Sarah Sheard's Thoughts and Theories

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Congratulations on your hard work

My guilty secret is that I watch game shows. I look at Family Feud as an exercise into understanding how normal people think...well sort of. ( Name something that breaks out... answers skin, prisoners, and epidemics.)

What has bugged me about the show is when the host says: "You've got a lot of hard work to do" or when the answers someone gives don't match the survey, "You've got to work harder"...

Clearly coming up with "epidemics" instead of "zoo animals" isn't harder work, it's just more successful. The show is set up so that one does not have time to work hard, one answers immediately. Success is defined by how many people out of 100 respondents came up with the same answer. It's not like you sit there and shovel dirt out of a ditch, nor even that you organize file cards or analyze something you read. You just make a guess.

The assumption that hard work = success (and conversely, that lack of success = didn't work very hard) really bugs me.

Here are a couple instances where the assumption DOES seem true.
You walk into a teenager's room, and everything is put away, and the surfaces are gleaming. You can bet this teenager spent a lot of time (and some of it was hard work) focusing on cleaning this room. Hurray for your success and your effort!
(I'm guessing that most cleaning tasks show proportionate success with hard work.)

Your child passes the driver's test with a 100%. You know this child has been reading the booklet every day for two weeks. It worked!


Here are a couple instances where the assumption is definitely not true:

Your child has an I.Q. of 130 and gets an A on a test. The teacher automatically assumes the student worked hard, but the student knows that this subject matter was easy for him/her...just listening in class and glancing at the book led to the A. The student feels like a fraud being congratulated for hard work.

The teacher assumed the student worked hard because the teacher assumes that all students have the same capability, therefore results=hard work.

Of course the opposite scenario is sadder, even tragic. An average or below-average-IQ child works really really hard. Studies every night but *just doesn't get it". Child brings home a B-. Teacher and parent both tell the student that the student could have worked harder. Student feels he/she DID work hard, but didn't understand the topic. No matter how much everyone thinks hard work=success, for some children hard work brings fewer results than for others. (No Child Left Behind can then be equated to "We'll hold back the smart ones and make sure they don't learn any more than the below-average ones, so everyone is the same, as we believe they ought to be.")

The following business scenario was illustrated by W. Edwards Deming in his "Red Bead" experiment.
Managers make the assumption that people who are more skilled will have better results. But a lot of results are random, and processes sometimes not only do not help increase good results, sometimes they prohibit them. His experiment has a barrel full of white beads with some red beads mixed in (representing defects). He has a scoop that he gives different people to scoop out some red beads. He describes a complicated process of shaking and tapping the scoop that should produce only white beads. Of course the red beads are clearly unavoidable, but management incorrectly attributes a lack of red beads (a random occurrence) to hard work, or careful work. Those who got the fewest red beads yesterday were given raises for their hard work, then accused of getting sloppy the next day.

I wish people would pay more attention to cause and effect, or at least to when an "effect" is not entirely explained by whatever one deems the "cause" to be. Many times such an explanation is so simple as to be clearly wrong. Making decisions based on that model is foolish.

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