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Praising effort over intelligence

Researchers from Columbia University conducted a study to understand the effect of praise on children. The researchers randomly selected students from schools throughout New York and gave them a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles easy enough that all children would do fairly well. Upon finishing the puzzles, each student was given a single line of praise — some praised for their intelligence (“you must be smart at this“) and some praised for their effort (“you must have worked really hard“).

The students were then given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90% chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explores what makes a person successful and asks the question, “Why do some talented people flame out early while others go on to brilliant careers?

Malcolm’s main premise is, “Success doesn’t have much to do with talent. It’s almost always a product of hard work and the culture of which we live our lives.

But I think Malcolm is really describing the development of genius and how the environment/culture either encourages or discourages people from focusing on a certain areas or ideas. Go the wrong way and you miss developing into your true potential.

From my perspective, genius is not so much measured by IQ, although a high IQ helps, but genius can be measured by how rare and valuable your perspective is and how effectively you see patterns and make associations or connections among disparate ideas.

Developing these rare or unique perspectives usually takes deliberate and devoted focus on something (like when Malcolm talks about the 10,000-hour rule).

Einstein wasn’t a genius because he was most skilled in math. Einstein became a genius because he relentlessly explored a problem, following it out farther than anyone had taken it before. This allowed him to see connections that no one had seen before, and these connections/discoveries were valuable to humanity.

So yes, praise people for their effort — it’s one of the requisite components of genius.