Curse of the Gifted

Why effort is more important than intelligence.

Folksonomies: child rearing intelligence effort

Do Not Praise Your Children\'s Intelligence

On the successful completion of a test, they should not have said,“I’m so proud of you. You’re so smart. They should have said, “I’m so proud of you. You must have really studied hard”. This appeals to controllable effort rather than to unchangeable talent. It’s called “growth mindset” praise. More than 30 years of study show that children raised in growth-mindset homes consistently outscore their fixed-mindset peers in academic achievement. They do better in adult life, too. That’s not surprising. Children with a growth mindset tend to have a refreshing attitude toward failure. They do not ruminate over their mistakes. They simply perceive errors as problems to be solved, then go to work. In the lab as well as in school, they spend much more time banging away at harder tasks than fixed-mindset students. They solve those problems more often, too. Kids regularly praised for effort successfully complete 50 percent to 60 percent more hard math problems than kids praised for intelligence. Carol Dweck, a noted researcher in the field, would check in on students taking her tests. Comments like “I should slow down and try to figure this out” were common, as was the delightful “I love a challenge.” Because they believe mistakes occur from of lack of effort, not from a lack of ability, the kids realize mistakes can be remedied simply by applying more cognitive elbow grease.


Praise them for working hard because they can control that.

Folksonomies: parenting child rearing intelligence


The Curse of the Gifted

When you were in college, did you ever meet bright kids who graduated top of their class in high-school and then floundered freshman year in college because they had never learned how to study? It's a common trap. A friend of mine calls it "the curse of the gifted" -- a tendency to lean on your native ability too much, because you've always been rewarded for doing that and self-discipline would take actual work.

You are a brilliant implementor, more able than me and possibly (I say this after consideration, and in all seriousness) the best one in the Unix tradition since Ken Thompson himself. As a consequence, you suffer the curse of the gifted programmer -- you lean on your ability so much that you've never learned to value certain kinds of coding self-discipline and design craftsmanship that lesser mortals *must* develop in order to handle the kind of problem complexity you eat for breakfast.

Your tendency to undervalue modularization and code-sharing is one symptom. Another is your refusal to use systematic version-control or release-engineering practices. To you, these things seem mostly like overhead and a way of needlessly complicating your life. And so far, your strategy has worked; your natural if relatively undisciplined ability has proved more than equal to the problems you have set it. That success predisposes you to relatively sloppy tactics like splitting drivers before you ought to and using your inbox as a patch queue.

But you make some of your more senior colleagues nervous. See, we've seen the curse of the gifted before. Some of us were those kids in college. We learned the hard way that the bill always comes due -- the scale of the problems always increases to a point where your native talent alone doesn't cut it any more. The smarter you are, the longer it takes to hit that crunch point -- and the harder the adjustment when you finally do. And we can see that *you*, poor damn genius that you are, are cruising for a serious bruising.


Because some people grew on their own talent, they never learned to appreciate the reasons for overhead.

Eric S. Raymond writing to Linus Torvalds.

Folksonomies: education talent gifted