How Not to Be Stupid - Farnam Street - Deepstash

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Defining Stupidity

People think stupidity is the opposite of intelligence. In fact, stupidity is the cost of intelligence operating in a complex environment.

Stupidity can be defined as overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information.

It’s crucial information: You better pay attention to it. It’s conspicuous: It’s right in front of your nose and yet you either overlook it or you dismiss it.


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Seven Factors that Lead to Stupidity

Seven Factors that Lead to Stupidity

  • Being outside your normal environment or changing your routines.
  • Being in the presence of a group(social pressure).
  • Being in the presence of an expert or if you, yourself, are an expert.
  • Doing any task that requires intense focus, or fixating on a particular outcome.
  • Information overload.
  • Physical or emotional stress, fatigue. 
  • Rushing or urgency.

The probability of missing key information (stupidity) increases the more the above factors are present.


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Modern Life And Stupidity

Most of the factors are ubiquitous in modern-day life such as stress, rushing, and information overload. Therefore, our modern life is already susceptible to missing key information and making stupid mistakes.

All factors are present in US hospitals. Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.


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The Solution

The Solution

  • Recognize and know that you are in ”the stupid zone”
  • Pause. Just sit. Stop, before leaving your environment. If you can’t sit still for a minute, you don’t have the time not to!
  • Have a buddy whose job is to watch us. That is their only task, and can’t have the same responsibility as us. Have your own “pit crew”.
  • Don’t make decisions or do anything when in the stupid zone. For example, don’t sign a contract or drive.


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Stupidity is not the opposite of intelligence.

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