Scroll to top
© Optimize Consulting Inc. | All Rights Reserved

The Science of Stupid

Optimize Blog - May 4, 2015 - 0 comments

We have to admit that we do rather enjoy the Instagram and YouTube genre of ‘fails’. There is something riveting about watching an otherwise normal person do outrageously daft things. Skateboarders seem particularly adept as do BMX bikers and of course who can fail to be absorbed by the gigabytes of stupidity aired daily from Russian dashcams.
So doing stupid things is not confined to the stupid. In fact there appears to be no correlation between intelligence and the ability to make dumb choices. What we have found is that the letters after your name and education certificates you possess doesn’t mean that you are any more rational or sensible than those individuals making fools of themselves on social media.
In fact though this is a very serious issue. The American surgeon Atul Gawande has written about a problem in modern medicine. Despite their academic qualifications and skill, surgeons can cause the needless loss of life through sheer carelessness – something as simple as forgetting to wash their hands or apply a clean dressing. In business, short-sighted thinking might involve cutting corners that eventually lead to the downfall of a company.
Robert Sternberg at Cornell University, believes that our education system is not designed to teach us to think in a way that is useful for the rest of life. Indeed people with good grades often suck at being a leader. They are good technicians with no common sense, and no ethics. They can progress and get promoted and yet can remain massively incompetent.
What can be done? Sternberg and others are now campaigning for a new kind of education that teaches people how to think more effectively, alongside more traditional academic tasks. Their insights could help all of us – whatever our intelligence – to be a little less stupid.
First we need to understand our blind spots. You might claim that you know you’re smart because of your report cards, or the numerous certificates adorning your office wall. If so, you might be suffering from “confirmation bias” – the tendency to only pick evidence to support your viewpoint. Still unconvinced? Then psychologists would claim that you are suffering from the “bias blind-spot” – a tendency to deny flaws in your own thinking.
The fact is that we all suffer from some subconscious biases, and apparently there are about a 100 to consider…..
Second we need to be open minded and intellectually humble. Being open minded determines how easily you deal with uncertainty, and how quickly and willingly you will change your mind based on new evidence. Intellectual humility comes in many other forms – but at its centre is the ability to question the limits of your knowledge. On what assumptions are you basing your decision? How verifiable are they? What additional information should you hunt out to take a more balanced viewpoint? Have you looked at examples of similar situations for comparison?
Thirdly we need to argue with ourselves. That internal argument can puncture many of the most resilient biases – such as overconfidence, and “anchoring” where we become convinced by the first piece of evidence that we find. In addition we should follow the wise words of “seek first to understand” and take another’s viewpoint.
The fourth piece of different thinking is to imagine a range of scenarios – the “what if” question. This action forces you to consider the different eventualities and form hypotheses. We were good at ‘playing pretend’ when we were children and we should rediscover this ability as adults.
Finally we should never forget the basics. Complex issues can generally be solved by basic checklists. Referring back to Atul Gawande problem with careless surgeons, the Johns Hopkins Hospital created a list of five bullet points reminding doctors of basic hygiene and this single practice reduced 10-day infection rates from 11% to 0%.
So, being stupid is pretty much normal for human beings but hopefully these five points will help reduce your likelihood of being documented in the stupid files. It might even help you to become a better leader….. Of course none of these will help if too much alcohol is involved!!

Related posts

Post a Comment