Work dumber not smarter

Is the 12th virtue incompatible with everything else?

Working smarter is about prioritizing, planning, allocating time & energy, strategizing, and results. See eg Humans are not automatically strategic

Working dumber is going brrr

  1. One of the best long-distance runners in the world had part of her brain removed and cannot read a map and frequently goes the wrong direction

  2. In the service industry it seems like good (co)workers are pretty much just doing the right thing quickly all the time. Rarely see them make a plan or anything. Even in a brand new environment or situation. Even a talented young person with no experience.

  3. “Just take a love-minus-hate activation and add that to the prompt activation” sounds like an absolute newb idea. I like that idea but if I were trying to find the expert in a room then that statement would’ve disqualified them.

  4. ReLU activation is the stupidest ML idea I’ve ever heard; everyone knows sigmoid um somehow feels optimal you know it is a real function from like real math. (ReLU only survived because it got a ridiculous acronym word thing and sounds complicated so you feel smart.)

  5. The best drivers literally just like drive lmao. I know some folks who are very very aware on the road: they know who passed who and when, who is on a phone, where the cops are, etc but they cannot just chill out and stop swerving and braking.

  6. I know >5 good cooks who add ingredients they want until the food is good. I’ve only met one who can grok a recipe from a book and execute.


All my good work was bad for my career and all my bad work was good for my career. Five different jobs I had with five different bosses:

  1. During my most productive six months of software dev, my coworkers did not notice I existed because my code worked perfectly. I asked no questions because I knew what to do. I did not bounce any ideas around. I was an apt install to them. I did like a quarter of the total work on multi-million 10-person project and finished everything in my year-long contract several months early. When it ended I was not offered further employment.

  2. I was a ticket-answering machine on this useless-seeming giant repo I didn’t understand. Everything was triaged and so on. I mentioned to my boss that I didn’t feel very productive and I wasn’t sure what to do. He said my work was above expectations and he went on to help me multiple times in my career. I still do not know what that repo even did.

  3. For one professor in college I was always philosophizing and asking hard questions and so on but hardly got any work done in two years. She thought I was hot shit and has gone on to help me in numerous ways.

  4. For another professor I came in to his dying $5M project the summer before the end date and brought my friend in and we kept our heads down and saved the entire fucking thing in two months. This is not an exaggeration. I was paid $10/​hour and my request to get a raise to $15/​hour was denied. He did not offer me other work or research projects.

  5. There was one guy at my company who was always grumpy and did all the work. There was another who was always very talkative and strategic. The strategies never manifested of course. The former was fired and the latter still works there.

Yes the most important thing is often obvious and doing it makes you look simple unless you smartify that simplicity somehow. This ties into a broader challenge:

Extraneous complexity attractors

A simple problem-framing with a simple solution has some emotional and social disadvantages against a complex problem with a detailed, piecemeal solution (familiar things):

  1. Pain concentration: redoing the roof costs more right now than patching the latest leak

  2. Semantic satiation: “Sure yeah all the political problems boil down to the voting method in primaries, everyone knows that. Anyway …”

  3. Brevity: you can use up more meeting minutes with your complicated idea. You can write a book about it. Lets the idea sink in.

  4. Lack of intellectual opportunity: Simple Alice knows the answer and has nothing to learn and forgets about her idea over time. Complex Bob has discussions with experts and accumulates knowledge, connections, insights, and accomplishments.

  5. Lack of control: I can buy solar panels or dry my clothes on a line. I can’t deregulate nuclear power plants.

  6. Lack of drama: people love to gossip

This all makes extraneous complexity a strong attractor — not only in discussions and papers and posts but also one’s private attention and ruminations. This can be overcome by going brr. Strategizing makes it worse.


Top performers dull as hell? I love listening to interviews but damn I cannot stand athlete interviews they sound practically empty to me. Most CEO interviews too. Made it through an Adam Mosseri (Instagram CEO) interview and it was very boring. Honestly he sounded stupid. Musk was an exception but in exchange now he’s fallen a bit in the twitter hole. (More boring CEOs were immune to this.)

Most of my life when I’m performing better I’m ignored/​boring and when I’m attended-to it’s because I’m shooting the shit or whatever. I mean you gotta shoot the shit sometimes. Seems that strategizing is a good strategy sometimes but rarely.

I make no claim to originality. This might even be obvious to everyone else but me. Couldn’t find an old quote about doing vs understanding but would like to find one.

I could maybe make this argument stronger by calling out particularly important and bad cases of smart-not-dumb research. Let me know in a comment if this would be helpful.

Anyway go forth and work dumbly go brrr