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*A Book Review*

Why Smart People Do Dumb Things

By Mortimer Feinberg, Ph.D. and John J. Tarrant

by Michael C. Gray

June 2, 2016

It seems the biggest blunders are made by some of the smartest people. They are the people who are in the positions to commit them.

When it happens, observers scratch their heads. "What were they thinking?!"

In Why Smart People Do Dumb Things, industrial psychologist Dr. Mortimer Feinberg and consultant John Tarrant explore how some major business blunders happened, and how they could have been prevented.

The authors call the tendency of smart people to make major errors Self-Destructive Intelligence Syndrome, or SDIS.

According to the authors, SDIS is manifested in "the four pillars of stupidity", which overlap:

  • Hubris
  • Arrogance
  • Narcissism
  • Unconscious need to fail

One form of SDIS is the sudden spasm. For example, Ed Rollins achieved the greatest win of his career with New Jersey's gubernatorial candidate Christine Whitman in 1993. Then he proclaimed publicly that he did it through bribery and chicanery.

Other great examples:

John Sculley left Pepsi to become chief executive at Apple Computer. He forced Steve Jobs to leave the company. He was rumored to be a candidate to be chief executive officer at IBM. Then Sculley was forced out at Apple Computer and became CEO at Spectrum Information Technologies, an unknown company. Sculley left Spectrum after only four months on the job. Spectrum was under investigation by the SEC. Observers were confounded as to how he could have chosen to work at Spectrum.

Stew Leonard was the CEO of "the World's Largest Dairy Store." The business was touted by business guru Tom Peters as a model business. In June 1991, Stew Leonard was preparing to board an airplane to Saint Martin. Customs agents discovered Mr. Leonard was carrying $75,000 in cash, which they thought was excessive. On August 9, 1991, federal agents raided Mr. Leonard's offices and discovered he had skimmed more than $17 million from the store to avoid taxes. He was sentenced to fifty-two months in federal prison.

The book includes tools for self-assessment to determine if the reader is susceptible to making a major blunder.

We all love reading about the blunders of other smart people and like to think it couldn't happen to us. Why Smart People Do Dumb Things is s worthwhile addition to your reading list.

Buy it on Amazon: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things: The Greatest Business Blunders - How They Happened, and How They Could Have Been Prevented.

For our new reviews of business and self-improvement books, subscribe to our newsletter, Michael Gray, CPA's Tax & Business Insight!

The 4-Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss, could help you devote more time to your family and personal relationships, even if you're an employee.


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Michael Gray, CPA
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