Be Smarter About Stupidity. Cape Town, South Africa
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Be Smarter About Stupidity. Cape Town, South Africa
Be Smarter About Stupidity. Cape Town, South Africa
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Be Smarter About Stupidity. Cape Town, South Africa
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Be Smarter About Stupidity. Cape Town, South Africa

Why is it so difficult to think logically? An awareness of the default mechanism that leads us to do stupid things provides some insight.

Stupidity is a harsh criticism. Even more so when levelled against the self. So I was surprised to see this seemingly unkind topic in New Scientist (vol  2910 pg 30-33 ref Sally Adee); a rather esteemed publication not given to sensationalistic writing. The understanding that profound lapses in logic can plague even the smartest mind, is now being given serious attention by leading business universities such as Stanford, Princeton, Toronto, Bristol, London, Lund (Sweden) and Michigan...  

But what’s the point?  Surely the study of intelligence would be much more useful for us to aspire to and learn from?  Well, the idea is – and this is useful for business leaders – that we can be smarter about being stupid... if only we can find the cause.

So it’s time for a radical rethink.

Stupidity is not a lack of IQ, as has long been believed. People with IQ’s as low as 80 can still speak multiple languages and even, as frequently seen in business, engage in complex financial fraud.  Conversely the cleverest people often do idiotic things.

There are intelligent people who are stupid. 
So, why the paradox?  One theory comes from Princeton University. It has been assumed that we are naturally rational. But the research team discovered otherwise. When we weigh up evidence in order to come to a decision, our brain has access to two different systems. And IQ tests measure only one of these, the step-by-step process that leads us to conscious problem-solving.

But, here’s the thing. Our default position is to use intuition.
Yes, gut-feel. It’s a touchy feely thing! 

Intuitive feelings gave us an evolutionary advantage in caveman days, a natural way of dealing with information overload, and can still play a useful role in decision making. Yet, we are tripped up by the baggage that comes with intuition - bias (prejudice) and stereotyping (a simplified, standardised view of the situation). Our judgement is derailed. And we do or say the stupid thing. Our bias towards a group can also lead us to group-think (consider boardroom and SA politics) even though our intelligence may put up red flags.
  Furthermore, our intuitive system is uncomfortable with ambiguity (vagueness, doubt) – hence the temptation to choose the first solution that comes to mind, even if obviously flawed. It would be wise then to heed our grandmother’s advice to “sleep on it” before we make a snap (gut-feel) decision.

Be Smarter About Stupidity“Functional Stupidity” in business. One fascinating project is the joint research done at the Cass Business School in London and Lund University in Sweden by Andre Spicer and Mats Alvesson. It seems that nothing encourages stupidity more than group corporate culture. An uncritical dependence on set rules often leads to absurd decisions, the-way-we-do-things-here, often not being the most intelligent way.

The project started as an investigation into how prestigious businesses manage top talent. A surprising pattern emerged. Big corporates hire highly intelligent people, but their talents are soon dumbed down. Precisely those aspects that they had been trained in, are immediately switched off, a phenomenon the researchers branded “functional stupidity”.

As seen in the financial crises of 2008, the consequences can be catastrophic. “These people were incredibly smart. They all knew that there were problems”, but culture-think and relying on algorithms that “everyone knows to be true” meant that even brilliant employees left logic at the office door. “And the more intelligent someone is, the more disastrous the results of their stupidity”.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from doing stupid things?
The researchers offer this advice. “Knowledge of our foolish nature, can help us escape its grasp”.  We can be aware that our biases can flaw our thinking. We can examine our first, intuitive, solutions and override any prejudices. We can sleep-on-it a little more often. And like the little boy in the children’s classic The Emperor’s New Clothes, we can be brave and step outside the group to question the party line.

Be Smarter About Stupidity

  Colleen Backstrom is Marketing Director of Kaleidoscope Advertising and Marketing.   
Of particular interest to her is research on Neuro-economics
and the possible opportunities for marketing that an
understanding of how the brain works, can bring.

Also read NeuroMarketing for eMail Marketing research influences here

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Be Smarter About Stupidity. Cape Town, South Africa
Be Smarter About Stupidity
Be Smarter About Stupidity. Cape Town, South Africa
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