Too Clever

When do things become too clever?  When is it time to stop being too clever?  Most places that have cultures that embrace progress also fully believe in becoming more clever.  This usually is through encouraging further education and rewarding intelligence by paying more for elite positions.  It is obviously a great thing in our civilization to be incredibly smart.  The progression of the centuries shows that civilization is built upon the backs of incredibly smart people.
There is another way of looking at this however.  In some Eastern traditions (like Tao) cleverness is seen as a trait that will only invite hardship.  From a Western traditional view, this doesn’t make any sense.  How can being smarter be bad?  How can new inventions possibly lead to trouble?  I’m sure someone that fully believes in Tao wouldn’t even bother to discuss this.  Fortunately (or unfortunately for you), I’m more the willing to try.

My own personal view on intelligence is that too much can be harmful to the individual.  This is based on the general observation and some more direct experiences with really smart people.  The consensus of these experiences is that while that person may possess a great deal of smarts, they are usually really lacking in other areas.  My uncle, said to be incredibly smart by everyone that knew him, died because a small boat he was in tipped over.   He didn’t know how to swim and he didn’t think to put on a life preserver.  My Dad has told me several times that he was so smart but had no “common sense”.  Not having common sense is what I have observed of others as well.  Or perhaps their social skills were incredibly bad.  The point is that it is very rare that a genius is going to be well balanced.  Too much focus on one thing leads to other things falling apart.

Yin and Yang at Wikipedia WikiPedia image (yin and yang article)
This brings us to the bigger picture.  In the “Tao” way of looking at things (based on my interpretation), cleverness brings lots of negative things with it.  In the world view of balance, any positive is going to cause a negative.  Any push to control something is going to force that thing to push back.  Cause and effect are directly linked and going in both directions.  Hence the classic image of yin and yang come to mind.  Two sides always fighting each other trying to find balance.  The more one side moves, the more the other side moves as well.

So, for example if you use cleverness to suppress the evil in the world, it will only become that much more evil.  There is no way to find a balance until the realization hits that every action is going to cause an equal and opposite reaction.  Sounds a bit scientific that.

The more complicated we make our world, the more likely it will eventually collapse.  This is true both at a micro and macroscopic view.

So what advice can you possibly derive if you deem that things have become too clever?

Be still
Take no action
Action will take care of itself
Try not to think about things being separate
Think of everything being the same
Think of it being just you
And then you will see
Nothing needs to be done
Because it is already being done
Wait for the cue
And play your role

That’s my attempt at capturing something that cannot be captured.  It’s like a slippery fish.  A wiser man would let the fish go straight off.

I like this kind of stuff.  I’ve been into it since around 1999 and its made a big difference with how I look at things.  I don’t really expect that this is going to help you.  That’s where I’m being selfish.  Or am I? 🙂


Live near Brisbane, Australia. Software developer currently focused on iOS and Android. Avid Google Local Guide

Posted in Observations
7 comments on “Too Clever
  1. hught says:

    The problem isn’t so much cleverness per se, it’s the resentment (and retaliation) demonstrated by those who are more senior and less clever than oneself. You ought to be doing their job, and they yours, and you both know it.

    If you don’t suffer fools gladly (or in my case, at all) then exhibiting one’s intellect can be a career-limiting move. Thankfully Citrix is not supposed to be like that …

  2. Hugh Tonks says:

    I think I could have probably expressed my last post better and more succinctly: it takes a brave manager to hire someone who is better than they are, because although this is clearly good for the company, the hireling may eventually become a threat. What this means, effectively, is that personal self-protection and preservation can override an implicit duty to do the best by one’s employer; in other words:

    first-rate managers hire first-rate people;
    second-rate managers hire third-rate people.

  3. jeffreymuir says:

    It’s good that you pointed this out Hugh. It is common for bosses to fear hiring people smarter than themselves. The assumption is that the new employee will outshine the manager and eventually surpass the manager in importance and power.

    In reality this isn’t what normally happens. Smart employees don’t always want to move up the ladder. Most are also more interested in doing good work than trying to outsmart the boss.

    It is a real sign of security to hire smart people. Not only that, it is the smart thing to do.

    The only caveat I’ll put on this is that you want to make sure the smart person is a team player. An isolated smart person is much more damaging than hiring some not as smart. This was a key view held in the early days of Citrix Engineering.

  4. hught says:

    It wasn’t so much that I wanted to move up the ladder, but more that I wanted those in charge to move down the ladder so that somebody competent could have a go. If companies were democracies, this would have happened. The problem is that when you have someone truly useless at the top, there is no way for the staff to get rid of them (short of mutiny), and this person then becomes a single point of failure for the entire organisation. Of course, when the board does eventually fire them too late, they get given huge payoffs. There ain’t no justice in this world – but 360 degree reviews are a good starting point to fix this.

    To some extent, though, I care less whether management are competent or not as long as they listen to those who are and act on their good advice, and don’t screw it up for everyone else. (There is a school of thought that says that anyone who aspires to a position of power should automatically be excluded from it.)

  5. Richard Mazzaferri says:

    As Dilbert once pointed out – when management only hires people dumber than themselves, that makes the CEO the stupidest person in the entire company.

    And as Jeff said, smart people often don’t want to be managers, so the worry about them taking over the manager’s job is unfounded.

  6. Manny B says:

    To add a little to Jeff’s point: Balance is very important for individuals, as well as for organisations. It has been my experience that organisations that try to provide a healthy life/work balance for their employees will find that their employees are much happier and more productive than your average, not to mention more loyal.

  7. hught says:

    Couldn’t agree more. We don’t all want to be running the show, it’s true; personally, I’m quite happy with this situation as long as when it really matters (i.e. when I’m right and they’re not 🙂 ) they listen to me.

    I should point out the relevance of your comments to my blog, which is currently in the middle of a discussion on how organisations can ensure their staff are fulfilled and self-actualised. A healthy work/life balance is just one component of this.

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