Business advice: Intelligent people can be stupid

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By Bill Caswell

Special to Ontario Construction Report

CCC (Caswell Corporate Consulting) often stipulates that only 10 per cent of the population seem able to think for themselves.  However, even that elite 10 per cent make ghastly decisions when they move along in life, often choosing to ignore the facts, and their own senses.

Instead, they pursue the path of least resistance, in step with the mob because the mob says it must be so. There are many such situations but allow me to demonstrate with the details of three of my favourite examples. The point to be made for the leaders is that their own management teams, well trained and well educated, can act impulsively rather than take time to calmly examine all sides of a story.

The first tale is about the vinyl record player or turntable. The second tale is a view of the nuclear energy production and the third is about Canadian football. These examples show how the facts don’t seem to matter. Not detailed here are the stories related to elites’ choices of senseless clothing, unhealthy food selection, inaction towards our greatest world crisis (global warming) – namely, irresponsible choices of gas gobbling SUVs, not turning off unused house lights, etc.).

The CD Player vs. the Turntable

Audio systems in the home seem to attract the elite who make choices depending, it is assumed, on what their ears tell them in the audio shop. A current trend is the return to music on vinyl records vs. the CD, and with that the choice to purchase a record-playing turntable and cartridge in favor of the CD player. For me this is as blatant nonsense as choosing to buy a black-and-white television rather than a modern LED liquid crystal colour TV.

Even as an impoverished university student, I somehow found the cash to invest, bit by bit, in electronics to build an audio system. I was so keen about audio, I even wrote articles for trade magazines, the most relevant one to this newsletter being, in 1965, about how to select a turntable1.

The optical pickup transfers the information on the CD to the electronic processing system, which compares with the physical needle pickup of the vinyl disc’s phono cartridge. Thus, with optics, the physical contact is avoided as is the scratchy sound emanating from the needle’s work. As a bonus, the CD information is never degraded whereas the contacting needle wears out the best quality of the vinyl record. A CD could last forever theoretically and play just as well on the 1,000th play as on the first one; the vinyl disc loses its prime sound quality after 10 plays.

More audio advantages of CDs are: 100 times the dynamic range, 100 times the channel separation, 10 times the width of audio frequency response2, absolute flatness of frequency response, no need for RIAA compensation, analog vs. digital storage, etc., all of which illustrate the dominating superiority of the CD over the vinyl disc.

The contest is not even close. Of course, all one has to do is listen! But it seems that people hear what they want (and see what they want – with the attractive audio components usually outselling the uglier, and often superior sounding ones).

Nuclear energy

A recent quote of Steven Pinker3 (edited) says it all:

“Nuclear power is the safest form of energy humanity has ever used. (All other forms of energy

production) …kill…people…in enormous numbers, more than half a million per year. Yet nuclear energy has stalled for decades….driven by memories of three accidents: Three Mile Island in 1979 which killed no one; Fukushima, Japan in 2011 which killed one worker and the Soviet-bungled Chernobyl in 1986 which killed 31… and perhaps several thousand from cancer, around the same number killed by coal emissions every day.”

CFL football

Some football fans in Canada are quick to degrade the Canadian Football League as being inferior to the NFL because it is dominated by “rejected NFL players”. Even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation prefers to show NFL (and not CFL) football within it dumbfounding nationalistic mandate.

Firstly, be aware that less than 1.6% of U.S. college players make it to the professional level – including those playing innada, so quality cannot be an issue for the U.S. imports – unless you want to argue the difference between 1.5% and 1.6%. Second, a CFL team with nearly 50 players is limited to 20 (better trained, I admit) Americans. At any time, a specific ratio of Americans has to be maintained during each play on the field.

Thirdly the CFL is structured with the philosophy of promoting Canadian college football players at the professional level in Canada.  In fact, 208 Canadian players were drafted from Canadian colleges last year, namely more than 20 per cent of the eligible players.

The playing field in the CFL is slightly larger than the NFL. This has created a stronger emphasis on speed for offensive linemen in the CFL; speed in other positions adds to the thrill for viewers. Due to the larger field and the CFL allowing just three downs, the league sees a more pass-orientated game. A short running game is not effective in this league. Result: a more action-oriented game overall.

The 108th Grey Cup in December 2021 drew the largest live audience of any sporting event in Canada that year, as it has done for the last 10 decades.

Making the point

Even intelligent people are stupid about some things. They think a vinyl player sounds better than a CD, that nuclear energy is unsafe and CFL football is an inferior sport. The leader has to be ready for biases; your reacting in astonishment or anger will not correct the situation.

Managers’ ‘stupidity’ is because people can enter a situation with a predisposition bias, that is, having their minds already made up. What is called for is a sharing of thoughts among peers, opening up the channels of communications, as well as the examination and re-examination of new thoughts and ideas. It is, of course, one of the reasons CCCC places such a high value on meetings (properly run, of course).

Good luck with your clever staff members.

Bill Caswell leads the Caswell Corporate Coaching Company (CCCC) in Ottawa, www.caswellccc.com or email bill@caswellccc.com

1 “Selecting the Proper Turntable”, W. E. Caswell, Electron magazine, Toronto ON, March 1965, p32

2 Recent discoveries in Japan have shown that a wider frequency range than standard human audio enhances the listener’s perception of sound.

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