WHY SMART PEOPLE (INCLUDING ME! ) DO DUMB THINGS

Like many of you, I often reflect on seminal (or merely embarrassing) events in my life; 1aand shake my head in disbelief. How could I have been so dumb?

In 2000 I started my own company. This was my second attempt in 3 years, after having worked 15 years in a certain industry and rising about as high as could working for someone else. Over the next 5 years, I made a lot of money and the company was poised for true success.

Then, in 2006, it all came crashing down.

A “perfect storm” of bad circumstances and bad decisions on my part left me broke and nearly emotionally broken. I was able (barely) to salvage enough of my company to sell it off to a partner for enough money to survive on.

Much of what went wrong for me that year can be found in the list below.

Smart people (and most who know me would describe me in those terms) do dumb things. Maybe not as often as truly dumb people; but more often than we would like to admit.

Business aside, we make a lot of our worst mistakes in our personal lives and choices.

As example, I just got out of a 10 month relationship with a young woman less than half my age. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work out.

1Now, she was very mature, smart, witty, pretty, liked a lot of the same things I did, and really appreciated and preferred older men. Sounded promising, right?

All of my male friends gave me two thumbs up. Most were at least mildly envious. One advised me to “put a ring on her finger” ASAP!

My female friends saw things far more clearly. From the beginning, my very best friend (a wise woman indeed) described it as a slow-moving train wreck; one she just couldn’t bear to watch. Most others just looked at me with that “you poor dumb shmuck” look, smiled sadly and shook their heads.

I tried telling one that though “weird”, our relationship weirdly worked. She scoffed at that openly, replying, “You just THINK its working!”

Of course, she was right.

This wasn’t the first or worst bad decision I’ve made regarding my choice of feminine companions; just the most recent. Being pretty wise when it comes to analyzing other people’s relationships doesn’t make me any less stupid when it comes to my own…

We all make mistakes, even the smartest of us. But its often surprising when really smart people make really dumb mistakes. Here is a list of the Top 10 reasons that they do:

Top 10 Reasons Why Smart People Do Dumb Things

  1. They’re too close to the situation. Lack of  objectivity or perspective is probably the most common reason, but not the only  one, by any means.
  2. They’re in uncharted territory. People tend to forget  that intelligence or  experience doesn’t necessarily translate from one situation or company to the  next, as we discussed in Carol Bartz and the CEO’s Dilemma.  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
  3. They’re distracted. They’ve got other things or  priorities on their mind and they’re just not paying attention. Sometimes, it’s  that simple. Like Occam’s Razor says, all things being equal, the simplest  solution is usually the right one.
  4. They’ve made up their mind based on limited data. Ever  try to have an objective, intelligent discussion with someone who’s already made  up his mind about something? Didn’t turn out too well, did it?
  5. Their assumptions are flawed. As a really smart high-tech CEO once said to me, most  mistakes are the result of bad assumptions. It’s true. Every conclusion and  decision is based on assumptions. The logic can be perfect, but if the  underlying assumptions are flawed, all bets are off.
  6. They feel like it. People have a nasty habit of  connecting behavior and decision-making with thinking, reasoning, and logic.  That’s just not the way it is. Both  thoughts and feelings play a role in everything  we do, and the split varies constantly. So, a smart person can do a dumb thing  if the mood is right, so to speak. That’s usually followed by a smartass like me  saying, “He should have known better.”
  7. They’re panicking. Emotion to the extreme, usually  fear or anxiety, drives the fight or flight response and, sometimes, behavior or  decision-making that may, in hindsight, prove unwise, to put it nicely.
  8. The second law of thermodynamics. In the physical  world, entropy tends to increase. People are no different. Even biological organisms obey physical laws. Smart decisions tend to bring order to chaos; dumb  decisions tend to have the opposite effect. Thus, smart decisions are less  likely and harder to achieve. In other words, s**t happens.
  9. People change. People age, things change. Our ideals,  goals, motives, mental state, and of course, behavior and actions, all change  over time. Chrissie Hynde of  the Pretenders calls itTime The Avenger:  “Nobody’s permanent; everything’s on loan here.”
  10. They’re off their meds or their rocker. What, you  think I’m kidding? You think really smart people can’t have psychological  problems, temporary mental lapses, brain farts?  Haven’t you ever said  someone’s “lost his mind” or is “off her rocker?” Then there’s the whole meds  thing. They can be just off them or just on them? Either one can trigger erratic  behavior.

(Read more:  http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-09-24/strategy/30197335_1_assumptions-ceos-smart-people#ixzz2ROtn5AVD)

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OBAMA SNUBS A GREAT LADY

ThatcherJack_02_1706618a

“I find the President smug, arrogant, and when it comes to politics, classless.”

In the decisive years of the Cold War, when America and the West finally achieved victory over the Soviet Union and its world-communist allies, freeing Eastern Europe and reuniting Germany; no ally stood closer or provided more support than Great Britain.

Led by the remarkable “Iron Lady”, Margaret Thatcher”, the “Special Relationship” between Britain and America was never more special than during the 1980s. Prime Minister Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan worked hand-in-glove to bring down the Iron Curtain (working with Pope John Paul II as well, the third key player of the Big Three that crafted the Soviet downfall).

She and Reagan were friends as well as leaders of two allied countries. In the face of what seemed, in the early 80s, a dire threat from an aggressive Soviet Union and its proxies around the globe, neither the Iron Lady nor President Reagan “were for turning”.

So its with a sick anger that I hear today that at the funeral of this most special friend of America, President Obama has deliberately snubbed Lady Thatcher and Britain; by sending no high level representative! When a foreign head of state (or significant former head of state) dies, it is customary for the Administration to send a high-level delegation. That is the job of the Vice President: attend the funerals of foreign leaders. At the least, our Secretary of State can “pinch hit” in the VP’s absence.

When the President of Ghana died last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a delegation to the funeral. Could not John Kerry, at the least, have attended the Iron Lady’s funeral??

This is not the first snub of our closest ally by this President, who has in the past made his personal distaste for Britain all too clear.

When he first took office, the President infamously sent packing a bust of Winston Churchill, that had decorated the White House. When the Queen visited, he arrogantly gave her an ipod collection of his speeches. When former  Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited, he gave the President The Prime Minister gave Mr. Obama an ornamental pen holder, made from the timbers  of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet; a thoughtful, significant gift. What did Obama give in return?

Why, 25 DVDs of classic movies.

I wish I was joking.

Now we have another, perhaps ultimate snub. The funeral of the greatest post-WWII Prime Minister comes, and Obama blows it off. (Two Republican former Secretary’s of State did attend: George Schultz and James Baker.) This follows close on the heals of Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez unsuccessful attempt to block a resolution honoring the late Lady Thatcher in the Senate!

So its not just Obama, apparently. Other liberal Democrats have a visceral and (to my mind) distasteful dislike for one of America’s greatest friends.

Could it be that some on the left still begrudge our victory in the Cold War; and Thatcher’s support of Reagan (who they also hated) in brining this about? Or do they just dislike her because her conservative economic policies rescued Britain from economic decay and restored in Briton’s a national pride the leftist Labor’s policies had undermined?

I have never liked this President. I find him smug, arrogant, and when it comes to politics, classless.

Today, my judgment of him has been vindicated.

Here’s John Heyward of Human Event’s take on this snub to Thatcher and Great Britain:

There’s no other way to interpret this: it’s a deliberate and profoundly embarrassing slight to a vital American ally.  Granted, the United Kingdom isn’t quite as vital to American history, culture, business, or strategic interest as a world-straddling hyper-power like Ghana.  From Front Page Magazine:

When John Atta Mills, the President of Ghana, died last year, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally led the delegation to his funeral along with such figures as Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, General Carter F. Ham, the Commander of the United States Africa Command and Grant T. Harris, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs. But under Barack Obama, what Ghana gets, the United Kingdom does not. Instead the US delegation to the Thatcher funeral looks a lot like the US delegation to the Chavez funeral. Two former secretaries of state friendly to Thatcher and several congressmen who agreed with her views, including Michelle Bachmann. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is coming. Barack Obama obviously is not. Neither is any high ranking member of his government. As at Chavez’s funeral, the highest ranking Federal official will be the charge d’affaires at the American embassy. It’s hard to get any lower profile than that.

The UK Daily Mail reports this is not being taken well across the pond, where “friends and allies of Baroness Thatcher expressed ‘surprise and disappointment’ last night as it emerged President Obama is not planning to send any serving member of his Administration to her funeral.”

Former defence secretary Dr Liam Fox, Lady Thatcher’s closest ally in modern-day politics, said: ‘I think it would be both surprising and disappointing if after President Obama’s fulsome tribute to Lady Thatcher, the American administration did not send a senior serving member to represent them.’ Sir Gerald Howarth, chairman of the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward group of MPs and peers, said: ‘The bonds forged between the UK and the US through Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was instrumental in ending the Cold War and liberating millions of people. ‘That the present administration feels unable to be represented as the world marks the extraordinary contribution Margaret Thatcher made will be a source of disappointment to those who served with her in that great endeavour.’

The snub is especially noteworthy because the Queen herself will attend the funeral, a decision that “effectively elevated it to a state occasion unprecedented for a political figure in Britain since the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.” According to the UK Sunthe British government is miffed that Angela Merkel won’t be attending from Germany, although at least she’ll be sending her foreign minister.  ”But Downing Street is most angered by rejections from Obama, First Lady Michelle, and Vice-President Joe Biden,” the Sun continues.  ”A No 10 source said last night: ‘We are a little surprised by the White House’s reaction, as we were expecting a high-profile attendance.’” The given reason for the complete lack of Administration officials at Lady Thatcher’s service is that everyone is busy pushing gun control legislation back in the United States, as the Daily Mail explains:

The US embassy insisted no snub was intended, but confirmed that Mr Baker and Mr Schulz would represent the US. ‘This is a hugely significant week in terms of US domestic politics,’ a spokesman added. He said that both the First Lady and the Vice President were ‘the President’s point people on gun control’, adding: ‘This is a week when there is a lot of movement on Capitol Hill on gun control issues.’

Every single member of the Administration is required to shove a half-baked grab bag of gun control measures nobody will actually read through Congress?  Half of the proposals heading for the Senate floor are born-to-die distractions, whose only purpose is to get voted down by red-state Democrats so they can polish up their “pro-gun” merit badges for the benefit of gullible constituents.  How about if Americans just keep our Constitutional rights, leaving Obama free to bring a blue-ribbon delegation to show proper respect to a towering figure of Western history?

WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE NEW (OLD) BARBARIANS AT OUR GATES

Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph. Robert E. Howard

(The following essay is excerpted from “Our New Old Enemies”; by Col. Ralph Peters. From Parameters, Summer 1999, pp. 22-37.)

In our own Western cultural history, the fiercest military brutalities and the most savage wars were fought over faith, whether the Crusades or defensive wars against Muslims, campaigns of suppression against dissenting Christians, the great religious wars of the 16th and, especially, 17th centuries, or the 20th century’s world wars between secular religions.

Now our history is playing out in other flesh. When Indonesian rioters murder Chinese merchants, or when the Sudanese Muslims who hold power butcher and enslave the Christians in their country’s south, their behavior is not inhuman. On the contrary, it is timelessly human.

Beware of any enemy motivated by supernatural convictions or great moral schemes. Even when he is less skilled and ill-equipped, his fervor may simply wear you down. Our military posture could not be more skewed. We build two-billion-dollar bombers, but we cannot cope with bare-handed belief.

…if we want to understand the warriors of the world and the fury that drives them, we had better open our minds to the power of belief; and the power of barbaric hatred.

Consider the Iliad. Read that great poem one more time, without the prejudices we have learned. You will find that the triumphant Greeks were the devious, the barbarous, the murderous. The Trojans were the urban, civilized, and tolerant. Troy stood for learning, piety, and decency. Its mistake was to humiliate implacable barbarians, without the will to destroy them. The Trojans fought to be left alone in their comfortable world. The Greeks fought for revenge, spoils, and the pleasure of slaughter.  The defeated Trojan monarch, King Priam, was a decent man who watched the war from behind his walls and had to beg for the return of his son’s mangled body. He was presidential in his dignity.

The Greeks won.

We are not Trojans. We are far mightier. But we have not learned to understand, much less rule, minds and hearts and souls. The only moral we need to cull from the Iliad is that it is foolish to underestimate the complexity and determination of the killers from the other shore.

From that heritage we Americans have developed our historical belief that all men want peace, that all conflict can be resolved through compromise and understanding. It leads to the diplomatic equivalent of Sunday-night snake-handling–faith in the power of negotiations to allay hatred.

Because we are privileged and reasonably content with our corner of the planet, we find peace desirable. There is nothing wrong with this. The problem arises when we assume that all other men, no matter how discontented, jealous, disenfranchised, and insulted, want peace as well. Our faith in man is truly a blind faith. Many human beings have no stake in peace. They draw no advantage from the status quo.

We even see this in our own fortunate country. A disproportionate share of crime is committed by those with the least stake in society–the excluded and marginalized with little or nothing to lose.

MAN THE KILLER

Of all the notions I have advanced over the years, the only one that has met with consistent rejection is my statement that men like to kill. I do not believe that all men like to kill. At the extreme, there are those saintly beings who would sacrifice their own lives before taking the life of another. The average man will kill if compelled to, in uniform in a war, or in self-defense, but has no evident taste for it.

Men react differently to the experience of killing. Some are traumatized. Others simply move on with their lives. But there is at least a minority of human beings–mostly male–who enjoy killing. That minority may be small, but it does not take many enthusiastic killers to trigger the destruction of a fragile society. Revolutions, pogroms, genocides, and civil wars are not made by majorities, but by minorities with the acquiescence of the majority. The majority may gloat, or loot, but the killing minority drives history.

Violence is addictive. Police know this. That’s where the phrase “the usual suspects” comes from. In our society, the overwhelming majority of violent acts are committed by repeat offenders. Statistics would make us a violent nation; in fact, we are a peaceable people until aroused. The numbers are skewed because we have failed to deter recidivists. Spouse- and child-abusers do not do it once, they repeat. Sex offenders–and all sex crimes are crimes of violence–are notorious repeat offenders. Most barroom brawls are begun by the same old troublemakers.

Even in combat, when mortal violence is legal, most enemy combatants killed in close fighting appear to be killed by a small number of “high performers” in our ranks. Throughout history, many a combat hero has had difficulty adjusting to peace. We reject the evidence of the human enthusiasm for violence because it troubles us and undercuts the image we have created of perfectible Man. But violence has an undeniable appeal. Certainly for the otherwise disenfranchised, it is the only response left. Perhaps the psychologists are right that much violence is a cry for help. But what both of those arguments really say is that violence, however motivated, is gratifying and empowering.

THE POWER OF HATRED

The rest of the world is not like us.

For all of our lingering prejudices, we have done a remarkable job of subduing our hatreds. Perhaps it is only the effect of wealth bounded by law that makes us such a powerful exception to history, but our lack of domestic faction is a miracle nonetheless. We are indescribably fortunate, but our good fortune has lulled us into our primary military and diplomatic weakness: we do not understand the delicious appeal of hatred.

We cannot understand how Serbs and Kosovar Albanians, Croats and Bosnian Muslims could do that to each other. We cannot understand how Hutus and Tutsis could do that to each other. We do not understand how the Chinese could do that to the Tibetans. We do not understand how the Armenians and Azeris could do that to each other. We do not understand how the tribes of Sierra Leone or Liberia could do that to each other. We do not understand how India’s Hindus and Muslims could do that to each other. We do not understand how the Russians and Chechens could do that to each other. We do not understand how Haitians, Somalis, Colombians, Mexicans, Indonesians, Sri Lankans, Congolese, Burundians, or Irish could do that to each other . . . .

Over the years, I have written about “warriors”–the non-soldiers from guerrillas to narco-traffickers–whom we encounter and fight. In the past I stressed the importance of recognizing five types of warriors: the scum of the earth, the average Joe who is drawn into the conflict as it drags on, demobilized military men, opportunists, and true believers. Now I worry about only two of these sources of conflict: the opportunists and the believers, the gangsters and the godly, the men unrestrained by morals and those whose iron morality is implacable. They are the centers of gravity. The others are swept along by the tide.

Our enemies of the future will be enemies out of the past. As the US armed forces put their faith and funding behind ever more sophisticated combat systems designed to remove human contact from warfare, mankind circles back to the misbehaviors of yesteryear.

Technologies come and go, but the primitive endures.

For the complete essay, Our New Old Enemies, by Col. Ralph Peters, go here.