Sunday, 10 December 2006

Stupidity is Your Problem

Fact: your life would be a lot more enjoyable if there were no stupid people.

Imagine working in an office where the boss isn't a moron, and your fellow workers don't waste your time with idiotic requests.

Imagine walking down the High Street and going about your business without coming up against dim shop assistants, brainless pedestrians and thick motorists.

Imagine if the people in charge of your country really were intelligent enough to make good decisions and strong enough to put them into practice.

Wouldn't that be fine and dandy?

Yes, it would be wonderful… but it isn't going to happen.

Stupid people are, unfortunately, here to stay. Your daily experience is enough to tell you that morons are everywhere and nothing in the near future is going to change that.

If anything, thanks to television and the internet we are now exposed to more stupidity in a day than our ancestors had to put up with in a lifetime.

Your problem, and mine, is how to live life without suffering due to the stupidity of others.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

What is stupidity?

We all know it when we see it. And even though we are smart people we're often guilty of it ourselves.

Wikipedia gives us the following definition:-

"Stupidity is the quality or condition of being stupid, or lacking intelligence, as opposed to being merely ignorant or uneducated. This quality can be attributed to both an individual himself (e.g. Penny Person is stupid) or his actions, words or beliefs (e.g., Penny Person's policies are stupid). The term can thus also refer to poor use of judgement, or insensitivity to nuances in a person who is otherwise intelligent. The determination of who is stupid is relatively difficult, despite attempts to measure intelligence (and thus stupidity) such as IQ tests."

After a little Googling I came across an interesting article, The Power of Stupidity by an Italian writer called Giancarlo Livraghi. In his essay he quotes from "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" by Carlo Cipolla, which mentions Carlo's Five Laws of Stupidity. The one which concerns me most however is Rule Three:

A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

I think this is the most useful definition of stupidity I have found.

Real Life Stupidity

I'll give you an example of minor stupidity straight out of my own life.

I live in Spain and I have great difficulty finding books and magazines in English. Recently I became aware of an English supplement offered by a national newspaper (El Mundo) on Sundays.

I trotted over to the nearest newsagents. "Do you have the English supplement with El Mundo?" I asked. The lady said that she didn't have it. In fact, she tried to persuade me that the Spanish supplement was in fact the English supplement. Not the most intelligent thing to do because the magazine was clearly in Spanish. But this is not the stupid act I wish to focus on. I thanked her and left.

I stopped off at two more kiosks and newsagents only to find the same response. One of the vendors told me that the demand for the English supplement wasn't very high which was probably why they weren't delivering it with the newspaper.

Hmm. If demand wasn't high, would lowering the supply increase it? Another slight case of stupidity here. Still, I am not a newspaper chief.

Finally I arrived at a newsagent who told me that she didn't have the supplement, but she could order it for more. "You can?" I said.

"Of course. I can even order today's edition for you if you want."

I accepted and so as of next week I can look forward to my regular english language magazine.

The point of this story is to demonstrate that all the previous newsagents were stupid because none of them had offered to order the supplement! They'd lost a potential customer through simple lack of intelligence.

A Stupid Business

The last newsvendor now has a new regular customer!

Okay, one customer doesn't sound like much. But if I buy the Sunday newspaper plus the supplement (total cost 3 euros) that is 156 euros a year. Still not enough to get your interest? Imagine that every day the intelligent newsvendor manages to convert one passing request into a regular customer like me. That is 365 people in one year, times 156 euros = 55,536 euros! Of course this is income not profit, but it is a tidy sum. And all because you are more intelligent than your competition.

The case also illustrates one of the ways in which we can reduce stupidity in the world around us.

Reward Intelligent Actions, Punish Stupid Ones.

The intelligent newsvendor is rewarded by my custom. The stupid ones are punished by loss of income. Okay, they don't realise they've lost out, but that only makes them all the more stupid.

Fact: smart people are always learning. Not all of us run our own businesses but I think we could all learn a little something from that smart newsagent…