Why smart people come up with bad ideas

I recently made an observation, a very smart person I know blurted out an idea in a meeting and was convinced the idea ended the conversation.

The person who blurted out the idea is very smart, but the idea was not very good. I’ve seen great organisations implement bad ideas many — many — times. But this time I asked myself: why does this happen? What causes brilliant people to jump on bad ideas, and take decisive actions that are clearly not great?

My hypothesis was that stress causes us to believe that the real linchpin in a situation is having an idea, any idea, of what to do next. As if an idea was all it took to solve problems.

I wrote a Twitter thread about it to see if anyone else had similar experience. It turns out a lot of people do.

I’ve made an observation recently, and I’d love to hear if you’ve seen the same? People who are stressed (very busy) tend to believe ideas are more valuable than they really are.

Jesper Bylund
Turns out a most people see this behaviour

Some very smart people chimed in with their own experiences and it seemed like I had stumbled upon an important insight. Then my friend Fredrik offered this insightful reframe of the behaviour:

It could be rephrased like this, people who are very busy think in basics. Speed at the cost of depths and I wholly agree with your observations

Fredrik Paulin

This reframe is powerful because it removes the emotional component from the idea completely. This behaviour is not something that some people do. It’s not an error that pops up as the side effect of fuzzy thinking. It’s a classic error that is innate to humans, blank and white thinking.

To avoid this behaviour myself in the future I want to define this problem as follows.

Tl;Dr

Stress causes humans to think in basics. Which means we’re grasping for straws, and an idea that seems to solve the problem, no matter how badly, is preferable to not making a decision.

A side effect of this behaviour is a tendency to believe ideas are more valuable than execution. Because by choosing an idea, the stressed human believes they have taken action.

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