Too smart

Morgan Housel writing for Collaborative Fund:

The ability to create complex stories makes it easy to fool people, including yourself. Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” The smarter you are I think the truer that becomes. Intelligence can make it difficult to communicate with ordinary people, who may have the missing insight you’re looking for.

(emphasis by the author)

I have been exploring the themes around complexity in writing. It follows if we are drunk on our own kool-aid, it is disastrous because we miss the signals from the noise – hubris or overconfidence. The only way to avoid it to focus on contextual facts. Perhaps, the reason I spot a profusion of survival curves on Twitter – (it is an advertising network and not a medium for journal clubs – is because users want to appear smart. I could litter this with complex algorithms and introduce opaque CS papers – but I’d lose the context and instead focus on the semi-academic stuff found in the open domain.

Computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra once wrote:

[Complexity has] a morbid attraction. When you give an academic audience a lecture that is crystal clear from alpha to omega, your audience feels cheated and leaves the lecture hall commenting to each other: “That was rather trivial, wasn’t it?” The sore truth is that complexity sells better.

(from the author)

I agree. However, it boils down to the perceptions. Breaking abstracts are the anchor shows for conferences. Especially those which want to be considered “leading the lights” for conferences, and are designed to attract as many eyeballs as possible. They are as obtuse and complex cloaked with “infographics” and are purposefully designed to “confuse” and possibly provoke “audience reaction”. When was the last time we actually realized something translate into action for our patients? Why is it that we are completely blind to the fact that increasing biomedical research serves no useful purpose, barring publication spam and increasing costs by delaying access to treatments? The process is quixotic, and we need to reconsider the idea of complexity from academia. Besides, the star influencers need to come down from their pedestal and listen to how research can be made accessible to a vast majority of individuals.

Here’s something from the author:

Occasionally someone like Richard Feynman comes along, whose storytelling skills equal his genius. But it’s rare. Communication and intelligence are not just separate skills; they can repel each other, and the smarter you become the more complex your communication and the smaller the audience you may be able to persuade.

(emphasis mine)