Suffering from... Dysrationality?

How can very clever people be so very thick?

by Helen Kirwan-Taylor,
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The smartest manager you know gets involved in some bogus investment, on which he gambles the ranch. Everyone wonders how someone so clever could do something so stupid. This great mystery - how the clever can be so thick - was finally solved by Professor Keith Stanovich at Toronto University. He'd noticed that highly intelligent people (esteemed professors like himself) were behaving like imbeciles, making hasty and silly business decisions that their less talented peers would avoid. They might also fly off the handle in meetings and go off on tangents, coming across as silly and childish, or routinely see their cars towed away because they've never mastered the parking system. This, says Stanovich, is because IQ has little to do with rational behaviour. We are all 'cognitive misers' who expend as little mental energy as we can on things that don't interest us. So your resident mathematical genius at work gets in trouble with his credit card company. Why? He didn't read the small print. Our brains are there to make us trust our instincts (called 'side bias'), but they can, with practice, be improved. We can try, for example, thinking the opposite of what we normally think. The good news is that the dysrational can learn fresh skills - or hire a business manager.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

A leadership thought: Treat your colleagues like customers

One minute briefing: Create a platform where others can see their success, says AVEVA CEO...

The ignominious death of Gordon Gekko

Profit at all costs is a defunct philosophy, and purpose a corporate superpower, argues this...

Gender bias is kept alive by those who think it is dead

Research: Greater representation of women does not automatically lead to equal treatment.

What I learned leading a Syrian bank through a civil war

Louai Al Roumani was CFO of Syria's largest private retail bank when the conflict broke...

Martin Sorrell: “There’s something about the unfairness of it that drives me”

EXCLUSIVE: The agency juggernaut on bouncing back, what he would do with WPP and why...

The 10 values that will matter most after COVID-19

According to a survey of Management Today readers.