Saturday, June 29, 2019

Pretty Bright Boys (and Girls)

A friend of mine many years ago had the habit of describing certain individuals as "a pretty bright boy (or girl)." 

"He's a pretty bright boy, Mike."

One could refer to adults as boys and girls in those days without being instantly corrected but beyond that his label had more significant collisions with reality. The pretty bright person in one arena can be pig-ignorant in another. (Yes, I know that pigs are smart, It's a rather nifty expression that hints at stubborn ignorance.)

One could assemble a long list of disasters created by pretty bright people: The Edsel, the Maginot Line, the Bay of Pigs invasion, Vietnam, Gallipoli, New Coke, disbanding the Iraqi Army, the Iran-Contra scandal, the Watergate cover-up, the Munich Agreement, etc.

After the smoke clears, there is a tendency to regard those who crafted a poor decision as suspect but that handy judgment overlooks the opportunity to learn just how undeniably bright people wandered into a danger zone that was surrounded by alarm bells.

I've touched on this subject before simply because I find it to be of intense interest as an individual and as a management consultant. The literature in the area is sizable - Irving Janis gave us "group-think" as a fine descriptive term for one of the possible causes - and yet there is so much more to learn.

It is a rare consulting assignment where I am not looking for this danger. There is only one certainty: 

The Pretty Bright are not Pretty Bright all the time.

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