• The Intelligence Trap by Edward de Bono – On Being Wrong or Being Right

The Intelligence Trap by Edward de Bono – On Being Wrong or Being Right

In my opinion, much of the content I’ve placed in this post below is applicable to religious topics.

I’ve seen both Christians (liberals and conservatives) as well as atheists who are guilty of what these authors discuss.

Some of my long-held views about politics and religion changed a few years ago once I began asking myself if perhaps I was mistaken about things.

I took the time out to read the views of my intellectual adversaries more closely, and with an open mind – as opposed to reading their material in a defensive mindset, looking for errors or thinking of ways I could argue against their views if I had to debate any of them.

This does not mean I uncritically accepted each and every thing they wrote or said, however.

One result of all this is that I am now more “okay” with being wrong, or with thinking “there’s a possibility I am wrong about thus and so a topic.”

I’m now okay with not having certainty about everything, too.

Back when I was a full-on, conservative Christian (note: I’ve not completely left the faith at this stage), I had a need or desire to be certain about faith, about who God is, how God operates, why do bad things happen in life, and so on and so forth.

So another result from my re-evaulation of just about everything I believed is that some of my opinions shifted.

I’m not as right wing as I once was – I’m more moderate – and I’ve come to the conclusion that both the “liberal” and “conservative” interpretations of the Bible are incorrect on some points.

I’ve learned it’s okay to be wrong about things, it’s okay to make mistakes about things.

I above all believe that some of what I copy below from various web sites about De Bono’s work, and from other sites discussing the work of other authors, is applicable to Christian Gender Complementarians.

Many complementarians refuse, absolutely refuse, to question if perhaps their perspective of the Bible and of women is in error.

I believe this may partly be due to sexism (though complementarians will never, ever admit to being sexist), to cultural norms (that is, complementarian reading of the Bible is being influenced by cultural norms about women), and from reading the Bible in a certain, limited manner (that some may refer to as “biblicism.”)

Complementarians could benefit from reading Pete Enns blog and the book The Blue Parakeet, or this blog post from Diary of an Autodidact.

Here are links about De Bono’s work, or related:

Can you be too intelligent? by Julian Baggini

Our brains are incredible but you can be too smart for your own good. History often warns against what reason alone commends

The Intelligence Trap – from Quick Think site, author – Frank Connolly


According to Edward de Bono, we all run the risk of falling into the “intelligence trap.” It is assumed that intelligence goes hand in hand with thinking.

Too often however, intelligent people are in danger of becoming poor thinkers.

They are in effect, trapped by their own intelligence. That is, they use their intelligence to entrench themselves in support of one point of view, and because they are genuinely intelligent they can mount some very convincing arguments for their position.

… Resistance to change and new ideas by intelligent people, is one of the main reasons change management and improvement initiatives don’t always get traction.

We don’t help things along either as we have a strong tendency to defer to the views of those who can mount a convincing critical argument.

Critical assessment however is only a part of the thinking that we need to embrace and use going forward.

Criticism is a powerful weapon in the hands of those who suffer the intelligence trap. Criticism however is easy, it’s a simple matter to pull a new idea to pieces or critique an as yet unproven concept.

Why Smart People Are Stupid


by By Jonah Lehrer  

When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions.

These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether.

Asked about the bat and the ball, we forget our arithmetic lessons and instead default to the answer that requires the least mental effort.

…The philosopher, it turns out, got it backward. A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology led by Richard West at James Madison University and Keith Stanovich at the University of Toronto suggests that, in many instances, smarter people are more vulnerable to these thinking errors.

Although we assume that intelligence is a buffer against bias—that’s why those with higher S.A.T. scores think they are less prone to these universal thinking mistakes—it can actually be a subtle curse.

..The results [of the study] were quite disturbing. For one thing, self-awareness was not particularly useful: as the scientists note, “people who were aware of their own biases were not better able to overcome them.”

This finding wouldn’t surprise Kahneman, who admits in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that his decades of groundbreaking research have failed to significantly improve his own mental performance. “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy”—a tendency to underestimate how long it will take to complete a task—“as it was before I made a study of these issues,” he writes.

Perhaps our most dangerous bias is that we naturally assume that everyone else is more susceptible to thinking errors, a tendency known as the “bias blind spot.”

This “meta-bias” is rooted in our ability to spot systematic mistakes in the decisions of others—we excel at noticing the flaws of friends—and inability to spot those same mistakes in ourselves.

Although the bias blind spot itself isn’t a new concept, West’s latest paper demonstrates that it applies to every single bias under consideration, from anchoring to so-called “framing effects.” In each instance, we readily forgive our own minds but look harshly upon the minds of other people.

And here’s the upsetting punch line: intelligence seems to make things worse.

The scientists gave the students four measures of “cognitive sophistication.” As they report in the paper, all four of the measures showed positive correlations, “indicating that more cognitively sophisticated participants showed larger bias blind spots.”

This trend held for many of the specific biases, indicating that smarter people (at least as measured by S.A.T. scores) and those more likely to engage in deliberation were slightly more vulnerable to common mental mistakes.

Education also isn’t a savior; as Kahneman and Shane Frederick first noted many years ago, more than fifty per cent of students at Harvard, Princeton, and M.I.T. gave the incorrect answer to the bat-and-ball question.

What explains this result? One provocative hypothesis is that the bias blind spot arises because of a mismatch between how we evaluate others and how we evaluate ourselves.

When considering the irrational choices of a stranger, for instance, we are forced to rely on behavioral information; we see their biases from the outside, which allows us to glimpse their systematic thinking errors.

However, when assessing our own bad choices, we tend to engage in elaborate introspection. We scrutinize our motivations and search for relevant reasons; we lament our mistakes to therapists and ruminate on the beliefs that led us astray.

Are You Too Intelligent To Be Wrong by Barry Welford

… The concept of the Intelligence Trap was developed by Edward de Bono, one of the early creativity gurus and the inventor of the term ‘lateral thinking’.  He pointed out that intelligence and thinking ability are not the same.

High intelligence gives an ability to rapidly assess complex situations and to come up quickly with an answer that seems right.

Then unfortunately and unconsciously your mind may selectively view the supporting arguments and deliberately suppress any counter arguments.

If you must discuss your view with a colleague, they may well be somewhat overawed and decide to agree rather than having a possibly tough debate on the merits of the situation.

Should you be wrong more often even if you are intelligent?
If you are locked in this bubble of high intelligence, what can you do to avoid the problems of being always right.

Kathryn Schulz, a wrongologist, has the solution. It is not your fault. The world has conspired to make you feel you should be always right. Being intelligent is a positive attribute: you don’t want to appear foolish.

However there is another view which she discusses in her TED lecture On being wrong.  Check out her video below. It takes only just over 17 minutes but it is an amusing eye-opener on the whole subject of right and wrong.

The Intelligence Trap – from Stephen’s Self-Assessment Arcade:


In the book de Bono’s Thinking Course, Edward de Bono asserts that thinking is a skill. His finding has been that intelligence and thinking skill are not directly related; the existence of this effect is counterintuitive for most people.

Dr. de Bono calls this effect the intelligence trap.In describing the intelligence trap, Dr. de Bono identifies the following components:

Verbal facility: Intelligent people learn that well-articulated is often mistaken by others for well-thought-out. Since verbal skills come easier than thinking skills, the intelligent person is tempted to substitute the former for the latter.

Backdoor commitment: An intelligent person can create a rational and articulate argument to support almost any position, sometimes without even examining it. It is very easy for him to then slip into having an emotional stake in the position, not because he has critically evalutated it, but simply because he has pride of ownership of the argument in its favor.

Social costs of error: Intelligent people are often heavily invested in the self-image and social status conferred by their intelligence. This can lead them to become very risk-averse regarding mental errors. It’s safer to stick with the generally accepted line than to branch out and advocate an untried point of view.

….The “Everest effect”: Intelligent people often seem to prefer reactive and analytic thinking over projective and synthetic thinking.

In reactive thinking the problem is there before you and you have to respond, usually on the problem’s own terms. In projective thinking, you have to find the problem, the objectives, and the solution space.

Reactive and analytic thinking appeals to intelligent people the way a big mountain appeals to skilled mountain climbers: because it’s there. However, most of the important problems in life require projective and synthetic thinking.

Speed: Because an intelligent person can reach a conclusion without walking through all the intermediate steps, he is tempted to do so. But some of the intermediate steps may be important and reveal considerations that make the easy conclusion inappropriate. ….

Video: On Being Wrong on You Tube (link)

One take away from the TED talk:

“Bad lesson we learn in life: the way to succeed in life is to never make mistakes… we become perfectionists… getting something wrong makes us feel as though there is something wrong with us…”

More On This Blog:

Being Rational All the Time Isn’t Going to Do You Any Favors by Zat Rana

 The No True Scotsman and Christians’ Version of Atheism – Regarding Christian Deconversion

The Enduring Appeal of Creepy Christianity by D. French

A Critique of Kevin DeYoung’s Critique of Smith’s ‘The Bible Made Impossible,’ A Book About Evangelicals and Biblicism

Why Smart People Are Vulnerable to Putting Tribe Before Truth by D. Kahan

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