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January 13, 2019

How Not to Be Stupid

How not to be stupid is a subject that is smart to think about. Stupidity is not lack of intelligence but a symptom of intelligence being overridden in a complex environment.

A recent post by Shane Parrish in the Farnam Street Blog describes an interview with Adam Robinson (@IAmAdamRobinson) who developed a definition of stupidity as “overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information”.

In other words, if something is crucial, it’s very important. If it’s conspicuous, it’s easily available and probably I already know it. Therefore it is stupid if I overlook or dismiss very important and easily available information which I already know. That stupidity can cause errors. If I am driving and make an error in changing lanes, it could lead to death or injury of me or someone else.

In his research Adam Robinson identified 7 factors which cause errors. These are

  1. being outside of your circle of competence, or outside your normal environment,
  2. physical or emotional stress, or fatigue,
  3. rushing or a sense of urgency,
  4. fixation on an outcome, or doing a task that requires intense focus,
  5. information overload,
  6. being in the presence of a group, where social cohesion comes into play, and
  7. being in the presence of an authority or expert, even if you are the expert.

Alone, each of these factors influence us powerfully to make mistakes. When the factors are piled together there is a dramatic increase in the odds that “you are unaware that you’ve been cognitively compromised,” according to Adam Robinson.

For example when I am driving, if I am in a hurry to get where I’m going and I am talking on the phone through the car’s bluetooth, I am much more likely to make a driving error.

Sometimes the stupidity is engineered purposely to defraud or manipulate. Sometimes it’s used for a more benign purpose, such as a magician providing entertainment.

Not being stupid is important. The third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind cancer and heart disease, is automobile accidents. Another chilling statistic is that “210,000 to 440,000 people die every year in the United States from hospital error.” I think the statistics for Canada are similar.

How can we avoid being stupid?

For me, I am going to try not to be stupid by being particularly aware of the risk of error when one or more of those 7 factors are happening.

For example, that means deferring decisions until I am rested, and not rushed. When I’m mediating, it means using the meeting time efficiently and avoiding a last-minute temptation to rush the details into a written agreement.  It means hanging up the phone when driving, if the traffic is unusual or I don’t know the area.

But often minimizing or eliminating the 7 factors isn’t possible.

When I am working – or driving - in circumstances where unavoidably one or more one of the 7 factors are occurring, it comes down to being alert to my tendency for errors and trying to make sure I do not overlook or dismiss information that is crucial and right there in front of me.

How will you avoid being stupid?

Read the full article by Shane Parrish here.

 

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