Why Seemingly Smart People Won’t Take Good Advice

I see it all the time, seemingly smart people faced with new information that could have a significant positive impact on their long-term health and financial wellness, paralyzed with indecision.  They need to “think about it” or check with another trusted expert before they make a decision. 

More often than not they never do anything.  They sit on the sidelines and let opportunities pass them by for no other reason than they failed to act when the time was right. 

Why is that?  I believe this unwillingness or inability to act in our own best interest goes deep and says much about our society as whole.  At its core there are at least 3 reasons why we continually fail to act on new information that can significantly enhance our wellbeing.

1 – Anti-intellectualism

2 – Information Overload

3 – Status Quo Bias


This is just a fancy way of saying that most of just don’t trust all that fancy book learnin’. 

It comes from a place of arrogance, where rather than admit we might be wrong we hang on to old information and refuse to accept anything that contradicts what we already “know” to be true.  Anti-intellectuals tend to be afraid to be made to look foolish.  Rather than seek corroboration of any new learning they prefer to deny and discredit anything that doesn’t line up with their previously conceived worldview. 

Anti-intellectualism has been the favoured tactic of the conservative elite since the dawn of the scientific revolution, if not sooner.  Of course, the world is flat, anyone can see that, no need to try and prove Galileo wrong, he’s just crazy.  It’s cold out today, global warming must be a Chinese conspiracy.

For most intellectuals the battle for the hearts and minds of the general public is made exceedingly frustrating by the anti-intellectual camp.  It’s not enough to be right, you also have to be popular.  You need to make a compelling argument that to continue thinking the opposite is not only wrong but dangerous.  There will always be a popular alternative to the truth, an easier way that people can swallow without too much work.  

Global warming is a perfect example of this dilemma.  The truth is scary, and the solutions are hard, better to believe it’s just a hoax and move on.  The intellectual is left with only one alternative, to continue to educate and hope that someday enough evidence will mount to prove them right beyond a shadow of a doubt, before it’s too late.

Information Overload

The internet has democratized information and made it free.  As a result, people can spend countless hours researching any topic they can think of.  For the most part this is a good thing, making informed choices is important.  But there comes a point when more information does not add anything, it’s just noise. 

Not only that but with the aforementioned anti-intellectualism so rampant on-line the amount of contradictory information on just about any topic is staggering.  It’s not just noise that is being added to the process it’s contradiction and that only adds to people’s anxiety.   

With so many contradictory voices is it any wonder that this leads to “paralysis by analysis”?  Maybe, the next article, book, or blog will give me a definitive answer.  What if the next website provides new information that completely changes what I’ve learned so far?  Better to keep researching so I don’t make a mistake. 

Status Quo Bias 

For most people both anti-intellectualism and information overload lead to the final reason many seemingly smart people won’t take advice; Status Quo Bias. 

As long as, doing nothing remains an option, many people simply prefer to sit on the sidelines and wait for a better offer.  No matter how compelling the argument for change, no matter how much better life could be with just a small adjustment the status quo always has a huge advantage.  Couple all that with anti-intellectualism and information overload and you have a potent recipe for absolutely nothing to happen. 

Here is my three-point, counter point to otherwise seemingly smart people who don’t take good advice.

1 – Trust the experts. 

Embrace new learning.  Experts are experts because they spend years studying things so you don’t have to.  When it comes to your health, listen to your Dr.  When it comes to finances, listen to a financial advisor.  At tax time, listen to your accountant.  And when you get arrested, listen to your lawyer.  That’s what they are there for.  But it’s not just these highly educated professionals that should be considered experts.  When your roof leaks, listen to a roofer.  When your car starts making a funny noise, consult a mechanic. 

2 – Pick a source and stick with it. 

As I already mentioned, information is every where and it’s free.  But that doesn’t make it all right.  Find a couple of credible sources, test your conclusions against them and stick with it.  You might make your camp on the wrong side but at least you’ll be consistent and that’s worth more than you might think.  Most people have an intuition about what they want to do long before they make a decision, once you find some corroborating evidence, go with your gut. 

3 – Do something. 

The status quo may still be the best option but you can only decide that after you’ve gone through steps one and two.  If there is reason to change, then change, sticking with the status quo at that point is nothing more than lazy foolishness. 

Trust the experts, test them against a credible source if you must and do something. 

Tell me about a time you didn’t take advise and what it cost you or a time you did and what you gained in the comments below…

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