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Intelligence and Leadership in “Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid” by Ray Hyman Critical Essay


Course Themes

In chapter one of the book Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, Ray Hyman investigates several issues that relate with the terms ‘smart’ and ‘stupid’. The text uses the two terms as direct opposites. The word ‘smart’ can be a synonym the notion of cleverness as used in psychology meaning that smartness is a personality property possessed by different people to different extents.

It stands out as an enduring component of people in the sense that people who are ‘smart’ today would also remain smart in the near future (Sternberg, 2002, p.5). Relating smartness with intelligence does not mean that Ray Hyman treats human intelligence as fixated. He agrees, “People can, with effort and the proper instruction, improve their intelligence” (Sternberg, 2002, p.1).

On the other hand, the concept of stupidity is discussed from the paradigm of being the property of people’s acts, state, and behaviors as opposed to being the property of people’s personality. This argument means that intelligence, which is an element of smartness, and stupidity is domain-independent.

Hence, the text argues out that people who could be smart, for instance in their professional life, could be stupid in their personal life, which is the interpretation of smartness versus stupidity developed by Richard Wagner in chapter 3 of Sternberg text Smart People Doing Dumb Things (2002, pp.43-63).

In the conclusion chapter, Sternberg develops six themes that may reveal why smart people may behave in a stupid manner. Earlier in the text, he argues that stupidity is ambiguous, complex, and a vague notion in the sense that it is emotionally and socially sensitive (Sternberg, 2002, p.49). The six themes revolve around this assertion.

One of the themes that are developed is that justifiable blunders and mistakes should not to be treated or miss-interpreted to mean stupidity. Hence, the notions of smartness and stupidity may not be reflected directly in decision-making since “the most basic decision is to know who makes the decision, under what constraints, and subject to what feedback mechanism” (Sowell, 1996, p.15).

The usage of the term stupidity and smartness with regard to Sternberg’s text also implies that smart decisions are well reasoned while decisions and ideas that fit the definition of being stupid are not well articulated. While the implication of the terms in decision-making as developed above may hold substance, my understanding of decision-making is different.

Ideas leading to the making of certain decisions are not static. A continuous reformulation and improvement of ideas is necessary and a subject to incorporation of new dimensions of improvements depending on the evaluated implication of the decisions that would be made using the ideas. This claim means that the creation of several possible problem representations does not necessary imply that the representations, which are then deployed in the decision-making, are cutely reasoned out.

Absence of rationality of ideas at the early stages of decisions making does not mean that the decision maker is stupid. Rather, the more the paradigms of explaining problems are developed, the more likely will the decision made takes care of all the facets comprising the problem whose solution is being sought.

Fallacious Beliefs

Intelligence is one of the elements that have attracted a large scholarly interest on how they may influence organizational leadership. Leaders are decision makers. Hence, it is crucial that they communicate effectively, have a high degree of emotional awareness, think abstractly, possess emotional knowledge, possess high capacity to reason out, learn, plan, and solve problems effectively.

My personal philosophy of intelligence and ability underlines all these qualities of an effective leader. In chapter 2 of Sternberg’s text, Carol Dweck argues that the utilization of some of the elements cited in my philosophy of intelligence and intellectual ability introduces some fallacious beliefs (Sternberg, 2002, pp.24-41).

Carol Dweck points out that people have the belief, “intelligence is a fixed trait versus potential that can be developed” (p.24), which is perhaps the belief inculcated by measuring intelligence and abilities from the context of intelligence quotient. Therefore, inferring from the results of IQ test and measurements, people think that intelligence is a fixed trait “with each person having a certain finite amount” (Sternberg, 2002, p.24).

My personal philosophy of intelligence and ability differs from this perception since it postulates that some of the aspects that are used to define intelligence and ability in the context of leadership can indeed be learnt. For instance, problem-solving skills can be learnt and developed over time following an exposure to different situations that prompt leaders to come up with solutions to new challenges.

This case measures up to the belief that intelligence is potential, which is possible to develop over time (Sternberg, 2002, p.24). The belief implies that not all intelligent people are equal. Rather, differences in exposure to different environments make them develop different approaches to problems. Thus, people can become more able to handle problems through the development of intellectual potentials.

Consistent with my personal philosophy, Carol Dweck argues that intellectual ability is not a measure of a person’s capacity to rank among intellectuals. The measures of IQ would tend to paint with regard to my personal philosophy. However, “working hard, talking about challenges, and striving to learn things would allow them to grow intellectually” (Sternberg, 2002, p.24).

This belief creates the perception that intellectual ability can be induced in an individual from the environment in which, say a leader operates. From the dimension of my personal philosophy of intelligence abilities, intelligence comprises intellectual abilities, which can be cultivated, reinforced, and or even grown out of education coupled with personal strivings.

I believe that the idea of fixation of intelligence introduces or exposes leaders to a myriad of challenges. For example, people with the belief that intelligence abilities are fixed do not possess information on the extent to which their abilities are fixed. The most subtle way of explaining the extent to which intelligence abilities help one to accomplish certain noble roles within his or her professional mandates is through measuring his or her outcomes of performance.

Unfortunately, performance outcomes are dictated by multiple factors, which are both intrinsic and extrinsic from the leader. Therefore, they are not precise measures of a person’s intelligence abilities. Carol Dweck asserts that basing the criteria of determination of the extent to which an individual’s intellectual abilities are fixed on performance outcomes “sets in a motion of a variety of defensive and self defeating behaviors” (Sternberg, 2002, 24).

These behaviors include the “tendency to sacrifice valuable learning opportunities that might expose inadequacies even when these opportunities may be vital in their long-term success” (Sternberg, 2002, 24). This argument contends with the arguments of my personal philosophy for intelligence and intellectual abilities.

Managerial Competence

Managerial competence or managerial skills encompass aspects such as human skills, conceptual skills, and technical skills amongst others. In chapter 3 of Sternberg’s text, Richard Wagner draws an analysis characterizing “three idealized types of individuals who typically rise in the organization before failing” (Sternberg, 2002, p. 59). The first character is the high-likability floater.

According to Wagner, such a person has “a profile on personality inventories of his or her scores on likability, low average scores on ambition, and normal scores on other dimensions” (Sternberg, 2002, p.59). Such managers are able to win people through their well-developed sense of charm and the capacity to welcome and manage feelings, perceptions, and even different thoughts of people.

Hence, they are able to accommodate everyone in organizations. However, although their rise in an organization is akin to being liked by people, Wagner argues, “they have no real point of view or vision, no agenda, and they do not take a stand on crucial issues” (p.59).

From my experience, I have worked with a supervisor who was so influential to the extent that he could get people do various tasks allocated to them as directed by the production manager without facing resistance from the employees, I included. One particular aspect of this supervisor that I liked was that he could easily sympathize with my situations, and was the most approachable person that I have ever encountered in a work environment.

When given any task by him, failure to accomplish it to the specifications made me feel as I was offending the supervisor as a person. Chatting with my fellow employees in the packaging department revealed that they also had a similar experience. Due to this relationship between the employees and the supervisor, our section was able to meet targets within the stipulated timeframes without any failure.

Due to this immense success, the general manager (GM) thought it was wise to enhance the performance of the entire packaging department by promoting the supervisor to the position of the head of department (HOD) so that, rather than being the implementer of decisions, he could get to the rank of making decisions. The supervisor was then distanced from interacting often with employees.

Promotion was perhaps the worst decision taken by the GM. The department began failing to achieve its targets. The new HOD was a typical example of a high-likability floater. Wagner argues that high-likability floaters “rise to the point of being in charge of a unit that matters with their incompetence becoming obvious” (Sternberg, 2002, p.59).

This situation is what exactly happened to the HOD. However, those who had worked with him while serving in the capacity of a supervisor felt that laying him off was the worst idea that the company would think of doing. While the GM came up with the idea to demote him, he considered resigning from the organization.

When news about his resignation coupled with the circumstances leading to it spread across the company, a demonstration was staged by the workers bringing to a halt the operation of the company for three days. This experience concurs with Wagner’s augment that getting rid of high-likability floaters is “exceedingly difficult because they are so well liked” (Sternberg, 2002, p.59). Nevertheless, the organization would rather look for mechanisms of getting back employees to work but not living up to the incompetence of the HOD.

Reference List

Sowell, T. (1996). Knowledge and Decisions. New York: Basic Books.

Sternberg, R. (2002). Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid. New Haven Connecticut: Yale University.

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IvyPanda. (2019, December 28). Intelligence and Leadership in “Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid” by Ray Hyman. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/intelligence-and-leadership-in-why-smart-people-can-be-so-stupid-by-ray-hyman/

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"Intelligence and Leadership in “Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid” by Ray Hyman." IvyPanda, 28 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/intelligence-and-leadership-in-why-smart-people-can-be-so-stupid-by-ray-hyman/.

1. IvyPanda. "Intelligence and Leadership in “Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid” by Ray Hyman." December 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/intelligence-and-leadership-in-why-smart-people-can-be-so-stupid-by-ray-hyman/.


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IvyPanda. "Intelligence and Leadership in “Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid” by Ray Hyman." December 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/intelligence-and-leadership-in-why-smart-people-can-be-so-stupid-by-ray-hyman/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Intelligence and Leadership in “Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid” by Ray Hyman." December 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/intelligence-and-leadership-in-why-smart-people-can-be-so-stupid-by-ray-hyman/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Intelligence and Leadership in “Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid” by Ray Hyman'. 28 December.

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