An eye-opening examination of the stupid things smart people do—and how to cultivate skills to protect ourselves from error.
Smart people are not only just as prone to making mistakes as everyone else, they may be even more susceptible to them. This is the "intelligence trap," the subject of David Robson’s fascinating and provocative book.
The Intelligence Trap explores cutting-edge ideas in our understanding of intelligence and expertise, including "strategic ignorance," "meta-forgetfulness," and "functional stupidity." Robson reveals the surprising ways that even the brightest minds and most talented organizations can go wrong—from some of Thomas Edison’s worst ideas to failures at NASA, Nokia, and the FBI. And he offers practical advice to avoid mistakes based on the timeless lessons of Benjamin Franklin, Richard Feynman, and Daniel Kahneman.
Science journalist and debut author Robson builds his entertaining and highly readable pop-psychology study on the perhaps dubious expectation that readers will still assume "intelligence is synonymous with good thinking" and associate good decision-making with prestigious jobs and education. Despite this relatively weak foundation, Robson exceeds expectations in his look at the pitfalls of individual and institutional intelligence, collecting a number of fascinating case studies, among them how Arthur Conan Doyle fell prey to spiritualist hoaxers and how a dysfunctional corporate culture prevented Nokia from taking the edge in the early days of smartphone development. Persuasively arguing that "general intelligence is a crucial ingredient to good thinking but it needs many other complementary traits to truly flourish," Robson effectively summarizes the established and emerging bodies of research that support his argument, starting with the pioneering IQ research of Lewis Terman in the early 20th century, and going on to the more recent field of "evidence-based wisdom," dating back to the 1970s. Occasionally, the writing veers into self-help territory, with briefs for the benefit of traits such as intellectual humility, which feels discordant with Robson's otherwise narrative work. However, he strikes the right balance between illustrative vignettes and accessible translations of complex research, delivering a smart look at intellect and its shortcomings.