I never have been what you would call a totally organized person. I forget where I put keys, articles of clothing and so forth. Once, as I was leaving for work, I even questioned my wife about where she had placed my fedora. Her response was to challenge me to check the top of my head. Sure enough, my hat was there.
As I have gotten older, I have what I like to call "senior moments," those times when something I knew in the past doesn't come readily to mind. These occasions have been occurring with increasing frequency in recent years. So as I read a recent New York Times Magazine, an article titled "Ignorance Is Bliss" by writer David Rakoff caught my interest.
In the article he cited two social psychologists, Justin Kruger of the University of Illinois and David Dunning of Cornell University, who published the results of a study called "Unskilled and Unaware of It." Subjects were tested and asked to assess their skill level in a number of areas. Not only didn't they comprehend how unskilled and incompetent they were, their self-evaluations were quite high. Ironically, those subjects who scored highest skillwise underestimated how competent they were compared to others.
Such blithe incompetence is not the same as feigned incompetence, which actually can be very useful as a tactical ploy to lull your enemies into a false sense of security. A proponent of this idea was Sun Tzu, who wrote "The Art of War." Said Sun Tzu: "Even though you are competent, appear incompetent."
Years ago, Ara Paraseghian employed this tactic on legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, and it created one of the great stories in sports legend. The Buckeyes were to play on the road against a rather mediocre Northwestern team. I believe at the time Ohio State was undefeated and rated as the top team in the country. Paraseghian's Northwestern team was not ranked, but the Wildcats coach came up with a brilliant idea to lull the Ohio State team into a false sense of superiority.
Paraseghian recruited a number of intramural football players from the Northwestern campus, dressed them in old uniforms and had them run a few plays during the pregame warmup. Meanwhile, he kept the regular Northwestern players in the dressing room. I witnessed that fiasco that day and saw the Ohio State players literally guffawing at the ineptitude of the Northwestern players as they warmed up. Ohio State wasn't laughing later when it was upset by a much smaller, less skilled Northwestern team 21-0.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when most people are considerably impressed with how important and smart they think they are. Their behavior is usually overbearing and boring. Really bright people have learned never to appear too knowledgeable until they get the lay of the land. They realize how much they have to learn about a given skill or subject, so they assess the situation and listen. That's why most skilled negotiators are like good gamblers: They keep their cards close to the vest.
So demonstrating incompetence and stupidity isn't necessarily the worst thing you can do. In a given situation, it may even be the bright thing to do.
Poker is a great game,
Charles S. Lauer