 40 hours a week and takes long lunches. But somehow, Y still ends up producing more results of a better quality. A rational manager should pay Y more than X, since it's only the end results that are of value to the company.

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