The Inverse Power of Praise
Some of the most talented people I know are also the laziest. Convinced of their natural superiority, they not only lack stick-to-it-ive-ness, they can be intellectually lazy. If one is gifted, one is also superior, and if one is superior, what else do you need?
When brains and effort go hand in hand, you get a successful person. Without work, you have the classic underachiever.
Intelligence is like any other kind of talent: an innate ability. Innate intellectual ability, like any advantage, comes with drawbacks.
Children who are told they are smart believe it (whether it is true or not), and conclude that being smart means being freed from pesky things like effort. Smart kids conclude that things should come naturally to them. If they have to work at something, they must not be good at it. A difficult task can be taken as proof that they are not smart. Not wanting to be seen as less than brainy, the smart kids give up, while the hard-working kids excel.
The kids who are labeled smart are also more likely to cheat and lie because it is more important for them to be seen as smart than to actually be able to accomplish the tasks they have been assigned. The label becomes a status symbol to be protected at any cost.
This holds true for adults as well. It’s not The Man keeping some immensely talented creators down – or the unfairness of the world – it’s when some encounter difficulty they decide that their talent should sail them through the troubles of life. Only lesser mortals should have to work.
Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.
Repeating her experiments, Dweck found this effect of praise on performance held true for students of every socioeconomic class. It hit both boys and girls—the very brightest girls especially (they collapsed the most following failure). Even preschoolers weren’t immune to the inverse power of praise.
It’s interesting that psychologist Nathaniel Branden is cited in the article, as Branden had once been a follower of Ayn Rand. He wrote many books on positive thinking – which is nothing if it isn’t backed up with the reality of right action.
While I don’t agree that hard work makes you a genius at anything, I agree that hard work enhances natural abilities.
An individual can create works of quality by enhancing natural abilities with effort, and with so many naturally gifted people not capitalizing on their gifts, they just make it easier on those who are willing to work to excel.