Expectations vs. Performance, Dying with Zero, & More
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Today at a Glance
- Quote: Today vs. yesterday.
- Framework: The Pygmalion Effect.
- Tweet: Predictions for the future.
- Article: Dying with zero.
- Podcast: The deep bookshelf.
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"The purpose of today’s training is to defeat yesterday’s understanding." - Miyamoto Musashi
Every day is a new opportunity to improve upon the old.
It is not always easy, but it is always worth it.
Are you ready to accept the challenge?
The Pygmalion Effect
The Pygmalion Effect is an observed psychological and behavioral phenomenon in which the level of expectations placed on a subject impact their level of performance in a given arena.
In simple terms: high expectations lead to high performance, and vice versa.
The Pygmalion Effect is named after the Ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion—a sculptor who falls so deeply in love with a statue he created that it actually comes to life.
The effect was first named by psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, who observed it in the context of teachers and schoolchildren. In their 1968 paper, entitled Pygmalion in the classroom, Rosenthal and Jacobson noted that teachers' expectations of their students (positive or negative) impacted the performance of the students.
High expectations led to high performance. Low expectations led to low performance. There was a self-fulfilling prophecy at play.
The quality of the study has been questioned over the years, but there is a large body of anecdotal evidence to suggest the directional accuracy of its findings.
What are the most interesting implications of this phenomenon?
First, the two key takeaways for anyone to understand:
- Those who have high expectations placed on them are more likely to internalize these expectations and improve their performance accordingly.
- Those who have low expectations placed on them are more likely to internalize these expectations and weaken their performance accordingly.
There are a few arenas where I find important applications:
- Business: As you progress in any field, you will increasingly find yourself in positions where you have to lead other people. In these situations, understanding the impact of expectations can be a difference maker. Imagine you are asked to lead a group taking on an ambitious new project within your company. At the outset, there are a lot of nerves at play, as the team is worried about letting the company down if it doesn't go according to plan. The simple one-on-one vocalization of the high expectations you have for each member of the team can provide a *free* push in the right direction.
- Parenting: As a new parent, I think about this a lot. Striking a balance between vocalizing high expectations and being overly-demanding is key, but a child knowing that you hold them in high regard can go a long, long way.
Kat Cole's "Profit & Tax" Mental Model
My friend and mentor Kat Cole has a wonderful, simple mental model for thinking about the benefits of seeing the best in people:
"I’ve learned that when I see people for their potential and their possibilities, that they seem to live up to that more quickly…the frequency that I’m let down is so low compared to the frequency that I’m proven right in people’s potential.”
Kat describes the benefits from viewing people as the highest versions of themselves as "profit" and the costs from getting occasionally burned as "tax" against that profit.
This is a brilliant framing. When you view the best in people, you will occasionally be proven wrong, cheated, or let down. Instead of letting this change your future behavior, simply view it as a "tax" against all of the "profit" that you get from the people who prove you right along the way.
Remember: Expectations can create reality. Make sure it's a positive one.
I'd love to hear from you:
- What are some other areas where you've seen the Pygmalion Effect at play?
- What would you add to this list?
Reply to this email or tweet at me @SahilBloom and I'll do my best to get back to everyone.
This is an amazing video of kids in 1960s America providing their predictions for what the world will look like in 2000.
I had a few reactions:
- Statistics vs. People: The first answer (that people will be regarded more as statistics than as actual people) is fairly accurate for the 2020s given the rise of data collection and its importance to some of the largest technology companies of our era.
- Robots Everywhere: The rise of robots and automation replacing jobs has definitely taken much longer than anyone ever envisioned. All of the science fiction predictions of mid-20th century seem to involve a Jetsons-like future in the 21st century, with robots and flying cars. Robotics and automation has clearly continued to develop at a rapid pace (have you seen the Boston Dynamics dancing robots?!), but the timeline to widespread adoption is taking longer than we ever expected. Perhaps this follows Dornbusch's Law: the change takes a longer time to happen than we ever would have expected, but then happens much faster than we ever could have imagined.
I'm a huge history nerd. I find it interesting to take these looks into the past to see how people perceive the future.
Interestingly, I would imagine that a group of children interviewed today about what 2100 will look like might have a similar set of conclusions (data, robots/automation, no jobs, etc.).
What do you think 2100 will look like? Any bold predictions?
Great article from Nick Maggiulli on a topic I think about a lot: Should you spend all of your money while you're alive?
I had a few reactions to the piece:
- The theory behind "dying with zero" is just that any money you die with is a representation of inefficient use of life energy. It says that you could have either spent that money or given it to your heirs earlier. This is interesting in concept.
- The average age of receiving an inheritance is 60. It follows a bell curve, so roughly the same number of people receive an inheritance at 80 as at 40. This certainly supports the idea that inheritance comes at a sub-optimal time for the receiver, as most people are financially established by the time they receive it. Receiving a smaller amount, earlier in life, seems like a better solution for most heirs.
This is certainly a discussion I'm going to continue having with others (including my own parents).
Maybe the way we've been thinking about saving, retirement, and inheritance is fundamentally flawed? What do you think?
By the way, Nick's debut book is awesome and worth a read for anyone interested in investing and personal finance!
Why You Must Build a Deep Bookshelf
Interesting 15-minute listen from The Daily Stoic on the need to have a deep bookshelf.
A few ideas and takeaways:
- Confirmation Bias: The tendency most people fall into is reading books they agree with. This can be a dangerous tendency, as it tends to confirm previously held beliefs and perspectives. This is called a "thin" bookshelf.
- Read Uncomfortably: The goal should be to have a "deep" bookshelf. This means reading and embracing information from a variety of sources and authors, including those you disagree with. This is about finding discomfort in your reading practice.
- Vary the Stimulus: Embracing a variety of mental stimuli feels logical. Your mind is a muscle like any other. Flexing it in the same way is a recipe for stagnation, just as it would be for your biceps. We need to find ways to flex dynamically. Perhaps reading from a deep bookshelf is the answer.
What books or articles have you read recently that pushed you to think differently about your perspectives on a topic?