My favourite Magazine was and is MAD! Who can forget the Crow Vs Crow stories? I always remember the Spy Vs Spy series. What a satirical humour it had! MAD would have stories on life in general, and one must read their political satires at least once in a lifetime. It is still alive in its new Avatar https://www.madmagazine.com/, but the print copy can be available only by specific methods! I am SAD like in MAD!
I remember a perfect caricature “story” from this magazine. A skinny and very dead man is lying on the ground. A goon is standing above him with a smoking gun. A typical stupid character asks the goon, “What is happening?” The goon replies, “He was underweight; that is why pumping lead into him!” My friends, this is stupidity. Definition of stupidity is not as stupid as you might think! After searching on the net, I came across one of the best definitions of stupidity. Stupidity is overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information!
I have read a book by Dr Atul Gawande. He is a practising surgeon in the Boston area and has written a brilliant book called “Checklist Manifesto”! Please read this exciting and intelligent book. According to him, the checklist concept started in the aviation industry and later on spread in other areas. It is about how to create and read the checklist to avoid stupid mistakes. World’s worst aviation accident occurred on the Tenerife islands. Two jumbo jets rammed into each other on the ground. One was travelling very fast as ATC had cleared it for take-off, and the other one was rolling towards the take-off area. The pilot of the second aircraft was busy reading the checklist as it was going slowly! Six hundred people died in that accident. Now I need not say why I liked the definition of stupidity!
There are different kinds of stupidities in the world; these can be scientific stupidity, military stupidity, literary stupidity, and so on. Example of military stupidity depends on the result. A group of soldiers may act when they know that they will never succeed in achieving the target. If they reach the goal, the act is called bravado; otherwise, it is stupidity!
But there are many reasons why people behave in such a manner. There are two areas where you are made stupid. First is the act of a magician. His acts are such that he misdirects your attention and does his act in such a way that we feel that he is a magician. Such actions are for entertainment purpose. The other ones are frauds, cons or hoaxes. The people do these acts with the intention of cheating and are designed as malicious acts. Today’s so-called online scams are about the stupidity of the people. When people are robbed of their money by such actions, people realise how stupid they were. A professional in Pune paid Rs Sixty-five lacs (Six and half million) to register and create an online profile on a dating site.
By now you must have realised stupid persons are not idiots. They are people like you and me. During one of the conferences, a lady got up and asked a question, “It may be a stupid question…” The speaker was a smart guy. He said with a smile, “Questions are never stupid, but people are! Please go ahead with your question.”
What are the factors that lead to stupidity? First is being outside your typical environment or changing your routines — such circumstances lead to missing out on things which are easily known. We behave in a different manner when we are in a group. The third is being in the presence of an expert or if you, yourself, are an expert. Fourth is doing any task that requires intense focus; the focusing activity can lead to odd situations. The fifth is the information overload that can lead to missing important information: six, physical or emotional stress, fatigue. If you have worked continuously for a long time, you might overlook essential signals. Sometimes we work overnight on some project. You take a break for a couple of hours, take a quick nap. You wrongly feel that you are fresh again. It is the beginning of making mistakes. Rushing or “false” sense of urgency can lead us to make mistakes.
Do not forget that in real life, more than one such situations always exist. If we are not careful about them, we tend to make blunders. Our favourite modern gadget, the cell phone, is a cause many such mistakes where lives are lost, we make accidents. It can lead to injuries and deaths. How many times have you heard people dying while crossing the road and simultaneously talking on a cell phone? The latest fad in India is to take selfies while standing at the edge of a valley. People have died showing themselves standing on the seashore to share live feed with friends- and suddenly a huge wave comes and takes you with it.
How many horror stories we hear from the medical field? A patient gets operated on the left eye instead of the right eye. I will share one story shared by Dr Gawande in his book. Before any surgery, a hospital operation theatre would make a checklist. In one specific surgery, an antibiotic injection was required to be given 1 ½ hour before the surgery. The surgery was likely to cause a massive infection. The start time was nine a. m. On that particular day, the operations were getting delayed. Nine a. m. surgery got postponed to 10.30 a. m. The nurse did not keep track of the delay, and she gave the injection at 7.30. By the time the surgery started, it was three hours instead of a 1 ½ hours gap. The operation took three hours instead of two hours. By the time the patient was brought into the recovery room, the effect of the antibiotic had already tapered off. In the evening, the patient had a high fever, went into rigours. Nobody could find out what went wrong. The doctors checked the checklist, and everything was in order. Since it was an emergency, all were under stress. The nurse had done double duty on that day. She was physically and mentally tired. On rechecking everything, they found the reason. Antibiotic was given three hours before the surgery instead of 1½ hour. The patient went into septicemia and died!
How many such stories do we know? Many patients do not come out of the operation theatre; they are killed inside by stupid mistakes.
We are driving on a highway. The radio is going full blast, and your friend calls you to check if you have taken the right exit. At the same time, your friend sitting next to you asks you the same question about the exit. The first thing we should not do is not to pick up the phone. The second thing would have been to put the radio off, try and stop where we are allowed stopping. Then maybe check your GPS or call your friend. Multitasking is difficult even when we are sitting in our home or office. Trying to multitask at 100 km speed is not at all easy. We are driving at 100 km speed, and radio waves are going into your ear. Then you are trying to speak on cell phone plus listening to what your friend in the car is asking you.
I need not elaborate on what can happen; we become overconfident. We are acting the way the pilot of the jumbo jet acted. People in a rush forget their passport at the security check. Some people forget stuff like musical instruments worth millions of dollars in trains, on the flights. I had forgotten a pouch containing a camera and some cash in a well–known hotel lobby in Santa Clara. I realised after about twenty minutes. I rushed back, but it was gone.
The importance of looking for crucial information need not be emphasised; it is necessary to pay attention to it. It’s conspicuous like it’s right in front of your nose and yet you either overlook it or you dismiss it. How not to be stupid, what are the causes of human error? Most stupidity is ignored or swept under the rug if the consequences are not severe. So, friends, let us not be stupid; it can cost heavily!