This has always been intriguing. I always thought that it was perhaps the smart people do things on the spur of the moment. Courtesy my friend Shekhar Gupta, I understood that intelligence and rationality are different. Once one understand this concept, it is easy to understand why smart people can do stupid things.
Think of the mind as having 3 parts:
Autonomous mind that engages in problematic cognitive shortcuts or “Type-1” processing. The mind jumps to the first available solution automatically and without any conscious control.
Algorithmic mind that engages in Type -2 processing — the slow laborious thinking, often leading to analysis paralysis.
Reflective mind that decides when to make do with the judgments of the autonomous mind and when to call the algorithmic mind.
The reflective mind determines how rational a person is. When and how one’s reflective mind springs into action is determined by a number of behavioral attributes including whether one is dogmatic, flexible, open minded and so so. Most importantly it also depends on whether one has fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
An inflexible mindset or a fixed mindset person has trouble assimilating new information and hence invariably ends up force fitting the problem to the solution that he has in his head. And then even though he is smart, he is lazy to find a better solution.
This article provides a succinct analysis. For a thought provoking analysis I strongly recommend reading Carol Dweck’s book. It is bound to influence any thinker. For a very entertaining yet thought provoking book that can significantly change your perspective, I recommend reading Dan Ariely’s book — Predictably irrational.
Have you known of any smart thinkers doing stupid things?