Getting Stuck On Mount Stupid

Getting Stuck On Mount Stupid

We all have a client, coworker or even family member who lives with the awesome burden of being right 100% of the time. We know the challenge of convincing a builder or homeowner who knows it all even though they don’t and you believe you have a better solution or a more effective approach.  

People climb to the top of Mount Stupid by having enough information to be self-assured about making pronouncements and passing judgement, writes Adam Grant in Think Again: The Power of Knowing What We Don’t Know. Someone who is right 100% of the time, never gains enough expertise or knowledge to question their opinions or discover what they don’t know. As Alexander Pope said, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.”  

How can you change the mind of someone who does not believe they are ever wrong?  Look no further than Steve Jobs, Apple’s iconic founder, for the answer. Jobs was known for his ability to bend the will of others to his way of thinking.  

Jobs was not the easiest person in the world to get along with or convince to change his mind.   Did you know that Jobs opposed Apple developing a phone?  He knew all the reasons why it would not be in Apple’s best interest.  Nonetheless, Apple engineers continue to work on a prototype without Job’s blessing. They won him over by acknowledging all of the reasons Jobs believed a phone was not a good Apple product. They did not attempt to debate the merits of his arguments. Instead, Apple engineers asked this question, “If we did make a phone, how beautiful and elegant could it be?”  While intrigued, Jobs was still not convinced. That did not deter his team from continuing to develop prototypes that they presented the boss until Jobs finally agreed.

A challenge remained even with Jobs on board. Jobs did not want a plastic cover for the iPhone, however, no one manufactured shatterproof thin glass. Jobs called the CEO of Corning Wendell Weeks to see if Corning could make the glass for the iPhone. 

Weeks was intrigued by the challenge and told Jobs he would be willing to talk to his technical team to explore the opportunity. Jobs responded incredulously and told Weeks he had the technical chops to work directly with Corning to develop the glass the iPhone needed. 

When Weeks met with Jobs at Apple’s headquarters, he did not propose a solution. Instead he asked Jobs to describe his preferred method for manufacturing shatterproof glass for the iPhone.  It became obvious to both Jobs and Weeks, that Jobs was not up to the challenge. That’s all Weeks needed, writes Grant. Weeks then went to a white board and sketched out a winning design and the rest is history. 

Here’s the lesson to change a know-it-all’s mind and avoid getting caught on the top of Mount Stupid. Ask your obstinate builder to describe how she would change the design of the kitchen and materials that would be specified to meet her goals. Most likely she will struggle to articulate what is necessary and suddenly understand that she does not know as much about kitchen products or design as she originally thought. Grant explains that a better approach to dealing with know-it-alls is to let them recognize gaps in their own understanding and when you do, everyone gets to climb down from Mount Stupid. 

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