Too Smart for Your Own Good

Ignorance Is Bliss-ish

ignorance-is-blissLife is like pouring concrete. (Bear with me here.) The world provides an endless supply of mystery—raw concrete mix—and over time this concrete pours out into our lives, moving from the unknown (concrete mixer) to the known (exposed, wet concrete). We learn new things, have new experiences, and make new discoveries. In this process, we shape our new knowledge into a unique worldview—a concrete foundation. And just like concrete, our worldviews harden over time.

Children are exposed to so much newness that the concrete flows out like a hole in a dam. They mold the onslaught of new information as well as they can, trying to make room for the next layers. As we get older, however, the concrete that once flowed freely begins to slow. For adults, finding new knowledge comes with a cost—our time and energy. Building upon our worldview foundation requires actively seeking the unknown—journeying to the land of new information at the risk (or benefit) of altering our concrete structure.

There are only two ways to change a concrete worldview: Addition or subtraction; either we (a.) add more concrete—more knowledge—that can be molded around the existing structure, or (b.) we take a jack-hammer to our concrete edifice in an attempt to reconfigure its appearance. The former option is more delicate, incremental, and self-directed. The latter is less controlled, more dramatic, and often occurs by outside influence. Experiences that fly in the face of our worldview are processed in different ways by different people. And while the truth has a way of eroding our most egregious misconceptions, some people’s structures are more protected than others.

The world is essentially made up of three types of people: 1. Never Quitters, 2. Bitter Quitters, and 3. Happy Quitters. This is to say that there are people who persist, people who give up in discouragement, and people who are content watching rather than participating. Let’s examine each of these three groups using a totally nonscientific nor rigorous methodology—the clichés that they most represent.

Never Quitters are the persistent, “lifelong learners” who continually pour and shape concrete onto their worldview foundation. They are so named for the motivational cliché, “Never give up.” Bitter Quitters are ex-Never Quitters who, in their search of the unknown, stumbled upon an undesirable reality and decided to go no further. This group is summarized by the phrase, “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.” And the final group—the Happy Quitters—may know of a world beyond their bubble, but choose not to explore it, because… well… why would they? They’re content with their lives. Theirs is a comfortable bubble, like being tucked under warm, cozy blankets in a frigid bedroom. And for this group, “Ignorance is bliss.

In a world where, as YaleGlobal Online reports, “the gap between job requirements and available skills is widening,” and technological advancement is outpacing society’s ability to keep up, it seems “obvious” to the Never Quitters that continual learning is imperative. To a Never Quitter, bowing out of the world of learning seems like an admission of defeat. “Now, more than ever, is a time for continual learning, up-skilling, and growing to stay relevant in an ever-changing landscape,” the Never Quitter may say. But they are missing a crucial point.

There is value in the known, the familiar, and the comfortable (especially if such a worldview has a solid foundation). The known allows for a state of low-anxiety and contentment. Also, we all become either a Bitter or Happy Quitter eventually. The 97-year-old lifelong learner may decide that he’s perfectly content not understanding how Twitter works. It’s a common mistake of the “Too Smart for Your Own Good” cohort to think that everyone would benefit from journeying down the Path of the Mental Unknown. They fail to acknowledge the personal benefits of a comfortable, insulated worldview, which Quitters regularly enjoy. In order to coexist, people are not required to agree on how best to live life, but we do need to understand one another’s perspective. How each of us shapes the concrete that life provides is completely up to us.concrete-life

This is the third installment of a series titled “Too Smart  for Your Own Good.”

For more information on lifelong learners in America, consider reading the following report: Pew Research Center, March, 2016, “Lifelong Learning and Technology.” (Source)

Too Smart for Your Own Good

The Problem with Logic

tug-o-war2There is an art to getting things done. The problem with logic is that it’s only half of the equation (and “half” is being generous). Logic can lead to a false sense of understanding. “This is the logical explanation,” we may say. There’s a logical choice, a logical path, a “right way.” But logical thinking often neglects to consider the other half of the equation—the emotional half. And emotions are a much more powerful force.

A considerable amount of what occurs in the world occurs because of emotion alone (without even the slightest consideration for reason). Forgetting about the emotional side can handicap us in the real world of “getting things done.” An idea may be the most logical, but that does not mean it will always triumph. The real world is not a meritocracy; just ask an economist.

In recent years, economists have recommended that NFL teams spend less resources trying to draft superstar athletes. Instead, they recommend trading top draft picks for multiple lower picks (spreading their risk of picking a top round dud). Despite showing that such changes would translate into more wins per season (about 1.5 more), team owners and general managers have generally ignored the advice. Why? Because there is more to life than logic. Teams are illogically overconfident that their picks are better than the competitions’ and owners enjoy having big name players on the roster. It’s not logical; it’s emotional. Historical precedent, personal ideologies, social allegiances—these are what constitute the illogical side of life, the emotional side. Economists work in the world of logical suggestions, but the real power lies in the hands of others.

My favorite definition of “power” is “the ability to get things done.” It avoids the negative connotations we have. There is no mention to coercion or corruption, no distinction between strong and weak, no manipulation tactics or financial sanctions. Power can just as easily relate to a healthy marriage as it can to a government regime. We are required to “get things done” everyday, and our ability to do so benefits not only us, but our friends, family, and colleagues. Power, therefore, is something we should wish on everyone.

To “empower” a person is to bestow them with the ability to help himself. We live in a world where emotions reign supreme. Events often happen on emotion alone (without logical consideration), but rarely the other way around. Logic, then, is the empowering piece of the puzzle; it is the prerequisite for significant improvement. But unlike the power of emotional whims, we cannot achieve with logic alone.

Good leadership, parenting, governance—they all require emotional intelligence, as well as critical thinking. This is the cornerstone underlying television shows like Hugh Laurie’s House M.D. and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock—the lone genius struggling in a world of social interaction and emotions, knowing these inevitabilities are as much a solution as they are a problem, a strength and a weakness. Destruction is easy with emotions alone, but building something meaningful requires both heart and mind.

Last week we discussed the frustrations of the workplace—the unspoken, sometimes unknowable rules (the emotional side). But more frustrating than office politics is actual politics. It can be ugly at times, but politics is the ultimate “art” of getting things done, where the complexities of social interactions far outweigh logical idealism or truth. People who vote with their heads struggle with this concept. They cannot understand voting with the heart. And that’s the classic downfall of a logic-heavy worldview: It leads to the dismissal of the human condition and the social/emotional sides to us all.

There’s an old journalism maxim, “if it bleeds, it leads,” which sums up the emotion-heavy side of society. Emotional hyperbole is popular; it sells news. We like stories about people (human interest pieces), and if there happens to be a murder involved, all the better! Humans are drawn to other humans, often in ways that defy reason. A string of bad relationship choices, the flock of rioting fans after a win—none of it makes logical sense, but it happens nonetheless. We must attempt to see the forest for the trees.

Understanding how society works, with all its human behavioral quirks, can buffer the logic problem. There is a scene in the 2000 historical epic, Gladiator, where Oliver Reed’s character—a wise, embattled ex-gladiator—gives some advice to the young warrior, Russell Crowe. He says to Crowe, “I was not the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me.” Oliver Reed’s gladiator understood how the system actually worked, and that understanding (not his skill in the colosseum) is what set him apart. Logic is necessary to our success, but it must be balanced with the understanding, compassion, and social skills that human emotions provide. Such a balancing act is a real art form.

This is the second installment of a series titled “Too Smart  for Your Own Good.”