Very good Smart person ! I enjoyed the reading and may have learned
something . John kb2huk
----- Original Message -----
From: "Robert & Linda McGraw K4TAX" <RMcGraw@Blomand.Net>
To: "Tentec" <email@example.com>
Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 10:29 PM
Subject: [TenTec] Why smart people defend bad ideas
> After reading several weeks worth of discussions on the Tentec Reflector,
> here's what a friend of mine had to say about the current level of Orion
> discussions. And oh does this fit.
> Bob, K4TAX
> Why smart people defend bad ideas
> We all know someone that's intelligent, but who occasionally defends
> obviously bad ideas. Why does this happen? How can smart people take up
> positions that defy any reasonable logic? Having spent many years working
> with smart people I've catalogued many of the ways this happens, and I
> advice on what to do about it. I feel qualified to write this essay as I'm
> recovering smart person myself and I've defended several very bad ideas.
> if nothing else this serves as a kind of personal therapy session.
> I fully suspect you'll get more than just entertainment value out of what
> have to say on this topic.
> Success at defending bad ideas
> I'm not proud to admit that I have a degree in Logic and Computation from
> Carnegie Mellon University. Majoring in logic is not the kind of thing
> makes people want to talk to you at parties, or read your essays. But one
> thing I did learn after years of studying advanced logic theory is that
> proficiency in argument can easily be used to overpower others, even when
> you are dead wrong. If you learn a few tricks of logic and debate, you can
> refute the obvious, and defend the ridiculous. If the people you're
> with aren't as comfortable in the tactics of argument, or aren't as
> as you are, they may even give in and agree with you.
> The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes
> will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they're wrong. This is
> Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they
> smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent's friends)
> probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their
> perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often
> fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it's based in
> or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable. (Somewhere in
> your town there is a row of graves at the cemetery, called smarty-pants
> lane, filled with people who were buried at poorly attended funerals,
> headstones say "Well, at least I was right.")
> Until they come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to
> their logic, and resilient enough to endure the thinly veiled intellectual
> abuse they dish out during debate (e.g. "You don't really think that do
> you?" or "Well if you knew the <insert obscure reference here>
> rule/law/corollary you wouldn't say such things"), they're never forced to
> question their ability to defend bad ideas. Opportunities for this are
> a new boss, a new co-worker, a new spouse. But if their obsessive-ness
> being right is strong enough, they'll reject those people out of hand
> they question their own biases and self-manipulations. It can be easier
> smart people who have a habit of defending bad ideas to change jobs,
> spouses, or cities rather than honestly examine what is at the core of
> psyche (and often, their misery).
> Short of obtaining a degree in logic, or studying the nuances of debate,
> remember this one simple rule for defusing those who are skilled at
> defending bad ideas: Simply because they cannot be proven wrong, does not
> make them right. Most of the tricks of logic and debate refute questions
> attacks, but fail to establish any true justification for a given idea.
> For example, just because you can't prove that I'm not the king of France
> reincarnated doesn't make it so. So when someone tells you "My plan A is
> best because no one has explained how it will fail" know that there is a
> logical gap in this argument. Simply because no one has described how it
> will fail, doesn't necessarily make it the best plan. It's possible than
> plans B, C, D and E all have the same quality, or that the reason no one
> described how A will fail is that no one has had more than 30 seconds to
> scrutinize the plan. As we'll discuss later, diffusing bad thinking
> someone (probably you) to construct a healthier framework around the bad
> thinking that shows it for what it is.
> The second stop on our tour of commonly defended bad ideas is the
> friendly notion of communal thinking. Just because everyone in the room is
> smart doesn't mean that collectively they will arrive at smart ideas. The
> power of peer pressure is that it works on our psychology, not our
> intellect. As social animals we are heavily influenced by how the people
> around us behave, and the quality of our own internal decision making
> widely depending on the environment we currently are in. (e.g. Try to
> a haiku poem while standing in an elevator with 15 opera singers screaming
> 15 different operas, in 15 different languages, in falsetto, directly at
> vs. sitting on a bench in quiet stretch of open woods).
> That said, the more homogeneous a group of people are in their thinking,
> narrower the range of ideas that the group will openly consider. The more
> open minded, creative, and courageous, a group is, the wider the pool of
> ideas they'll be capable of exploring.
> Some teams of people look to focus groups, consultancies, and research
> methods to bring in outside ideas, but this rarely improves the quality of
> thinking in the group itself. Those outside ideas, however bold or
> are at the mercy of the diversity of thought within the group itself. If
> group, as a collective, is only capable of approving B level work, it
> matter how many A level ideas you bring to it. Focus groups or other
> sources of information can not give a team, or its leaders, a soul. A
> homogeneous team of people has no real opinions, because it consists of
> people with same backgrounds, outlooks, and experiences who will only feel
> comfortable discussing the safe ideas that fit into those constraints.
> If you want your smart people to be as smart as possible, seek a diversity
> of ideas. Find people with different experiences, opinions, backgrounds,
> weights, heights, races, facial hair styles, colors, past-times, favorite
> items of clothing, philosophies, and beliefs. Unify them around the
> you want, not the means or approaches they are expected to use. It's the
> only way to guarantee that the best ideas from your smartest people will
> received openly by the people around them. On your own, avoid homogenous
> books, films, music, food, sex, media and people. Actually experience life
> by going to places you don't usually go, spending time with people you
> usually spend time with. Be in the moment and be open to it. Until
> in human history, life was much less predictable and we were forced to
> encounter things not always of our own choosing. We are capable of more
> interesting and creative lives than our modern cultures often provide for
> us. If you go out of you way to find diverse experiences it will become
> impossible for you to miss ideas simply because your homogenous outlook
> filtered them out.
> Thinking at the wrong level
> At any moment on any project there are an infinite number of levels of
> problem solving. Part of being a truly smart person is to know which level
> is the right one at a given time. For example, if you are skidding out of
> control at 95 mph in your broken down Winnebago on an ice covered
> interstate, when a semi-truck filled with both poorly packaged fireworks
> loosely bundled spark plugs slams on its brakes, it's not the right time
> discuss with your passengers where y'all would like to stop for dinner.
> as ridiculous as this scenario sounds, it happens all the time. People
> about the wrong thing at the wrong time and apply their intelligence in
> that doesn't serve the greater good of whatever they're trying to achieve.
> Some call this difference in skill wisdom, in that the wise know what to
> thinking about, where as the merely intelligent only know how to think.
> de-emphasis of wisdom is an east vs. west dichotomy: eastern philosophy
> heavily emphasizes deeper wisdom, where-as the post enlightenment west,
> perhaps particularly America, heavily emphasizes the intellectual
> of intelligence).
> In the software industry, the common example of thinking at the wrong
> is a team of rock star programmers who can make anything, but don't really
> know what to make: so they tend to build whatever things come to mind,
> stopping to find someone who might not be adept at writing code, but can
> where the value of their programming skills would be best applied. Other
> examples include people that always worry about money despite how much
> have, people who struggle with relationships but invest their energy only
> improving their appearance (instead of in therapy or other emotional
> exploration), or anyone that wants to solve problem X but only ever seems
> do things that solve problem Y.
> The primary point is that no amount of intelligence can help an individual
> who is diligently working at the wrong level of the problem. Someone with
> wisdom has to tap them on the shoulder and say, "Um, hey. The hole you're
> digging is very nice, and it is the right size. But you're in the wrong
> Killed in the long term by short term thinking
> >From what we know of evolution it's clear that we are alive because of
> inherited ability to think quickly and respond to change. The survival of
> living creatures, for most of the history of our planet, has been a short
> term game. Only if you can out-run your predators, and catch your prey, do
> you have the luxury of worrying about tomorrow.
> It follows then that we tend to be better at worrying about and solving
> short term issues than long term issues. Even when we recognize an
> long term issue that we need to plan for, say protecting natural resources
> or saving for retirement, we're all too easily distracted away from those
> deep thoughts by immediate things like dinner or sex (important things no
> doubt, but the driving needs in these pursuits, at least for this half of
> the species, are short term in nature). Once distracted, we rarely return
> the long term issues we were drawn away from.
> A common justification for abuse of short term thinking is the fake
> perspective defense. The wise, but less confident guy says "hey - are you
> sure we should be doing this." And the smart, confident, but less wise guy
> says "of course. We did this last time, and the time before that, so why
> shouldn't we do this again?". This is the fake perspective defense because
> there's no reason to believe that 2 points of data (e.g. last time + the
> time before that) is sufficient to make claims about the future. People
> similar things all the time in defense of the free market economy,
> democracy, and mating strategies. "Well, its gotten us this far, and it's
> the best system we have". Well, maybe. But if you were in that broken down
> Winnebago up to your ankles in gasoline from a leaking tank, smoking a
> cigarette in each hand, you could say the same thing.
> Put simply, the fact that you're not dead yet doesn't mean that the things
> you've done up until now shouldn't have, by all that is fair in the
> universe, already killed you. You might just need a few more data points
> the law of averages to catch up, and put a permanent end to your short
> How many data points you need to feel comfortable continuing a behavior is
> entirely a matter of personal philosophy. The wise and skeptical know that
> even an infinite number of data points in the past may only have limited
> bearing on the future. The tricky thing about the future is that its
> different than the past. Our data from the past, no matter how big a pile
> data it is, may very well be entirely irrelevant. Some find this lack of
> predictive ability of the future quite frustrating, while others see it as
> the primary reason to stick around for a few more years.
> Anyway, my point is not that Winnebago's or free market economies are bad.
> Instead I'm saying that short term bits of data are neither reliable nor a
> wise way to go about making important long term decisions. Intelligent
> people do this all the time, and since it's so commonly accepted as a rule
> of thumb (last time + the time before that), it's often accepted in place
> actual thinking. Always remember that humans, given our evolution, are
> bad at seeing the cumulative effects of behavior, and underestimate how
> things like compound interest or that one cigarette a day, can in the long
> term, have surprisingly large impacts despite clearly low short term
> How to prevent smart people from defending bad ideas
> I spent my freshman year at a small college in NJ called Drew University.
> had a fun time, ingested many tasty alcoholic beverages, and went to lots
> great parties (the result of which of course was that I basically failed
> and had to move back to Queens with my parents. You see, the truth is that
> this essay is really a public service announcement paid for by my
> I was a smart person that did some stupid things). But the reason I
> all this is because I learned a great bit of philosophy from many hours of
> playing pool in the college student center. The lesson is this: "Speed
> kills". I was never very good at pool, but this one guy there was, and
> whenever we'd play, he'd watch me miss easy shots because I tried to force
> them in with authority. I chose speed and power over control, and I
> lost. So like pool, when it comes to defusing smart people who are
> bad ideas, you have to find ways to slow things down.
> The reason for this is simple. Smart people, or at least those whose
> have good first gears, use their speed in thought to overpower others.
> jump between assumptions quickly, throwing out jargon, bits of logic, or
> rules of thumb at a rate of fire fast enough to cause most people to
> rattled, and give in. When that doesn't work, the arrogant or the pompous
> will throw in some belittlement and use whatever snide or manipulative
> tactics they have at their disposal to further discourage you from
> dissecting their ideas.
> So your best defense starts by breaking an argument down into pieces. When
> they say "it's obvious we need to execute plan A now." You say, "hold on.
> You're way ahead of me. For me to follow I need to break this down into
> pieces." And without waiting for permission, you should go ahead and do
> First, nothing is obvious. If it were obvious there would be no need to
> so. So your first piece is to establish what isn't so obvious. What are
> assumptions the other guy is glossing over that are worth spending time
> There may be 3 or 4 different valid assumptions that need to be discussed
> one at a time before any kind of decision can be considered. Take each on
> turn, and lay out the basic questions: what problem are we trying to
> What alternatives to solving it are there? What are the tradeoffs in each
> alternative? By breaking it down and asking questions you expose more
> thinking to light, make it possible for others to ask questions, and make
> more difficult for anyone to defend a bad idea.
> No one can ever take away your right to think things over, especially if
> decision at hand is important. If your mind works best in 3rd or 4th gear,
> find ways to give yourself to time needed to get there. If when you say "I
> need the afternoon to think this over", they say "tough. We're deciding
> Ask them if the decision is an important one. If they say yes, then you
> should be completely justified in asking for more time to think it over
> ask questions.
> Find a sane person people listen to
> Some situations require outside help. Instead of taking a person on
> directly, get a third party that you both respect, and continue the
> discussion in their presence. This can be a superior, or simply someone
> smart enough that the other person might possibly concede points to them.
> It follows that if your team manager is wise and reasonable, smart people
> who might ordinarily defend bad ideas will have a hard time doing so. But
> sadly if your team manager is neither wise nor reasonable, smart, arrogant
> people may convince others to follow their misguided ways more often than
> And yet more reasons
> I'm sure you have stories of your own follies dealing with smart people
> defending bad ideas, or where you, yourself, as a smart person, have spent
> time arguing for things you regretted later. Given the wondrous multitude
> ways the universe has granted humans to be smart and dumb at the same
> there are many more reasons why smart people behave in stupid ways. For
> here's a few more.
> Smart people can follow stupid leaders (seeking praise or promotion)
> Smart people may follow their anger into stupid places
> They may be trained or educated into stupidity
> Smart people can inherit bad ideas from their parents under the guise of
> They may simply want something to be true, that can never be
> By Scott Berkun, April 2005
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