Prompted: The Problem with Helping
Identifying when to outsource and when to jump into the deep end.
I tried to groan, Help! Help! But the tone that came out was that of polite conversation.
- Samuel Beckett
The Problem with Helping
Humans are remarkably efficient creatures. Some hunter-gatherer tribes have been observed stopping a hunt on intuition if they’ll burn more calories than what they anticipate they’ll bring home. Humans tend to specialize as well. If one person in our tribe (or company, team, etc.) is very good at something, we don’t try to learn for ourselves. Instead, we let the expert handle it.
As long as we have someone else that will do something for us, we’ll never learn something for ourselves because our brains are excellent at conserving energy.
Humans are also excellent when it comes to figuring things out. If the hunter in our tribe falls ill and dies, within a few weeks someone new can learn the skill and pick up where the previous specialist left off.
This is a great trait to have as a species, but figuring things out requires jumping in the deep end ourselves. As long as we can ask someone to do something for us, we’ll never have a reason to jump into the deep end.
Parents who clean up after their kids into their 20s send sloppy roommates out into the world. These people always had someone to pick up after them, so they never learned to do it themselves.
Bosses who fix their employee’s work with no explanation create a learned sense of helplessness and their employees never have a chance to figure things out on their own.
Employees who always ask for help before solving problems themselves never learn anything useful.
Asking for help is useful, but the type of help we ask for will make or break us. If we ask someone to help us with something we should be doing ourselves, we’ll never learn to do it on our own, but if we ask for help in learning something new, we build valuable skills.
Asking for help can be a powerful way to master something important or it can be a crutch holding us back from growth. Different circumstances call for different types of help. What matters is identifying the difference between areas we need to figure out for ourselves and areas where we need to outsource to an expert.
What is something I need to ask an expert to do for me?
What is something I’ve been asking someone else to do that I should be doing for myself?
What is the difference between asking for help and asking someone to teach me?
How Not to Ask for Help - Heidi Grant (TED)
When you’ve decided asking for help is the right course of action here are 4 commons mistakes to avoid.
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