Productive Stupidity

Dec 8, 2022 16:10 · 300 words · 2 minutes read philosophy

“Productive stupidity” is a term that is sometimes used to describe the idea of embracing or promoting ignorance or foolishness in order to achieve a goal or result. This concept is often associated with the phrase “the wisdom of fools”, which suggests that sometimes the best way to solve a problem or make a decision is to ignore or dismiss conventional wisdom or expert advice, and instead rely on intuition, instinct, or sheer luck.

Some people argue that productive stupidity can be a useful or even necessary approach in certain situations, such as when facing a complex or unfamiliar problems, or when dealing with uncertainty or unpredictability. In these cases, being “stupid” or “foolish” can help you to think outside the box; to take risks and make bold decisions; or to challenge assumptions and established norms.

However, many others criticize the idea of productive stupidity, arguing that it is irresponsible, dangerous, or counterproductive. They point out that true wisdom and knowledge come from education, experience, and critical thinking, and that embracing ignorance or foolishness can lead to poor decisions, mistakes, or even disaster. They also argue that being “stupid” or “foolish” can be harmful to oneself and others, and that it is better to strive for intelligence, understanding, and rationality in all aspects of life.

Regardless, here’s a quote I’ve grown to love - from James Clear’s newsletter - and worth sharing:

Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time.

— From the paper: “The Importance of stupidity in scientific research” by Martin A. Schwartz