Friday, February 28, 2014

The hidden effort behind every visible results

In a meritocratic system, where hard work is the foundation of success, does it also mean that failure is the result of the lack of hard work? This question bothers me enough to write about it.

Let's imagine a scenario. John and Jane are in the same class and they took a math exam recently. John got 80 marks and Jane 40. We naturally congratulate John for his good results and at the same time, lament that Jane should work harder. We assume that Jane, because he didn't get a better result, didn't put in enough effort and hard work. It's really very easy to assume that, and don't say that thought didn't creep inside your mind at all. Being a tutor, I made such quick judgement all the time. Sometimes, it's really true, but what about the times that are not?

Let's clarify this by looking at another scenario. Car A is a better quality car and superbly well designed. Its maximum speed is 200 km/h. Car B is an inferior car, and its top speed is 120 km/h. In a particular race, Car A sped off at 150 km/h at 75% effort, and Car B put in maximum speed of 120 km/h, putting in maximum 100% effort. You can't see the effort. You only saw:

Car A: 150 km/h
Car B: 120 km/h

Therefore Car A is faster and therefore better.

But if you open your eyes a little, you'll 'see':

Car A: Puts in 75% effort
Car B: Puts in 100% effort

Berry Hard work (by JD Hancock)

I wanted to point out that if we only look at the results, we might not be able to see the effort needed to produce the set of results. Ultimately, do we praise the outcome achieved or do we praise the effort? In scenario 2, do we praise Car A because it is running at higher speed than Car B, or do we praise Car B because it is putting in maximum effort, regardless of the results? Well, results are easily observable, easily measured and easily comparable, whereas efforts are often hidden and invisible to most unless you're a observer who is privy to the inner circle. Effort isn't readily measurable too. Heck, most times I don't even know what's the maximum effort possible until I push my limit till breaking point.

I have students who are very smart and integrates new information very easily. The only problem is that they are not diligent and putting enough hard work to realize their potential. Potential is just that, more maybe and possibly than certainty. Yet there are some others who work really really hard, often doing the same practice papers again and again just so that they can get it into their mind. It is really sad when I see the latter group (i.e. the hard workers) not performing better than the former (i.e. the smart workers). I feel for them, because nobody sees their effort that is put in and only saw the results that they achieved. Little did people know the immense amount of effort needed to be done by them just to pass the paper.

The worst thing that the hard workers can do is to assume that since working hard is not going to bring them results, they might as well not try. For the smart workers, the worst thing that can happen is that since doing minimum effort can bring good results, they'll put in enough effort just to get by.

What do I believe in? I believe that intelligence is not fixed. Intelligence can be grown by investing in it. You may be born smart, and that's a slight advantage over others who are born average. No doubts about that. But hard work and diligence trumps intelligence in the long run, because you have to constantly force your mind to go beyond its comfort level. It's like a muscle that keeps training until failure, only to grow stronger again. Knowing that you have the ability to grow smarter by working harder seems to be a better world to believe in than a world where your future is determined by your IQ that you're born with and nothing in the world is going to change that.

The next time you pass judgement on others, think about the hidden, un-measurable, incomparable effort that is put in to achieve the visible, measurable and comparable outcomes. This is a good reminder to myself for life in general.


CreateWealth8888 said...

For most jobs, they are paid by result and not by effort.

That is why we have to work smarter and not harder.


B said...

The end result means hitting the kpi and higher bonus. The effort usually coincides with the result but if not it is worth nothing in corporate life.

Singapore Man of Leisure said...


Qian bei, qian bei, qian bei...




CreateWealth8888 said...

Read? Work smarter and not harder

EY said...

Hi LP,

People have been conditioned to draw 2 conclusions from one's results - either one isn't intelligent enough or not diligent enough. And 'enough' is based on norm reference and the bell curve. If the intelligent one isn't working hard enough, then he will realise that he would be judged no less.

The idea of survival of the fittest. In any system, we will have to play by the rules until we are able to rise above them or set the rules ourselves.

I'm more inclined to teach the kids to recognise the rules in the system, to face the reality of judgement and not have them lament that nobody sees their effort. They must learn to work hard not for others to see but for self development. Ipsative not norm reference. If the results are dismal, change the playing field when there is a chance. If there isn't, just push on and keep trying. Resilience and tenacity will bring a big win someday. :)

EY said...

Oh, and I must qualify that 'keep trying' refers to trying to do it differently each time we fail. For those who keep doing the same thing, no amount of hard work is going to yield results.

Anonymous said...

Many, who get good grades, are due to the extra help they get at home, either from parents or tutors.

Effort ensure sustainability of results, I always tell my pupils their good results expiry rather quickly, so look beyond it.

There are some really handicapped by it, and even if they study smart and real hard, they are not going to produce wonderful results, but might just scrap past due to the limitations of time, and other factors.

I tell them, carry on nonetheless, the fact that u put in effort for something that does not interest u, that u think of ways to do it better although it seems a uphill task and u know your efforts can be better put elsewhere, do it for yourself now because u are in the system, there will come a time when u find your calling, your purpose and your interest, and when that time come, your attitude will help u fly in that area.

I have a boy who worked very hard but still fail the subject for PSLE, I still respect him nonetheless. But he is rewarded with exceptional good results for other subjects.

la papillion said...

Hi bro8888,

I feel like we're on opposite sides of the fence.

I'm thinking like a boss, you're thinking like an employee. I'm reminding myself that people who produce results doesn't necessary means that they are the best for a job. You're thinking that results are all that the boss wants to see at the end of the day.

la papillion said...

Hi B,

You can apply this in corporate life, but as you know, I don't have a corporate life, so this applies to life in general for me.

Do you always look out for results only, outside of work? Did you miss out on other things that are not so easily measurable?

la papillion said...

Hi EY,

Very interesting thought, hmm.. I like the way you think! I'll try to keep that in mind :)

la papillion said...

Hi silly investor,

Haha, I always say that doing what you like is normal; doing what you don't like is how you differentiate yourself from others.

I've very similar thoughts regarding the transfer of good attitudes and soft skills to other domain :)

CreateWealth8888 said...

If tutors are paid performance bonus by parents (bosses) for good results achieved by their children (jobs), then thinking on result and effort may change.

More focus on result?

Some jobs are paid flat fee. Right?

Anonymous said...

We also need results to sustain our efforts. How long can we keep trying doing it different if it doesn't show results AT ALL. Perhaps they are like the Ying and the yang, but we are too focused on short term results, or paperwork results

Unknown said...

I am not a teacher but having gone through the Singapore education system many years ago, I have some misgivings. It is too focused on grading, which shouldn't be the case. Subjects like Science and Arts are meant to teach children on how they to view and see the world and nature. To judge their efforts based on tests and exams are not good and ideal.

We should encourage our young to think critically and innovate in order to achieve success in life.

SG Wealth Builder (

la papillion said...

Hi all,

Here's a good article to sum up my feelings about this:

The ability to learn is more impt than IQ. In the process of being results oriented, are we also sidelining those who have more ability to learn? We'll never know.

skipper said...


Both sides of the argument are correct, depending where you are looking from. Most of us will look from the normal point of view, i.e the boss at their employees.

Google is a huge MNC with deep pockets. They can pick and choose whoever they want to hire. SMEs don't have that luxury. They don't get many applicants for jobs they advertise if at all.

If you have limited resources, you need to maximise what you have.

That is probably also why you are an educator.

la papillion said...

Hi Skipper,

Thanks for your comments :) I understand it's not practical to choose the way google chooses their employees. I'm not advocating that. In the first place, my post isn't about employees vs bosses, but somehow it got directed into that.

Anyway, I think you're right. That's why I'm a tutor! If I cannot see the good in people when they have no results to show for, I've nobody to believe in anymore.