Why smart people defend bad ideas

Keith Ray wrote about Scott Berkun’s essays . I am particularly drawn to why smart people defend bad ideas . It describes some common ways of bad idea defenses, and some countermeasures. And it’s fun to read.

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with having bad ideas. I know I’ve had plenty. If you try to have only good ideas, you’ll be blocked. Generating many good and bad ideas, and deferring determination of their goodness or badness is key to

techniques like brainstorming, working in iterations and pair programming.

I believe the key is in defending bad ideas. I know I’ve done that too… Once you find out, through ruminating or feedback from the real world that an idea might be bad, you need to reconsider, or generate new ones. At least you have to be open to the possibility that an idea might be bad.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of other people defending bad ideas. I guess it’s a bit more obvious if you receive the “defense”. Actually the “defending” often feels more like an attack in disguise. It often goes through manipulation. Scott describes several manipulations, some of which I’ve encountered often. I may have used them as well, but I’m not really aware of that – manipulation works best if the one who manipulates isn’t aware of it…

If you’re not convinced about reading it yet, let me offer this quote:

[..] Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent’s friends) they’ve probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable.

So, the next time you’re attacked by someone defending a bad idea, have pity on them. It probably hurts them much more than it hurts you.

The next time you feel miserable defending an idea, think again… It may be a real bad idea to defend this one…

Comments are closed.