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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Effort vs. Results on a Great Team

There's another interesting and important exchange underway in the Core Protocols Group forum ( This one is about the relative merits of effort versus results.

As with all these discussions – in this forum or any other medium – a lot of the debate revolves around the meaning, and the implications, of the words used. For example, from Peter A.:
I think we're getting caught up on multiple interpretations of "effort". On the one hand effort refers to "the number of hours spent doing something", which is how it's being used in the results/effort ratio. On the other hand, I think the article is primarily using effort in the sense of "applied oneself diligently against a defined standard with realtime feedback" (i.e. Deliberate practice). While more is better in some sense here, the key point is that this kind of practice is a good thing vs. not practicing or ineffective practice.
... there are multiple interpretations of what "results" mean. If results include the ability of the individual/team to produce more/better output in the future at less cost, the strategy/math for optimizing results/effort is different than if you only value output for the current time interval.
The “article” referred to above is The words that could unlock your child ( which has the punch line
This reveals a radical new approach to the way we engage with children - that we should praise effort, never talent; that we should teach kids to see challenges as learning opportunities rather than threats; and that we should emphasize how abilities can be transformed.
and even a comment left on behalf of Einstein!: 
This from Einstein:
"I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas."
Since my operating slogan is “It's not about effort – it's about results”, I can't avoid weighing in on this issue.

Let's set aside the unanswered questions from the article about how we encourage children versus adults, and whether or not we praise talent, or ability, or hard work, etc., and the words we choose in each situation, and with each personality – all complex adaptive systems!

My slogan is to make the point that in any enterprise, effort that doesn't finally produce a satisfactory result isn't truly effective and hence worthwhile. We can't get distracted by claims of hard work, and even true hard work, if it doesn't deliver. And please note I added the word “finally” to cover the obvious examples of practicing, failing, recovering, trying again which are all necessary efforts for most of us to build skills and competence to achieve a goal.

The real point is that effort all by itself with no achievement except fatigue is not a valuable  commodity. At least in the exercise gym fatigue is an indicator of potential muscle development. 

Nonetheless, when did you last go to the store to buy “effort”?
Well, Mr. Reeves, our company employees worked night and day to design, fabricate, and ship this product. We didn't actually get it operational, but we worked really hard at it. How many would you like?
Jeez, boss, I was here till midnight working on that analysis for you and I know you needed the answer for that important client sale this morning. Although I didn't get it done, I really worked hard at it.
You know I haven't taken a vacation in 3 years!
It is certainly NOT that effort isn't required. We don't go to the “Results Tree” and pick results off the low hanging branches. But if we praise effort without results, or in place of the required results, then we are not being smart. At the worst we are deluding ourselves that somehow hard work (and what is truly hard?) is an acceptable alternative to an actual achievement. (Scan all the news reporting from the United Nations, and governments in general, to see examples.)

And if we are in business, and only concentrating on effort, then there will definitely be a final result and that will be failure.

1 comment:

YvesHanoulle said...

Hi Paul,

I agree that we should not praise pure effort without result.

I think the point of the article is that to get somewhere you need to do some effort.
Yes it is partly about working hard vs working smart.
But it is also about not giving up.
When you want to praise results, you also praise the people who don't give up.
By seeing the effort people put in, you also acknowledge what they need to do to get there.
By praising the effort of children you learn them that they have to work to get somewhere.

Your examples of the story are more about getting a price for effort. I agree with you that is totally wrong. And that is wrong with current coorporations, people expect medals or other rewards just for showing up and trying (a little)