Patrick Deams: Too smart by half


I always knew everything, had an opinion on anything. Not sure why. I wasn’t necessarily the smartest kid on the block. Still, that didn’t stop me from speaking out every time there was someone to listen to me. I just had a strong opinion and wasn’t shy to express it.

Amongst my family and relatives, my friends, at the workplace. I felt good about that, was confident. Maybe I should have gone into journalism.

Until I hit the big one! About 15 years ago my employer sent me abroad, to Indonesia, to help oversee one of its recently acquired businesses. We moved to Jakarta, a city in full development, but also teeming with well-educated, smart people.

My job was to bring modern practices to the business we had bought. We made progress, but there was this one guy, one of the five locals in the top management team. His name was Hutomo, or “Tommy” as he called himself. He just would not accept any of my suggestions, no matter how I presented them, what diplomatic language I used. And it wasn’t just me. Others also tried in vain. What to do?

At my wit’s end I called on a local psychologist, explained the problem, asked for advice. Was it me? Should I change my approach? No, she said; it’s not you. It is Tommy. He is simply too smart.

So what? I said. Can he not accept other people’s opinions?

No, she replied. People like Tommy think of their brain as a god. Every day they have to bring offers to that god. “I proved you right. I bested the others. You are the smartest!”

That, the psychologist explained to me, is the difference between being smart and being wise. Wise people do not rely on just their own intellect. Wise people seek other people’s opinions before they make a decision.

Mmmm, I thought, maybe I don’t know everything. …

In today’s political environment, we should listen more to each other instead of wanting to preach.


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