Instructional Designer


I have always chaffed at the idea of people being ‘stupid’. In fact, it’s one of the forbidden words in our house. My feeling comes from the vague use of the term. I don’t like it to describe a low IQ, I don’t like it to describe someone as whole. Can we act stupidly? Sure.. Are we always stupid? Hopefully, not.

The other day, I ran across an older concept of stupid by an economist. Professor Carol M. Cipolla, back in 1976, did research on the subject. He divided people into 4 categories. These categories transcend race, gender, sexual orientation, IQ, or any other bucket we place ourselves or others into.

These 4 categories are:

Intelligent: people who enable gains for both themselves and others they interact with
Bandits: people who enable gains for themselves at the expense of others
Helpless: people who provide gains for others at their own expense
Stupid: people who do not provide gains, or even lose gains, for others or for themselves.

Now, this resonates with me. Not on a person level but on an interaction level. Each interaction we have with others is a categorization. Which category will this interaction be in? Will I provide benefit to others by writing this blog? Will it hurt myself in any way? If there is no benefit to myself or others in writing this blog, why would I do it?

Now, his research gave rise to the ‘basic laws of human stupidity’. These laws are as follows:

  1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation
  2. The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person
  3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

On an economic level, people/families/societies/organizations/countries, etc must have more people making intelligent decisions than stupid ones. If this is true, then the intelligent decisions will compensate for the stupid decisions and move the group forward. If this is not true, the group will move backwards, as they will collectively be neutral or negative.

So, if we underestimate the number of ‘stupid’ interactions that we have in a given day, what is the solution to ensuring that our interactions still end up advancing our goal? To me, the answer is simple.. ensure that MY personal interactions with others are not stupid. As long as someone benefits from the interaction, we move forward.

My challenge to you is to look at your interactions with others… are you benefiting yourself, them, or both of you? What can you do to ensure that more of your interactions with others are intelligent, and less of them are either helpless or bandits?