Why Smart People to Stupid Things


A recent study I read stated that most companies lose, in profit, about 25 to 30 percent of their annual sales due to what is called “the cost of poor quality” or COPQ.  COPQ comes directly from smart, caring, dedicated people doing stupid things.

Last week I shared these numbers with a CEO and explained how individuals and teams prosper when their state of mind is healthy.
It was really just good old common sense that unfortunately isn’t all that common.

After a while he looked at me and said:

“If you can tell me why such smart, dedicated, caring people do so many stupid things, I will be your biggest fan forever”.

I told the CEO that when people get anxious, worried, angry, depressed, etc., they automatically lose their wisdom and common sense — together with at least half of their IQ. In this state we all do stupid, crazy things.

To illustrate this point here are some numbers on various change initiatives:

  • 94% of people on drug rehab programmes stay on drugs
  • 75% of people on alcohol rehab programmes stay on alcohol
  • 82% of people who take up skiing quit (has been for 20+ years)
  • 67% of change management programmes fail
  • 80% of major IT projects fail
  • 95% of people on weight loss programmes put on more weight
  • 88% of people on CBT programmes remain unaffected by the CBT
  • 20% of children leaving school do not have functional literacy or numeracy (has been for 20+ years)
I have been fascinated by numbers like these all my life. How is it possible that smart, talented people are able to make such a mess sometimes? How can that be?
Well, because we’ve been looking in the wrong direction and it’s not our fault.
When looking at “getting ahead” most companies forces on other things like these:
  • Process (re-re-re) design (pun intended)
  • Leadership trainings that miss the point (because they act of the level of behaviour, which I’ve never seen work),
  • Re-organisations of departments and business functions,
  • ICT tool integration,
  • Social media exposure
  • and my favourite: “just working harder”
Don’t get me wrong, all of these have a place in a company, but when the secondary things become the main things the company is in trouble.

Last week I spoke in front of a business group of well established business leaders. When I shared some of the ideas that I share in this blog I got a lot of opposition.

People said “it doesn’t work that way” and “it’s not that simple” and “but my business is different”. And I get why they say that.

Here’s the whole point:

Any and every company can hire highly intelligent workers and develop and implement highly effective practices, policies, procedures and processes.  The only real competitive advantage left is the mindset of the company’s leaders and its workforce. Organisations that see this and introduce an healthy state of mind into their cultures will be the only ones ensured of continued success.

And that’s the only thing that matters. The rest is details.

You don’t have to believe it. Just test it.