Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the smart-does-not-mean-sensible dept.

Education 828

CHESTER COPPERPOT writes "Scott Berkun writes an interesting essay on 'Why smart people defend bad ideas'. He states a number of interesting highlights on smart people and dumb ideas. From the article: 'In the software industry, the common example of thinking at the wrong level 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, never stopping to find someone who might not be adept at writing code, but can see where the value of their programming skills would be best applied.'."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered


I Will Defend my Bad First Post (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667592)

Tom Smykowski: It's a "Jump to Conclusions Mat". You see, you have this mat, with different CONCLUSIONS written on it that you could JUMP TO.
Michael Bolton: That is the worst idea I've ever heard.
Samir: Yes, this is horrible, this idea.

Re:I Will Defend my Bad First Post (4, Insightful)

AliasMoze (623272) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667821)

Michael Bolton: You think the pet rock was a great idea?

Tom: Of course it was! The guy made a million dollars!

Why Do Smart People Defend Bad Ideas? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667597)


Re:Why Do Smart People Defend Bad Ideas? (4, Insightful)

Leroy_Brown242 (683141) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667615)

Many-a-geek has made the mistake of getting behind an idea that was bad, but didn't have the humility to change sides or admit mistake.

Not just geeks do this, of course.

Re:Why Do Smart People Defend Bad Ideas? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667682)

I thought that Armadillo Aerospace was a horrible idea, but Carmack did a pretty good job pulling it off...
So when a crazy idea does work out it is quite amazing.

Re:Why Do Smart People Defend Bad Ideas? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667762)

Not even close kido! I've been in this industry for 20 years, and I've written stuff you can't even dream about. So when I tell you it's not ego, you must believe me.

Now, lets talk about that online store for pets...

shitty (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667601)

joe momma

Jukebox guy (4, Funny)

AntiPasto (168263) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667602)

I knew a guy that programmed a music "jukebox" ... didn't have the heart to tell him that at most parties I went to the people just had a winamp and a folder open.

Re:Jukebox guy (4, Insightful)

ciroknight (601098) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667661)

Yeah, I had a friend that did the same thing.. and I didn't have the heart to say a word.

He's currently working for Apple pulling in a quarter million a year, while I sit here in Engineering school.

Re:Jukebox guy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667823)

I call BS, even just as a joke. Nobody makes that much money working for a large corporation just because they had a good idea. Only executives make that much, and they get there with MBAs, hair-pointiness, or sex, but not with ideas.

Re:Jukebox guy (2, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667694)

I programmed a music jukebox once... except that what started as a mechanism for triggering mpg123 with a reasonable random scheme changed over the course of about two years into a radio station automation app....

Just because something starts out seeming uninteresting, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will end up being useless. And even if the project doesn't go anywhere, the experience you gain in writing it can end up serving you down the line, whether through code reuse or just through gaining a better general understanding of various technologies that you use along the way.

Re:Jukebox guy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667741)

Wait a minute. By the same reasoning, it would be dumb to build your own cabinent or fix your own bike. After all, you could just pay somebody to do those things, or download somebody else's jukebox. But your acquaintance was able to make his own jukebox, and therein lay the satisfaction of the job. That is the ethos of a craftsman, which some prefer to the ethos of a consumer.

Wait (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667607)

Does this mean that some of the 62,040,610 Bush voters are smart?

Re:Wait (1)

NoseBag (243097) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667631)

No less so than the smaller number than supported the other bad idea.

This extends to the rest of life (5, Interesting)

Capt'n Hector (650760) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667608)

There are a lot of people who can literally do ANYTHING, and partly because of this they end up doing NOTHING. Kind of like a horse caught between two bales of hay.

Re:This extends to the rest of life (4, Funny)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667647)

There are a lot of people who can literally do ANYTHING, and partly because of this they end up doing NOTHING.

Well, I feel less guilty about my slackerism now, thanks! : )

Backwards! (3, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667689)

You're describing somebody who is so afraid of making a bad decision, they can't make any. TFA describes pretty much the opposite problem: being unfraid to risk a bad decision, but never being able to admit that it was bad.

Re:Backwards! (1)

Monkelectric (546685) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667783)

My HS band teacher had a saying, "Strong and wrong baby!" He meant, its better to play loud and confident, and mess up now and then, than to play timid and, mess up now and then :)

Re:Backwards! (1)

suitepotato (863945) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667808)

You're describing somebody who is so afraid of making a bad decision, they can't make any. TFA describes pretty much the opposite problem: being unfraid to risk a bad decision, but never being able to admit that it was bad.

I think you're mistaking the subject group with executives.

Re:This extends to the rest of life (5, Insightful)

ciroknight (601098) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667709)

Isn't that what they feed everyone in school; "You can do anything if you just put your mind to it"?

In my younger years, I took this to mean "Do everything, because you can". Now that I'm in college, that entire lesson was bunk, and now I'm stuck with a bunch of what I'd consider useless knowledge.

The "Pretender" gene, as I often call it (after the TV series) is something a lot of us are blessed/cursed with. We have the ability to sit down at a computer and code anything, then get up, walk into a garage or workshop, pick up a hammer and build something, then go to a rally and speak about how you can change the world if your party will support you.

The problem with it is futility. Others like me, myself included, find it futile at times to do anything, since we've done everything we're interested in doing. Us general-purpose, disposable task people have to cast ourselves into single purpose, repetitive task people, and that's really hard for us, in college, and in life.

Sadly, I don't see an easy solution. Except I won't be telling my children that "They can do anything". I'll tell them "you can do something. but it's up to you to choose what that something is."

I wish I had mod points right now. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667768)

This really resonates with me.

Re:This extends to the rest of life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667781)

Am I the only one who read this as:
There are a lot of people who literally don't do ANYTHING, and partly because of this they end up doing NOTHING.
I was thinking we needed a +1 obvious mod.

The article sans references in case of /.'ing (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667620)

Why smart people defend bad ideas

By Scott Berkun, April 2005

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 have advice on what to do about it. I feel qualified to write this essay as I'm a recovering smart person myself and I've defended several very bad ideas. So if nothing else this essay serves as a kind of personal therapy session. However, I fully suspect you'll get more than just entertainment value (Look, Scott is stupider than we thought!) out of what I have to say on this topic.
Success at defending bad ideas

The monty python argument sketchI'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 that 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 arguing with aren't as comfortable in the tactics of argument, or aren't as arrogant 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 bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent's friends) they've 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 delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable. (Somewhere in your town there is a row of graves at the cemetery, called smartypants lane, filled with people who were buried at poorly attended funerals, whose headstones say Well, at least I was right.)

Until they come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to dissect 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 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 rare: a new boss, a new co-worker, a new spouse. But if their obsessive-ness about being right is strong enough, they'll reject those people out of hand before they question their own biases and self-manipulations. It can be easier for 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 their 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 and 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 the 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 has 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 requires someone (probably you) to construct a healthier framework around the bad thinking that shows it for what it is.
Death by homogeny

shelf of boxesThe second stop on our tour of commonly defended bad ideas is the seemingly 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 varies widely depending on the environment we currently are in. (e.g. Try to write a haiku poem while standing in an elevator with 15 opera singers screaming 15 different operas, in 15 different languages, in falsetto, directly at you vs. sitting on a bench in quiet stretch of open woods).

That said, the more homogeneous a group of people are in their thinking, the 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 original, are at the mercy of the diversity of thought within the group itself. If the group, as a collective, is only capable of approving B level work, it doesn't matter how many A level ideas you bring to it. Focus groups or other outside sources of information can not give a team, or its leaders, a soul. A bland 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 results 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 be 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 don't usually spend time with. Be in the moment and be open to it. Until recently 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

Several story tall buildingAt 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 95mph in your broken down Winnebago on an ice covered interstate, when a semi-truck filled with both poorly packaged fireworks and loosely bundled spark plugs slams on its brakes, it's not the right time to discuss with your passengers where y'all would like to stop for dinner. But as ridiculous as this scenario sounds, it happens all the time. People worry about the wrong thing at the wrong time and apply their intelligence in ways 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 be thinking about, where as the merely intelligent only know how to think. (The de-emphasis of wisdom is an east vs. west dichotomy: eastern philosophy heavily emphasizes deeper wisdom, where-as the post enlightenment west, and perhaps particularly America, heavily emphasizes the intellectual flourishes of intelligence).

In the software industry, the common example of thinking at the wrong level 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, never stopping to find someone who might not be adept at writing code, but can see where the value of their programming skills would be best applied. Other examples include people that always worry about money despite how much they have, people who struggle with relationships but invest their energy only in improving their appearance (instead of in therapy or other emotional exploration), or anyone that wants to solve problem X but only ever seems to 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 yard."
Killed in the long term by short term thinking

Tasty foodFrom what we know of evolution it's clear that we are alive because of our 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 important 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 to 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 they 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 say 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 for the law of averages to catch up, and put a permanent end to your short term thinking.

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 abot the future is that its different than the past. Our data from the past, no matter how big a pile of 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 Winnebagos 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 of actual thinking. Always remember that humans, given our evolution, are very 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 effects.
How to prevent smart people from defending bad ideas

smart people defending bad ideasI spent my freshman year at a small college in NJ called Drew University. I had a fun time, ingested many tasty alcoholic beverages, and went to lots of great parties (the result of which of course was that I basically failed out 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 parents - I was a smart person that did some stupid things). But the reason I mention 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 usually lost. So like pool, when it comes to defusing smart people who are defending bad ideas, you have to find ways to slow things down.

The reason for this is simple. Smart people, or at least those whose brains have good first gears, use their speed in thought to overpower others. They'll 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 become 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 so.

First, nothing is obvious. If it were obvious there would be no need to say so. So your first piece is to establish what isn't so obvious. What are the assumptions the other guy is glossing over that are worth spending time on? 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 in turn, and lay out the basic questions: what problem are we trying to solve? 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 it more difficult for anyone to defend a bad idea.

No one can ever take away your right to think things over, especially if the 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 now". 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 and 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 not.
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 of ways the universe has granted humans to be smart and dumb at the same time, there are many more reasons why smart people behave in stupid ways. For fun, and as fodder for the forums, here's a few more.

If you have some thoughts on this essay, or some more reasons to add, please head on over to the forums.

* 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 tradition
* They may simply want something to be true, that can never be

Re:The article sans references in case of /.'ing (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667702)

For anyone who cares, and if the article gets totally /.ed, here are the reference links at the end of the article, that the other AC was too lazy to put in:


I can think of a perfect example (-1, Troll)

WayneTheGoblin (843267) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667629)


Re:I can think of a perfect example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667643)

I can think of a counter-example: Apple. The Apple user base was stuck in a rut for quite a while due to their ego and fanaticism.

Re:I can think of a perfect example (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667651)

A better example would be Mozilla XUL.

Gee, it only took 5 years to make it work right, it adds a fuckload of bloat, and nobody uses it as a development platform (including AOL), but yet it's the BEST IDEA EVER.

Re:I can think of a perfect example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667748)

No, it's the best idea EV*A*R !

No they don't. (5, Funny)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667637)

Us smart folk have great ideas! Wonderful ideas!

Like that time everyone wanted to give a multi-billion dollar corporation hundreds of millions of dollars to make another season of a mediocre TV show. That was a great idea, wasn't it?

Oh, and then there was the tens of thousands of dallars they gave to that guy who ran a copyright-material-file-trading-site. That turned out smashingly well.

And-- umm--- hrm.


............ good article.

Re:No they don't. (1)

CommanderNacho (887836) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667697)

We live in a world of atomic clocks, of ten dollar lasers you can hold in your hand, of supersonic passenger planes and space stations. Holograms. Magnetic resonance imaging. Personal computers, for that matter.

Smart people have accomplished enough to slack off here and there, IMO.

Re:No they don't. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667775)

What is this "supersonic passenger plane" you speak of?

Re:No they don't. (1)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667777)

Exactly which passenger plane currently flies faster than the speed of sound?

Concorde used to fly at twice the speed of sound but has been retired.

nice pictures (1)

sweatyboatman (457800) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667641)

why have pictures at all? i mean, stock photos, tv-stills, pictures of lunch... what does that have to do with the essay?

perhaps he can have another essay on his site, "Why I Put Random Photos Inline With My Essays"

well... (3, Insightful)

hsmith (818216) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667646)

a lot of it has to do with ego, and a lot of it has to do with committing to something and saying "this is what we are going with"

some people invest a lot of time into ideas and when they see their ideas threatened, they throw up the defense like no other. it transends programming all the way up to world politics.

i am guilty of it, but i have gotten better at admiting my mistakes and using it as something to build upon. it takes a lot to realize when you are at fault and you fucked up.

Re:well... (2, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667790)

it takes a lot to realize when you are at fault and you fucked up.

And this is how you get to be "right." The entire first section wasn't talking about smart people at all. It was talking about smartasses,which he seems to be admiting he is recovering from, as being a smartass is generally derived from the selfdelusion that one is smart.

See the paper on being unskilled and unaware of it.

I shall now continue on that line. . .having read the article I'm left with the conclusion that this guy, and the guys he is talking about, are what I tend to think of as "borderline bright." They're just smart enough to have grand revelations, and thus write articles, books and found schools based on such, that the really smart people have taken as obvious all along. The self help book racks are chockablock full of works by these people.

Cue this idea up with the "Thank you Capt. Obvious" scientific research story.

Since the university systems are now geared to pumping these people through the system at maximum volume and pressure (and revenue stream) we now have gobs of "borderline bright" people with far more bad education than they are bright enough to know what to do with. . .who think they're smart, because they're surrounded by gobs of similar people labled as "smart," until they meet up with a really smart person.

Then they tend to get nasty. Then the marginally smarter ones start to wise up.

Me, I'm just going to ignore the whole thing and go eat some hay. This bale on the left has certain positive qualities, but then so does this bale on the right. . .


INTP (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667653)

IMO people that can do ANYTHING are likely
an INTP http://www.intp.org/intprofile.html [intp.org] personality type. This would explain why they don't always produce much. Merely proving to themselves that they CAN do it is quite enough.

References (3, Informative)

Thu25245 (801369) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667660)

- Difficult conversations, a book about confronting people in tough situations.
- The argument clinic, Monty Python (If you've never seen it, watch it before reading this script. It's in the 3rd season, disc 9 of the boxed set). Also see the splunge scene in episode 6.
- Games people play, Eric Byrne. A book on transactional analyis: a model for why people behave as they do in certain situations.
- The informed argument, Robert Miller. Textbook style coverage of both proper and unfair argument tactics.
- With good reason, Morris Engel. a short summary of common logic manipulations, explained with a sense of humor (over a dozen cartoons).
- Why smart people can be so stupid, Salon.com

Best. Citation. Ever.

Re:References (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667728)

Yeah, they are talking about the picture. It's the Kilimanjaro Sketch. [orangecow.org]

Re:References (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667742)

Ok, I'm an idiot, disregard.

Because we CAN! (3, Funny)

Grey Ninja (739021) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667662)

It's simple. Everyone can have dumb ideas. It's our god given right. And if you think that you are going to pry them from our cold dead fingers, you have another think coming. We can come up with all the bad ideas that we want, and we STILL have more good ideas than the less fortunate. So I say LEAVE US ALONE!

A Corollary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667666)

Just because I refuse to argue with you
does not mean that I agree with you, or
that you are right.

Why are people who defend stupid ideas (4, Insightful)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667669)

considered smart?

Probably because they did well in school. But school (at least in the US) wasn't designed to teach people to think, but to teach them to memorize facts and follow directions.

Re:Why are people who defend stupid ideas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667718)

What school did you go to?

Re:Why are people who defend stupid ideas (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667784)

Revealing that might also reveal my secret identify.

Anyway, I interpret your question to mean you disagree with me. If so, what percentage of your time in elementary school was devoted to reasoning?

Re:Why are people who defend stupid ideas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667752)

Indeed. I think what TFA misses is that there is a difference between people who "act smart" and people who "are smart." Real "smarts" comes from being able to be humble and say "I don't know," rather than make up some BS that will cost everyone alot of time and money. What TFA describes are arrogant people who eventually get found out for being a sham. They are more concerned with winning the argument than actually solving the problem at hand. Hopefully most of us can tell the difference.

Re:Why are people who defend stupid ideas (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667814)

"They are more concerned with winning the argument than actually solving the problem at hand."

As someone who posts to Slashdot fairly often, I know I've been guilty of that one from time to time.

The big reason why open source fails the user (5, Insightful)

mothlos (832302) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667679)

There are lots of very capable coders out there who make excelent code for other techies, but for this very reason the UI often sucks. The individualism and "if you don't like it, fix the code yourself" attitude of many open source projects means that people who aren't code junkies, but are excelent at understanding what a user might want get excluded from the process far too often.

Yes, yes, yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667800)

Yes, we've heard this argument before.

Yes its half the problem.

Yes, it would be nice if it were fixed.

No your comment is not insightful.

Yes, it looks like you are just fishing for karma. Albeit, I do prefer your post to all the trolls. Just try saying something original next time.

Sorry; maybe I've been around so long I'm becoming a grumpy old man.

Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas (1)

Hungus (585181) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667680)

TFA: From what we know of evolution ...

I think this is hillareous, and also quite sad ...

Michael Shermer (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667684)

Michael Shermer wrote in his book [amazon.com] "Why people believe weird things" that smart people believe stupid things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-intelligent reasons. It comes down to intellectual attribution bias and confirmation bias [wikipedia.org]

wait a minute... PHBs! (1)

sedyn (880034) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667685)

"In the software industry, the common example of thinking at the wrong level 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, never stopping to find someone who might not be adept at writing code, but can see where the value of their programming skills would be best applied."

Doesn't the software industry also contain plenty of "rock star programmers" are told what to do by the powers that be (ie: management) who would fit the inept statement and believe to understand the value of various applications? At least this is the feeling one gets when reading about "the man" holding OSS down, PHBs, etc. on this site at least.

Uhmm (1, Insightful)

andreyw (798182) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667687)

Or in other words... this whole article is meant as a defense for the existence and proliferation of "managers", whose MBA degrees supposedly give them the magical ability to manage and control, without actually knowing anything worth damn about what they are managing.

There is no excuse to put in charge MBA-only types (or individuals whose knowledge base does not correspond with that of the company's). How can a "manager" manage and make clear, informed decisions about the direction of his/her company, if he/she has only a vague idea of wtf is being done? Look at HP.

Yes, mod me down if you are a PHB type, or some weak moron who needs a complete dipshit in a suit to tell him day-to-day what to do.

Re:Uhmm (1)

YU Nicks NE Way (129084) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667713)

You know...TFA is about why smart people defend stupid ideas. I suggest that you should reread your posting in the light of TFA.

(You know, we need a +1 case-in-point moderation...)

Re:Uhmm (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667735)

Your comments are totally uncalled for.

Yes, mod me down if you are a PHB type, or some weak moron who needs a complete dipshit in a suit to tell him day-to-day what to do.

For your information, some people who read slashdot are weak morons who need a partial dipshit in a suit to tell them what to do on a day-to-day basis.

Stop over-generalizing.

Re:Uhmm (2, Insightful)

markx16 (214251) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667773)

Hmm, so that explains why the (extremely successful) head of the NBA is an overweight Jewish lawyer?

Skill doesn't automatically translate into leadership. It helps, but it isn't necessary.

Get over yourself. (2, Interesting)

sammy baby (14909) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667791)

Oh, bullshit.

Every organization with a sufficent number of tech geeks (approximately three, in my experience) has one obnoxious asshole who is constantly throwing out awful ideas and defending them vehemently. If you haven't, you either work alone, or you are the obnoxious asshole.

Nowhere in the article does he suggest that deferring to your manager is always the right course, and, in fact, we have this:

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 not.

So, you know. RTFA, and all.

Pride. (2, Insightful)

blackest sun (700836) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667693)

When someone, or a team, puts so much hard work into something pride prevents one from stepping back to say "Wow. That's really messed up. We need to abandon/start over/find a new job"...leadership is lacking. It doesn't necessarily mean that every project needs a dictator. Sometimes a person will step up and provide direction before disappearing into the masses. Sometimes natural chaos works, sometimes a king is sorely lacking. Direction should never be taked for granted, however.

Ask pater@slashdot.,org why he defends the idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667695)

the bad idea that blind people are useless. You should hear some of his hate rants about the blind. The idiot blames the blind for most of the problems with this site. Even after seeing that excluding the blind there's still plenty of trolls, he still clings to the bad idea that the blind are the trolls.

Why does he hate the blind so? Why is his hatred so strong that it overrides logic and experience?

Next week on slashdot... (1)

WizardRahl (840191) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667696)

...why dumb people defend dumb ideas, "Why the Average American thinks Bush is God's Emissary".

Smart people are often stupid (2, Interesting)

ucblockhead (63650) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667707)

What I've often seen is that really smart people can end up being really stupid because they have not yet run into that challenge that really tests them, so they don't have the experience of having to do real intellectual work. I remember a friend in high school who sailed through everything and got a near perfect score on the SAT only to crash and burn, flunking everything his first year. He'd gotten by his entire life on quick thinking, and had never had to do any real intellectual heavy lifting and when confronted with the need, he simply did not have an practice.

This is not to say all really smart people do this. But it is a danger among the smart who never really made themselves work.

RockStar CEOs (1)

tekrat (242117) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667717)

Wouldn't a better example be a group-think by the board of directors that brings in a "rockstar" CEO to burn the company to the ground because usually, this CEO has no vision beyond the next quarter?

Consider the case of HP -- the company was basically dis-assembled in the name of trying to become more effecient.

Rare is the case where a bigwig actually DOES turn the company around and make a comeback (Steve Jobs is a good example here, but Steve is few and far between).

And yet, boards of directors make the same bad mistakes, again and again. Why is that?

Thomas Edison and DC current (1)

cyber_rigger (527103) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667724)

Here is a prime example.

Thomas Edison was violently opposed to AC
even though AC was much better for power transmission.
Edison thought that everything should be DC.

Re:Thomas Edison and DC current (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667738)

Naw, that was a simple case of "Follow the money", not necessarily ego.

Re:Thomas Edison and DC current (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667804)

Thomas Edison was violently opposed to AC

With all the stupid comments coming from AC's, I strongly agree with him.
Oh, wait...

The biggest problem (2, Insightful)

ShatteredDream (636520) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667734)

is when people who are very intelligent compared to the rest of the public think they know it all. I think there is probably nothing worse than arguing with someone who thinks that because they are brilliant in one area that they are now all of a sudden uniquely qualified to render an opinion in all areas.

Confusing Leadership with Skill (3, Insightful)

markx16 (214251) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667739)

I think the issue at hand is that many people confuse leadership ability with skill. Being a good programmer doesn't necessarily make you a good project manager, nor is the best manager also the best coder. It's sometimes the case, and certainly some very skilled people successfully rise into management because their skill translates into seeing the big picture and hence being a good manager.

But not all really skilled people see the big picture, and that's when ego kicks in. They can't stand taking orders from somebody less skilled than them. People complain about pointy-headed PHB's with no skills getting paid more that them, but the reality is that having 20 coders is a waste if they lack direction, and ideally, that's what the PHB is there for.

Whether the PHB is actually effective is another story. Leadership is a nebulous thing and much harder to quantify and identify than skill - hence the embarrasing examples that slip through the cracks.

Iraq (-1, Troll)

tekrat (242117) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667744)

You would think smart people would be running the USA, but we invaded Iraq anyway... And yet these smart people continue to defend that stupid idea too.

Agile Work - The Middle Way to Excellence (BSP*) (1)

under_score (65824) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667755)

My Agile Advice blog [agileadvice.com] is all about this. Basically - how do you go between chaos (caused for example by really smart people with no direction), and bureaucracy (caused for example, by people who know what needs to be done, but don't have a clue how to do it).

(* Blatant Self Promotion - but blog has tons of great info and concepts and is not directly commercial)

That has nothing to do with intelligence (5, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667758)

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.

I've known smart people like that.
And fantastically dumb people like that.

I've had someone argue that the queen of England isn't rich, and get this, when I explained that she's the biggest land owner in the U.K. and she made about 27 million a year last time I checked, he argued that she isn't rich because when she dies someone else will inherit her money (unlike Bill Gates, who'll bring it with him to the afterlife?).

Smart people just defend their insanity with more flair.

Yeah - like the Republican Party (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667760)

and Capitalism after it was demonstrated in common experience that it's a Destructive Horror, and Windows when even a freakin retard can see that it's less an OS and more of a disease vector, and industrialism for being the unsustainable monstrosity that is proving to be a complete nightmare, and SUVs that are cleary a stupid notion, and all the other things that we do EVERY FUCKING DAY, and people accept as the NORM, when it's anything but, and they just let it go on and on - and these are perfectly intelligent, civilised people, people who eat with their mouth shut, people who who signal when they're changing lanes, people who can calculate pi, program computers, or do some other fairly sophisticated intellectual activity, but suffer from such an intense variety of cranio-rectal inversion that they approach becoming Klein Bottles in the flesh, only these Klein bottles drive SUVs while barking out nonsense into a cellphone and do their dead level best to better themselves, but simply make matters worse for everyone else - the same kind of human Klein bottles that voted for Bush and think the War in Iraq was a good idea.



I do this deliberately (4, Interesting)

cperciva (102828) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667765)

I quite deliberately confront people with, and defend, astonishingly bad ideas. (For example: "If the US government really wants to save as many lives as possible, they should give everybody two weeks' notice and then drop a nuclear bomb in the center of Jerusalem. This would destroy the largest cause of Israeli-Palestinian violence.") I do this not because I actually believe such things, but because I want to find people who are willing to contradict me and justify their positions.

Sadly, the vast majority of people either disagree without justification, or (even more worryingly) agree without justification -- which just demonstrates how unwilling most sheep^Wpeople are to engage in thought and/or debate.

Smart People Defend Bad Ideas... (4, Interesting)

AliasMoze (623272) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667767)

...because people are not rational. We are sometimes temporarily capable of rationality, but the other 99% of the time we're ruled by subconscious forces. We arrogantly think in terms of making intelligent choices, but modern brain science is showing that decisions are an illusion, that there is only behavior, and that our behavior is out of our conscious control.

So smart-schmart. Intelligence has nothing to do with it.


Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667770)

of smart people and dumb ideas:

image challenge system that displays mixed cases of images but only accepts lowercase answers....

I love you self indulgence (2, Interesting)

Mr.Zong (704396) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667782)

I look at it a kinda like this:

The brain works on weighted probability. These weights change and readjust as we take in information. Taking some liberties with this idea, it seems like a good as time as ever to plug a section of my undergraduate paper: "An Observational Analysis of Machine Cognizance". (Disclaimer: I said undergraduate, haha :P).

Imagine that human memory works on a sliding scale, one of infinitely negative and infinitely positive collections of like objects. These upper and lower bounds are set by the experiences of the individuals.
Let's say you have two cats. Cat one is newborn kitten, while cat two is http://www.isfullofcrap.com/albums/Cats/buddha2.si zed.jpg (love those Maine coons).

By looking at that image, you have just redefined your own maximum in relation to the object "cat".

The more cats you look at, the more they all begin to look the same and you begin to tune out any old cat that may cross your path. But you'll always remember that big fat cat as the biggest you've ever seen (the maximum values, which can change) and newborn as the smallest cat you've ever seen (the minimum), while the "middle ground" deteriorates under the weight of the average cat. The more cats you see, the less you remember. Not only that, but cats they may appear big to other people, begin to seem normal to you. You've just seen to many damn cats to care anymore (call it desensitizing the mind, or information overload if you will). But you always remember the biggest and smallest. The best and worst.

Couldn't this just be like the fattest cat scenario? These people have taken in so much that only things on the extreme end of the scale seem to have any relevance, while the rest just seems to be repetitive and mundane?

Why Smart People Should Defend Bad Ideas (2, Interesting)

Quirk (36086) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667787)

In order to hypothesize we simplify. Using the idea of Occam's Razor [wikipedia.org] we make a number of assumptions and the assumptions we make have a number of presuppositons attached to them. This is how we hypothesize in order to predict and once our predictions are shown to be correct we theorize. Gregory Bateson [edge.org] investigated these ideas in his book Mind and Nature [amazon.com] . Smart people should defend dumb/wrong ideas, if they are concerned about falsification as the leading idea in the progress of scince, because the smarter the person the more likely the argument will be logical and the more logical the argument the more able we are to potentially falsify or verify it.

Ask Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667792)

never stopping to find someone who might not be adept at writing code, but can see where the value of their programming skills would be best applied.

So let's say I'm that someone. Where can I post my ideas and have it analyzed and eventually handed off to programmers for implementation?

I'll try to help (2, Funny)

interstellar_donkey (200782) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667803)

What he's saying:

As a condition of being smart, defending ideas is a natural skill. Sometimes that skill takes precedent over rational thought and smart people will focus so much on being right that they will forget to think rationally.

There, I just saved you 10 minutes of reading.

Where's my check?

numbers game (2, Insightful)

moviepig.com (745183) | more than 8 years ago | (#12667816)

Why do smart people defend bad ideas?

Lots of ideas become 'good' or 'bad' only with hindsight. (E.g., pet rocks, E-books...) And, 'smart' doesn't always mean 'prescient' ...or 'lucky'...

why does it happen more often in IT? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12667827)

Why does it happen so often in IT? If you've been in IT a while, you can probably think of a dozen or more examples were you thought "oh, so they've re-invented $FOO, but this time they call it $BAR, wonderful". $FOO could be "hierarchic databases" and $BAR could be "XML databases" for instance.

I studied engineering in school and I never saw this phenomenon on the scale it exists in IT.

Is it a lack of "barrier to entry"? (I.e., anybody can be a programmer) .. is it because there's no "fabrication" phase (just write a program, you're done and it costs nothing to copy). Lack of foundation knowledge in school??
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account