Stupid is best.

Tagging yourself as a 'consultant' makes you more intelligent than you clients, which is why they are in need of your services. - Wrong. Such a belief in your own intelligence means that you have fallen into the intelligence trap. I often find myself facilitating a decision making process. Sometimes there is an assumption that because I can facilitate I must be highly intelligent and best placed to know the answer. The converse is true, usually I am the stupidest person in the room as I lack familiarity with the problem.

I will quote from an old oil-field decision making manual that describes the intelligence trap:

A highly intelligent person can construct a rational and well argued case for virtually any point of view. The more coherent this support for a particular point of view the less the thinker sees any need actually to explore the situation. Such a person may then become trapped into a particular view simply because they can support it. The critical use of intelligence is always more immediately satisfying than the constructive use. To prove someone else wrong gives you instant achievement and superiority. To agree makes you seem superfluous and sycophantic. To put forward an idea puts you at the mercy of those on whom you depend for evaluation of that idea. So, too many brilliant minds are trapped into this negative mode (because it is so alluring).

When approaching a decision problem, the starting point should always be 'I am wrong, it is just a question of how wrong'. Following on from that, the key question is 'how can my incorrect perceptions produce a bad outcome for this decision'. The most intelligent 'thing' in the room is the methodology of decision analysis, which in the hands of an experienced facilitator is used to test our perceptions and biases and explore a much wider range of solutions than we would otherwise consider. Facilitation of answering the decision problem allows all participants to be heard and provides for a much more constructive dialogue where the emphasis is placed on listening rather than talking. Listening makes a highly intelligent person much more effective and able to consider alternative points of view in finding the best solution to the problem.

Intelligent decision making relies on five key-components:

  1. Question. Do we understand the question being asked. Is it the right question. Is the question we are asking deep enough.

  2. Issues. What are all the issues associated with answering the question. Do we have an exhaustive list of the issues. What do the issues tell us about our approach to the decision in play.

  3. Widely looking. Have we looked widely enough. In trying to answer the question, have we considered all the options. Is the optionality diverse enough to allow us to make a meangiful comparison of the alternatives.

  4. Comparison. Is the comparison of the alternative choices consistent and logical.

  5. Trade-offs. Do we fully understand the trade-off between the choices.

I have sat through many decision sessions as a participant and I have often seen the facilitator offer solutions. The facilitator holds great power in the room, and highly intelligent people are attracted to the role of facilitating, often motivated by the power that the role brings, an opportunity to demonstrate how clever they are. This is the most dangerous form of the intelligence trap. I have to be honest, it something that I find difficult to avoid. My defence against the 'dark art' of being a facilitator is to be stupid (as they say in the deep south 'real stupid'). I start with the premise that I do not know the answer. Indeed as the facilitator, my opinion on what the answer could be is the least important thing in the room. The decision analysis methodology, in which we give a voice to all participants and listen carefully to what others think and feel, is the one thing that brings real intelligence to solving the decision problem.

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