10 Stupid Things Smart People Do

by Jay Deragon on 09/14/2011

There’s nothing wrong with being smart. Being smart is almost always preferable to being stupid yet too many times smart people do stupid things. When they do I often ask myself why.

I am not the smartest person on the block yet I am surrounded by smart people.  These people give me insight, inspiration and they help me expand my own knowledge inventory. But sometime smart people get all caught up in being smart and they miss “smart things” that would enhance their engagement with the human network by calling those things and others “stupid”.

Smart people have a lot of  knowledge but knowledge  is becoming a commodity. As such some smart people feel threatened and act out when they feel threatened.  While having knowledge is a valuable asset not having social attributes many times leads smart people to do stupid things.

Recently I observed fellow colleagues engaged in arguments on-line.  Both are very intelligent people whom I admire but their recent behavior clearly showed a lack of emotional intelligence and public discernment. From a series of observed exchanges I’ve come up a list of “10 stupid things smart people do” and wanted to share it and see if you also have experienced and/or observed the same.

10 Stupid Things Smart People Do

  1. Defending their knowledge position by trashing or insulting others with a different position, on-line and off.
  2. Doing number 1 with comments on others blog post on subject matters they believe in.  Subsequently creating transparent conflict that reflects back on them.
  3. When challenged about their behavior they attack using words from their position rather than listening to the others position and finding grounds to agree in a civil manner.
  4. Reacting to other people’s position as if said positions were specifically targeted at them and subsequently they take offense when none was intended.
  5. Searching the web for content they can critique critically with the aim of exercising one’s ego, intellect and for the sake of argument.
  6. While proclaiming a search for value they lack any understanding of how to create relational value.
  7. They are smart enough to be right but do not know what is wrong with being right or thinking they are right all the time.
  8. When conflict from their positions arise they attempt to draw others into the conflict seeking others to be on their side and agree with their positions.
  9. Rarely do these smart people demonstrate adult rationale conflict resolution. Instead they state things like ” so and so is useless and I won’t waste my time trying to resolve offenses.”  Then they go on trashing the one who caused the supposed offense.
  10. Last but not least the most stupid thing smart people do is read post like this and blame the writer for their ignorance, attitude then trash their post publically.
Someone once said  “If the shoe fits wear it”.  A really smart person once told me “really smart people never take offense or try to create offense”. They simple seek to give and gain knowledge from interactions of all types.  Sounds stupid but profoundly smart at the same time.
What say you?


FredFTW February 22, 2013 at 10:11 am

Just came across this great and very true post. Here are few more dumb arguments that ‘smart’ people make. http://www.statisticsblog.com/2010/06/five-dumb-arguments-smart-people-make/

John Maloney September 14, 2011 at 9:24 am

Hi – Great post! After thirty years leading online forums, from Usenet to Google Plus, I would add/reinforce some key things.

– Eliminate “argumentum ad hominem.” Attempts to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic of the person(s) supporting it are patently unacceptable. Anyone practicing even the slightest ad hominem argument is promptly excused from further discourse. No exceptions.

– Separate the issue conflict from the person/people. Nothing good ever comes from antagonistic personal battles. If a person is EVER named (or name-called), they are summarily dismissed w/out exception. In short: hate the sin, love the sinner.

– Equilibrium is not always ideal. Nurture and protect legitimate and vociferous debate on issues. As long as there are no specific named person(s) involved, virtuous debate is welcome and the often origin of bold new pathways. Beware, though, the tone may exceed the tolerance for some. That’s for the moderator to judge.

In a past role, I ‘wrote the book’ (a binder really) on Coaching and Counseling. It was syndicated to 12,000 managers worldwide. Here is the canon when giving feedback, online and face-2-face:

– Describe what is good, went well.
– Identify some areas for improvement.
– Tell specifically what you will do differently to assure the improvements.

The key is step three – to develop and improve the relationship. That’s the key to high performance in organizations and online.

BTW, it is recommended never to use terms like stupid. Dumb is ok, but stupid, in my experience, is over the top. Everyone makes dumb mistakes, but no one is stupid. Spirited rhetoric is welcome and encouraged, but some words are just too bellicose. Personally, for business, my rhetorical target is what is normally found in parlor rags like The Economist or WSJ. Exceed that and audience drops off.

Also, it is important to lower expectation of developing broad relationship capital online. Rather, pick up the phone! Visit! Hangout on G+! Effective online business text communications, blogs, tweets, etc., must be impersonal and benign by definition.

Remember, emails, blogs and online discussion are not only permanent, they can be subpoenaed! Many people taken down in the last 30 years, wish they could ‘take back’ online stuff.

Online, textualized relationships are not even in the same galaxy of authentic, personal relationships. This does not mean they are necessarily qualitatively different, or accomplish less or more, they are just different!

Finally, according to Newton, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the should of giants.” New ideas are very scarce. Most of what happens in daily discourse online, at conferences, in conversation is repackaging of ideas from years, decades, and centuries ago. Recasting old concepts and ideas is important; it’s innovation. For example, the first patent for an electronic tablet was 1888 eighteen eighty eight (sic). Today, it is called an iPad. Thus, it is important to corroborate all positions with prior art, opinion, science and facts as long as it is not done provocatively and in the spirit of productive collaboration!

Thanks for the post.


Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 37 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: