Læring versus smartness

oktober 13, 2007

It´s better to learn than to be smart

Last week in Stockholm I presented a Responsible Leadership workshop to the Statesecretaries of the Swedish Government. Near the end of the workshop one of the Statesecretaries asked me this question:

Are you saying Christopher that someone can be wicked smart, but because they don’t practice Responsibility, they don’t learn?


She was probably putting 2 + 2 together from a number of comments I had made including something I tell audiences about the mental position of Justify…

How Many Smart People Block Their Own Learning

One of the observations I make about the position of Justify is that being smarter, better educated, or of higher intelligence does not lend itself to seeing through one’s own justifications. Exactly the opposite is true. It seems that smarter, better educated, and more intelligent people who choose to Justify simply make up better stories! They believe them, and we believe them too!

So, while you might expect superior intelligence to somehow break free of the grip of the Responsibility Process™, our 16 years of field-testing says “no.” We find that there is no correlation between intelligence or “smarts” and Responsibility.

What’s More Dangerous, a Lack of Smarts or a Lack of Learning?

Here are some other coping mechanisms we’ve seen employed by really smart people…

Really smart people often are committed to looking smart by holding onto their evaluations and assumptions, thus ensuring that they don’t look beyond what they think they already know for a new answer or discovery. This is a strong Denial practice.

Really smart people are just as likely as the next guy to Lay Blame. I’m in the process of firing a supplier who came highly recommended to us and presented brilliance, but shows the worst “can’t do” attitude I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t have time for such brilliance on my team.

Really smart people are just as likely as the next guy to feel trapped in Obligation. They use their intelligence to spew resentment which is catching. I often suggest that clients consider letting go of truly gifted but highly cynical knowledge workers who resist learning and practicing Responsibility. Cynicism is toxic to departments, teams, and cultures, and thus to performance.

Additionally, really smart people stuck in Shame and Obligation use their intelligence to figure out the games of politics and advancement instead of truly adding value. For this reason, best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki (of Rich Dad Poor Dad fame) taught me to validate anyone who calls themselves an expert by asking them to prove what they profess. For instance, can your stock broker show you his/her amazing personal portfolio gains for the last 10 years? Is your doctor sickly or obese instead of fit and in shape? I sat next to a supposed executive coach on a flight from London to Newark a few days ago. She told me she was seeking certifications to better qualify as a coach and then proceeded to snipe at the airline, the flight attendants serving us, the food, the drink, etc., for all the myriad little problems she was experiencing with her flight. This was after I told her about my work in Responsibility Redefined! ! I quickly excused myself, donned my noise-canceling headphones, and skipped any further discussion so she could make herself miserable without my company. I would not want that mindset serving as my coach!

Antidote: The Trajectory of the Last Two Weeks

Many experts say that the smartest person in the room is not the one who knows the most, but the one who learns the fastest.

So, if you are smart–and my target audience is composed of smart people–and you want to make sure that your smarts do not get in the way of your being a learner, then here is a tool I gleaned from Alan Weiss (author of The Million Dollar Consultant and other best sellers): Always be learning, correcting, and improving toward your purpose, mission, and goals so that you feel so much smarter today than you were just two weeks ago. The feeling, Weiss says, is not how smart you are, but how ignorant or slow or stupid you were just two weeks ago compared to today!

Instead of defending what you thought you knew two weeks ago, be correcting, augmenting, and evolving what you thought you understood to be true just two weeks ago so that you feel completely different today than you did two weeks ago.

That’s learning!

Anecdote: The Gift of Champagne

Last week in London as I walked along the River Thames on a beautiful sunny October day with Chris Matts, one of the world’s leading software developers for complex financial models like arbitrage, Chris told me a story about how he builds software. Chris employs the Trajectory of the Last Two Weeks.

Chris took the arbitrage traders’ specs for a new piece of software to his team. They did the very best build they could on it in a couple weeks. But before adding all the bells and whistles, they took the stripped-down version of the new software back to the arbitrage guys and said “We think we’ve done what you asked for, but before we complete it, we want you to test it. If you can break it (i.e., make the software crash or break down) we will give you a bottle of champagne.” The traders broke the software in a few hours. Chris’s team gave them an expensive bottle of champagne with much fun and laughter and said “Thanks, we’ll be back in a few days.” They repeated the process six times, getting the traders to quickly discover the not-yet-doneness in their software, and buying six bottles of expensive champagne (that would be a testing budget of approximately $600). Of course they also under-spent (development dollars and calendar time ) and over-delivered (quality) while building a bullet-proof piece of software to which the users–the arbitrage traders–were completely invested because they tested it, broke it, and tested it again until it was perfect.

To whom should you offer a bottle of expensive champagne if they can find a bug in your latest work of brilliance?

Resources mentioned in this article:
Robert Kiyosaki’s website http://www.richdad.com/
Alan Weiss’s website http://www.summitconsulting.com/
Check out Christopher’s blog entries on Villa Bonnier and Chris Matts http://www.christopheravery.com/blog


Christopher Avery, PhD is the leading authority on individual and shared responsibility and the author of Teamwork is An Individual Skill. Subscribe FREE to Christopher’s Responsibility eTips now at: www.ChristopherAvery.com


3 kommentarer

  1. I’m honored. Thanks!

  2. You are welcome. Keep up the good writing. And thanks for letting me share it …

  3. […] went out last week. Subscribers received it 13 October. And it’s already been posted in blogs elsewhere. Here’s the beginning of the featured article with a link at the end to read the rest of […]

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