Some People Are Smarter Than You| 451 words
Alice proposes a plan. Bob points out a flaw in the plan. However, Alice had already considered that flaw and thinks the plan is good despite the flaw (maybe the flaw doesn’t exist, maybe the second-best plan has an even worse flaw, etc.) If Bob thought for a few minutes, he would have also realized this fact. However, Bob did not think; he just pointed out the flaw.
If Bob didn’t know Alice, pointing out the flaw is a reasonable thing to do. However, the above situation often occurs when Bob knows Alice is smart. Bob’s mistake was not realizing that Alice would have taken his consideration into account.
Alice has thought about the issue longer than Bob. She proposed the plan, so she has probably thought about it for more than five minutes. Bob has probably not thought about the plan for more than 30 seconds. Alice thus has a 10x advantage. If it only took Bob 30 seconds to identify a flaw, the chance that Alice did not see it is small (unless Bob has reason to believe he knows something Alice does not).
Bob might make this mistake because he is also smart. During everyday life, he might be smarter than most people around him. If Bob can spot a flaw in a plan, that usually means it’s a bad plan. If Bob tried, he could quickly come up with a better plan quite. Since people smarter than Bob are rare, the pattern of spotting flaws and pointing them out is inappropriately applied when dealing with people like Alice. I would prefer that Bob reasoned: “Alice is quite smart. It is unlikely that she proposed a bad plan. I think I have spotted a flaw, but this is only weak evidence that the plan is bad - not strong enough to overcome the prior that Alice proposes good plans. I ought to think more before pointing out the flaw.” If you disagree with someone smart, they often know something you do not.
This pattern is especially frustrating because it is part of a broader asymmetry between criticism and action. It is much easier to point at a part of a plan and say “this is bad” than to generate a better plan. Proposing a plan gets you 100 points. If your plan has a flaw, you lose 10 points. Pointing out someone’s plan has a flaw gets you 5 points. Only pointing out flaws and never proposing anything loses you one million points.
If you disagree with someone smarter than you that has thought longer than you, they may have taken everything you think is important into account, and you disagree because they know something you do not.