Reading this tosh makes me wonder: is Mesut Ozil being unjustly criticized for the same reason that George Osborne has escaped sufficient public censure for his failure to cut government borrowing as much as he predicted?
The common link is that people over-rate the role of effort, and so give others too much credit for trying. This might be a manifestation of the representativeness heuristic; we think that trying to do something is similar to actually doing it, and so applaud the effort.
Because Osborne makes a great play of taking “tough decisions” (tough for others, that is) to reduce the deficit, voters applaud his effort. Conversely, Ozil’s languid style makes people think he isn’t trying – “the willingness to dig in and fight are just nowhere to be seen” says Adrian Durham – and so under-rate him.
Now, of course in many contexts effort should be applauded because it is necessary for success. As Matthew Syed shows, the power of purposeful practice is immense and that of raw talent over-rated. In other contexts, however, effort can be counter-productive, for two reasons.
One is the Yerkes-Dodson effect. We can be over-motivated (pdf) and thus choke under pressure: John Terry was surely trying to score that penalty in the 2008 Champions League final – but he might have been trying too hard. Mesut Ozil’s genius is that he has the ability to play the right pass under pressure; to do that he needs a cool head, but this can give the impression of a lack of effort.
The second is that, in interacting with others, our efforts can be stymied. The lesson of the simple prisoners’ dilemma is that one man’s effort to get off – by dobbing in his colleague - can cause him to get sent down. Similarly, Osborne’s efforts to reduce borrowing failed in large part because of the bog-standard paradox of thrift.
This point generalizes. In Obliquity, John Kay writes:
The most profitable businesses are not the most profit-oriented. The wealthiest people are not those most assertive in the pursuit of wealth
Instead, he says, “complex goals are often best achieved indirectly”. For example, the company that focuses upon make good products will do better than one dedicated to maximizing shareholder value – in part because such companies cause their employees to lose intrinsic motivation; hence the mass fraud at banks, for example.
However, it seems that people commonly under-rate all this. Shareholders often want companies to focus on shareholder value just as fans on that perennial moronfest 6-0-6 want their teams to show “passion” rather than skill or intellect.
In the same way, I fear that voters under-estimate the virtue of the oblique path to deficit reduction: lower government borrowing is something achieved as a by-product of fixing the (global?) economy rather than by aiming at it directly.
Perhaps, therefore Osborne and Ozil have something in common: one is the beneficiary, and the other the victim, of the same cognitive error – that of obliquity neglect.