Expandable Intelligence: the Effort Effect and Learning How to be Organized

A Community Contribution by Lynn O’Connor, Ph.D.

Research on intelligence is also finding psychological components to levels of performance. When children are taught that intelligence is fixed, heritable, and set for life, many of them back off and put little effort into academics. Only those who have already been labeled as “high IQ” are off to high performance. When however, intelligence is reformulated and children (or adults) are introduced to the idea that intelligence is expandable, and grows with effort, many not initially labeled high IQ come out of the woodwork and become high performers. We have been thinking incorrectly about the concept of IQ. Intelligence is expandable. We can improve performance if we understand that how we do on a task is a function of our effort. Carol Dweck from Stanford has been studying what is being called the “effort effect.” A great summary of her work is found in an article written by Marina Krakovsky.

When I read Dwecks work I began to think about organizing in the same way. I always thought being well organized was a function of genes, heritable, you either had it or you didn’t. I didn’t, and I thought it was hopeless, I would never be organized. Understanding expandable intelligence led me to reconsider my organizational problem, and that led me right to David Allen and GTD. I jumped on the GTD wagon, finally getting that like intelligence, the ability to be organized was a function of effort and experience. I’m a big believer in understanding and accepting our genetic limits, but our limits as members of our species make us far more changeable than we imagine. That’s a quality of being human, the ability to learn entirely new skills and adapt to new environments.

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1 Comment

  1. I am tutoring a 13 year old in math, and between the general information that “girls” don’t do so well in math and the reality that she is getting really bad grades in math, it is so important for both of us to know that she can get the math and do fine, which is what I know and I think she is just beginning to get it too. She sees that you can go back and prove whether or not your solution to a problem is correct, and that makes a big difference in trusting yourself to proceed further, thus increasing your intelligence on the subject.

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