Don’t Be Stupid


FS: After a four-hour conversation on The Knowledge Project (Part 1, Part 2), Adam Robinson (@IAmAdamRobinson) and I shared another 10-minutes that shouldn’t be missed on how not to be stupid.

Shane Parrish: Adam, you did a presentation once on how not to be stupid. Can you tell me about that? What is stupidity?

Adam Robinson: Right. It’s so funny you should ask that, because people think stupidity is the opposite of intelligence. In fact, stupidity is the cost of intelligence operating in a complex environment. It’s almost inevitable. And so I was asked by an organizer of an investment conference in the Bahamas of some elite global investors to do a talk on anything I wanted to do, except not about investing. It’s just, pick an interesting topic. So I thought for a second and I blurt out, “Okay. How about how not to be stupid?” He laughed and he said, “Okay. Great.” It took me a month of hard thinking, mind you, just to define stupidity. By the way, if you’re in any field and you want to find ways to innovate, focus on words that are commonly used and try to define them simply.

It took me about a month, and I defined stupidity as overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information. Right? It’s crucial information, like you better pay attention to it. It’s conspicuous, like it’s right in front of your nose and yet you either overlook it or you dismiss it. How not to be stupid, what are the causes of human error—and it took me a couple of months of research just to come up with data points, because most stupidity is ignored or swept under the rug. I studied instances of scientific stupidity and literary stupidity and military stupidity and every other kind of stupidity, as well as two domains that engineer stupidity.


One is benign: magic. The magician misdirects your attention. The whole goal of the magician is to make you stupid, to not notice something you should have. The other is frauds and cons and hoaxes. That’s also—but that’s a malicious, malevolent kind of engineering of stupidity. The magician does so with our full consent, for entertainment purposes. The conman engineers stupidity for their own gain. I do historical research, everything, and I identify seven factors that lead to stupidity.


SNIP: Like these guys-







h/t Forcibly Deranged.

19 Comments on Don’t Be Stupid

  1. I still can’t figure out how jimbo managed to rip that mic out of her hand, knowing jimbo that was a magic trick for sure.

  2. Watch Jimbo standing by the steel fence and wondering why there was no invading caravan around. No invading marauders? How phucking stupid can one be? Hey Jimbo, they were down the road a bit, where there was no steel fence.
    God Bless President Trump. I pray he beats these stupid phuckers.
    And O’ Boy, did KellyAnne ever hand that asshole Acosta his ass the other day! “Smart ass, nobody here likes you.” Fuck off. LMAO hEE, HEE.

  3. From the link: “Atul Gawande wrote a book called The Checklist Manifesto…”

    I, along with about 10 other people were given a copy of this book in 2011 by an executive of the company I work for.

    He requested a call from each of us when we got to the part about the “brown M & M’s”.

    Despite the book’s title, I found it interesting.

  4. I like this topic. I differentiate between situational stupidity and professional/malignoramous fatal stupidity.
    In the case of Abilio (Jim’s real name) Acosta, it is the latter.

    But I laugh about some really stupid situational stupidity of which I am guilty.

    Like moving a ladder while painting the house trim, thinking the hook holding the paint bucket would be my friend. It worked fine until I changed the height of the extension ladder. It dumped nearly a full gallon of paint on my head. Wife thought it was a photo op, laughing her ass off. I was not amused. Stupid.

    Or when I built a second story deck on my townhouse, notching 6×6 posts and erecting them, realizing the measurements were wrong. So I adjusted by renotching them correctly. It took a month for me to realize that cutting them shorter and square at the bottom would have been easier. I still shake my head. Stupid.

    Just last month I needed a bookmarked recipe for hush puppies. Not bookmarked on my iPhone. It was in wife’s iPad, which she was using. So I took iPhone to take a pic of her screen rather than asking her to forward the link. That was brain erasure tech stupid.

    Ordinarily I’m pretty smart, but stupid happens. I try not to make it a lifestyle though.

    Anybody else ever done stupid? I’m not talking marriages or stuff like that. Everybody’s done that.

  5. I would like to say that I sort of knew all this stuff but simply hadn’t put it together as nicely.

    But that would be stupid.

    Distraction can cause stupid decisions and actions even when there are no other factors. Last night I put some dirty dishes in the upper rack of the dishwasher and immediately pulled several plates out of the bottom rack and put them away in the clean stack.


    Not very consequential, except for embarrassment: Mrs. Uncle was the one to point it out. She gets a great big gold star for being gentle.

  6. Fascinating article.

    That reminds me of an article I read about multi-tasking that I read years ago. What was the best way to multi-task? Don’t do it.

  7. From PHenry: “Anybody else ever done stupid?”

    I’m 58 years old. I don’t have the time left on the planet to relate all the instances.

    Here’s just one.

    Installing down spout on a gutter. Working on ladders is always a PITA. But this time, everything seemed to go easier. Until it was time to take the ladder down. I’d assembled the elbow of the downspout THROUGH the rungs of the ladder.

  8. PHenry – Marriage was the smartest thing I ever did. Before doing anything I show my wife what I am planning and she tells me how it’s stupid and the smart easier way to do it.

    She doesn’t say it’s stupid, mind you, just, “Why don’t you…”


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