3 min read

The Tyranny of Soft Expectations

“Imagine if tomorrow we could wave a wand and everybody was trained as a scientist or engineer.
Even if you weren’t very good, you had enough understanding of computers, you could write some code, and you could build some hardware. And don’t tell me people can’t do it because they can. That’s just the tyranny of soft expectations.
That’s just you looking down on somebody else. They can do it; they just have to be educated.
Now, if they’re educated all as hardware, software engineers, scientists, biologists, technicians, hard sciences, not social sciences, we would all be done in 5 years. Robots would be doing everything from cleaning toilets to cooking food to flying aeroplanes to driving Uber.
And what would we be doing?
We would be doing all creative jobs to entertain each other and researching science and technology.
We would have wonderful lives.
So, it’s really just a question of education, nothing else.” - Naval Ravikant

One statement from this phrase stood out for me:

“That’s just the tyranny of soft expectations.”

After researching, I found the original phrase coined by Michael Gerson, who wrote speeches for President Bush.

“Soft bigotry of low expectations.”, referring to not expecting disadvantaged people or minorities to meet the same standard of behaviour or achievement set for most people.

It's All About Education

What makes you more effective than the next person?

Why do some people become experts and some remain average?

There is no simple answer to these questions. I believe it's mostly because some people have access to a better education (formal and informal) than others.

We are all humans at a fundamental level; the difference is how we are taught and the circumstances we were born into.

The Implications of Low Expectations

The tyranny of soft expectations is demonstrated when your low expectations of someone cause you to work around them, do their work for them or deem them incapable.

That urge to say, “Okay, I’ll just do it for you”, or when observing someone you think, “If only I could do it for them, it would be much better/faster”, is a perfect example.

After diving into the rabbit hole, I came across a phenomenon known as the Golem Effect, in which lower expectations placed on individuals either by their superiors or the individual themselves result in poorer performance.

This can be described as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When you believe the worst for yourself or others, the result is always negative.

There is an alternative.

If the Golem effect lowers performance, the Pygmalion effect does the opposite.

If you give yourself and others more trust, freedom and responsibility, higher performance is likely. Like the Golem effect, the Pygmalion effect can be described as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A Personal Perspective

To put these thoughts into practice, I aim to be more conscious of what thoughts run through my mind when teaching someone something and try to resist the urge to take control.

I’ll also be placing higher expectations on myself to achieve a higher standard in the important areas of life, such as my health, work, finances and relationships.

Feel free to share any interesting points or personal experiences in the comments.