Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why Do Americans Hate Smart People?

There is a saying: If you make people think they are thinking, they will love you. If you make people really think, they will hate you.

In Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, he talks about how people stand in long lines and buy tickets from scalpers to see Britney Spears. Yet, in China, they stand in long lines and scalp tickets to hear Bill Gates speak. Friedman makes this point to question American values and priorities.

Britney helps us escape reality. Great innovators such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Frederick Douglas, Henry Ford and, for those of you who want to think, Nikola Tesla, helped us invent new realities.

Why do we, at first, condemn those who give us new realities?
If you factor in my previous article where I said we all have an identity that was given to us, you start to understand why true thinking makes us uncomfortable. 

I distinguish thinking from having thoughts. Thoughts are the process of organizing the current knowledge and experience you have to come up with ideas about your present or future situation. Thinking, on the other hand, requires you to envision that which you have not thought or experienced. The dilemma is that thinking forces you to consider possibilities for which you do not have it all figured out and thus creates confusion. Too often, leaders avoid confusion because it makes them look unconfident when they do not know the answers.

Since we are taught that confused people lack confidence, we do not consider that confusion could be the pathway to brilliance. We do not even consider that there are tools that empower us to navigate through confusion. We go about our daily lives looking up to people who entertain us and make us comfortable with our current thoughts. As I said, when people make us think we are thinking we love them. That is because they meet us where we are – our current reality – and ask us to stretch it just enough to make us proud.

I mentioned Nikola Tesla. He promulgated wireless technology in the early 1900s. The scientific world called him a fool. They said if you send out a wireless signal, it will continue out into space for infinity. They believed a wireless signal could not travel around the earth. For the scientific community, that was reality. And they lived it like a fact. What reality do you hold as a fact and live like that is just the way it is? (or, I can say: where would society be if we were more open to new realities of inventors?)

I encourage you to step out of the box and think that which you have never thought. If you would like to know about the tools that can support you, start a conversation about some impossibility that you would like to see become reality. You will be amazed at the possibilities that are hidden in plain site. 

Please let me know what you think in the comments. Leave your questions or let me know if you'd like my perspective on an issue. I always try to address each note individually.  


  1. Ted,
    Thanks for this article. It is an interesting "reality check" about how people respond to new ideas, and the constant flow of information surrounding us.

    Often, I am unable to predict how people will respond to something that I say or write. I know what I intend to convey, but I am surprised by many responses.

    I think I agree with your premise that many people don't want to be put in a position where you are making them really think. It is unfortunate that we live in a time where many people who are confused by the complexity of their current reality "want to be misled into a new reality that 'isn't real' but makes them feel good."

    There are many examples. The current economic environment is a classic example. Many folks sadly embrace the misconception that upward social mobility is still a reality that applies to them when all the evidence supports a contrary reality -- they are a part of the 99%, but aspire to be one of the 1%. So they act against their self-interests to keep the delusion of upward social mobility alive. They mistakenly believe that higher taxes on the 1% will inhibit their social mobility -- while their inequality is increasing with each passing day.

    I know your article wasn't intended to be a political commentary, but this was the first example that comes to mind that has relevance for business and those affected by this economic climate.

    So, smart people who offer complex alternatives to the economic challenges or other challenges are often met with resistance. We should continue to offer complex solutions anyway.

    I will take the time to read some of your other posts. Thanks for stimulating me to think.

  2. You’re welcome, Roger. And thank you for reading my blog. Your comments are insightful and greatly appreciated.

    I agree that it is unfortunate that people are confused about complexity and opt out for being responsible for their own reality. As you said, they allow themselves to be misled by what makes them feel good.

    On September 20th, I posted an article on this blog called Why Are We Giving Him a Hard Time? In it, I talked about the error of increasing taxes on the 1%. Taking one person’s gains will not help others move into a higher economic class. If anything, it will eventually backfire through more job loss.

    Your bottom line is well stated. Continue thinking and providing solutions. Sometimes it is good to make the complex sound simple. Since everyone is good at something, be prepared to provide a little coaching and guidance to those who do not get your ideas at first. You appear to be brilliant. Brilliant people can often appear complex. At the same time, remember to bridge gaps for people who are stuck with your thought processes.

    I would love to hear your comments to some of the other articles.

    Good luck and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.


  3. I hate American culture too.
    Interesting ideas, scintillating analysis. Go you!

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