book cover
Philosophers have long discussed wisdom, but now researchers study the elements of “evidence-based wisdom.”

The Intelligence Trap Book Review

The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes, David Robson, 2019


Hey stupid! Yes, you – the one with the demanding job, the big pay packet and the university education. Why are you so stupid?

Being smart is not the same as being wise. We assume that smarter people are less prone to error. But greater education and expertise can often amplify our mistakes while rendering us blind to our biases. This is the ‘intelligence trap’.

So What? 

The best minds can be tripped up by a combination of arrogance, bias and lack of self-awareness. The consequences are often personal and embarrassing, sometimes they are catastrophic. The college professor convinced he could smuggle cocaine out of Argentina, Nobel prize winners who fall for conspiracy theories, the American hospitals where one in 10 patient deaths appear to be the result of diagnostic mistakes. People fall prey to several kinds of intellectual bias or “dysrationalia” .

Now What?

There are different ways of measuring intelligence. Those with the sorts of intelligence suited to logical and analytical thought are not always practical or creative.

Things to avoid

  • circular reasoning
  • coming with ready-made solutions or a pre-prepared script
  • blind-spots and confirmation bias

Things to do more of

  • show humility and revaluate your assumptions
  • look for different perspectives
  • think ahead by predicting consequences
  • remain curious

Robson points out that effective leaders model the qualities they expect to see in others. With curiosity, humility and genuine feedback being ways to avoid “functional stupidity” and encourage “collective mindfulness.” This book is an entertaining and practical starter for freshening your thinking.