[by Wisacre Photo on Flickr]

Scott Berkun, one of the smartest people I've had the pleasure of meeting (and in one of those understated ways - you know, he doesn't come on trying to prove how smart he is...it is just revealed in due time) has another great essay in which he brings up the subject of smart people defending dumb ideas.

We all know them...hell, we've BEEN them.

Here is an overview of the various reasons why smart people defend dumb ideas...in my own words:

  1. Because they are good at arguing

    ...I would add: The need to be right.

    I believe, even beyond Scott's assessment of the master debater, just plain egos get in the way. Ever started arguing with someone just because their whole demeanor ticks you off? Yep. I've defended all sorts of asanine ideas because I'm talking to a person I just want to disagree with.

  2. Circle jerk

    Or the echo chamber. Lack of diversity. We all drank the koolaid. If there is a group of people who all think the same, there is nobody to stop the homogeny. I believe it was James Surowiecki who said that for the wisdom of crowds to take place, diversity of experience and levels of knowledge have to be present. A homogenous 'smart' crowd actually makes worse assessments.

  3. You're asking the wrong question

    I've discussed this before. Sometimes a question is difficult to answer because the question is coming at an issue from the wrong angle...or even the wrong issue.

    "Should this be blue or green?"

    "It should be written in PHP."

    "Yeah, but should it be blue or green?"

    "I don't care, but it should be written in PHP!"

    "You are not being helpful. I need to know your preference in colour."

    "And I'm saying that it isn't the colour that will matter in the end, it's the fact that you've written this in Perl that is problematic."

    An even better analogy from Scott: 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.”

  4. Short term thinking

    This is one of the problems that drives me nuts. Quite often people put in quick fixes without thinking of long-term consequences (i.e. spamming a list of 200,000 people to get the word out, but ending up creating distrust and angry people - Plaxo still suffers from this).

    This doesn't mean, though, that, if your long term goal is the 'mainstream' that you should plan for a generic play right away, though. Quite often, people misinterpret this point as license to overthink near term planning. The whole thinking too soon about 'crossing the chasm' comes into play here.

Scott's tips to stop yourself from defending dumb ideas?

  1. Slow down

    I think Kathy's advice on saying: '...how interesting' may work here. Don't just react. Think about it for a spell. You don't need to always have an answer. In fact, sometimes it's better when you don't.

  2. Don't be afraid to ask for help

    Scott says to ask a sane person: that person also should have abundant #1: thoughtfulness. (this from personal experience with going to girlfriends when I'm exasperated about a boyfriend. Sure, they offer advice, but not always the best because they are reacting like I'm reacting)

In Scott's forums (where he got his own extra help), people added to the reasons why smart people defend dumb ideas:

  1. Smart people can be led astray by stupid (but charismatic) leaders
  2. Smart people can react emotionally (similar to my addendum to #1)
  3. Trained or educted into stupidity (funny this one...I find that there are more and more people reading a couple of marketing books...and not the 'good ones'...and making all of their marketing decisions based on those books...yikes!)
  4. Fantasy...they want it to be true...aaaah, the koolaid. For an interesting corollary to this one, check out Dan Gilbert's TED Talk (which I plan to talk about soon) on how effective synthesized happiness is.

I'm looking forward to Scott's book on the Myth of Innovation coming out next year, I believe. I attended his discussion at FOO Camp last summer and was blown away by his insights. He's one of those think against "conventional wisdom" and see where it takes me kind of guys...and, man, it's a good angle to come from. :)