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2/2/09

Why Smart People Do Dumb Things

Why Smart People Do Dumb Things

Dysrationalia—"the inability to think and behave rationally despite adequate intelligence." Let's see, Bobbie Fischer and his mouth, Bill Clinton and his zipper, Richard Nixon with his White House Plumbers, and William James Sidis and his obsession with street car transfers. . . . It is a "disorder" affecting some of the smartest people you know.

Natural selection evolved the brain to enable the human species to survive. In shorthand, aptitude as shown by an IQ test is not a measure of street smarts. (Include emotional intelligence with that.) To be sure, in a technologically advanced society, IQ can foster success despite relatively less street smarts. But bear in mind we're not talking CEOs here. They have to think on their feet. (At least that's the theory, and a theory that gives us pause after learning that John Thain gave bonuses amounting between $3 and $4 billion to his Merrill Lynch executives after getting a $15 billion dollar bailout for Bank of America from TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program.)

As for IQ, the social class in which you were raised is claimed to affect your score by 12 to 18 points. But here is another term for you: intellectual capital. According to some, it is better than IQ as a predictor of academic success. Intellectual capital results from stimulation and support from the home, school and neighborhood for exploration and achievement. More at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here is an explanation of dysrationalia and of intellectual capital.

The list below reminds us of IQ and street smarts. In terms of dumb business practices have you heard of these?
  • The Heidelberg Electric Belt for the modern era of 1900. Think of it as a low-voltage jockstrap. It was supposed to cure what ailed you. Wife complained? Buy it to to cure impotence. Kidney stones? It was claimed to fry them. Insomnia? Well, I'm not quite sure how voltage jolts would put you to sleep.
  • Then there was the drink Beech-Nut sold as "100% pure apple juice." Beech-Nut's nose became beech wood. Like Pinocchio's, it grew long for that lie. The product had absolutely no apple juice.
  • Midas had a memorable ad. An old woman ripped open her blouse to show her "mufflers" to the shop mechanics.
  • Our dearly beloveds need your help. In London a video game maker had a stroke of brilliance. The company asked for volunteers to let the company advertise on the headstones of loved ones dead and gone.

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