Tag: research

What smart people don’t think to do

I know this because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve done it myself. Thus, this post is half observation, half public service announcement.

So what do even smart people not always think to do?

They don’t think to look up the answer when…

  • they don’t know how to do something
  • they don’t know what a word, phrase, or concept means
  • they don’t know where to find something

How can I make such a claim in the Internet age, when PewInternet reports that 91% of adult Internet users in the U.S. use a search engine to find information?

Let me relate a quick story.

When I worked with master’s and doctoral students at a research university, I was taken aback by how many of them didn’t know how to solve their MS Word formatting issues (something they needed to do in order to submit their theses or dissertations). After all, these students are researchers. They’re problem-solvers. They’re smart.

It got me thinking—how often do we compartmentalize our knowledge and problem-solving methods and simply don’t think of transferring those methods to another task or region of knowledge? How often do we settle for not knowing—even when we need that knowledge to do our work well?

Or even—how often do we not realize how easy-to-find the answer actually is?

It’s not a matter of being stupid—it’s a matter of making the connection. Of developing the habit of looking up those questions that we might not quite know how to phrase. Of risking a little extra time on the chance of getting the results we want.

In the case of the grad students’ MS Word formatting issues, a quick google is likely to turn up the answer—even if they don’t know quite what keyword to use (e.g., “hanging indent”). It’s amazing the number of tutorials that other users post online to help people out.

Of course, we all know that one’s presence on the Internet is no guarantee of one’s expertise or integrity (as this State Farm® “French model” commercial cheerfully illustrates. “They can’t put anything on the Internet that’s not true.” Cracks me up every time). Caveat emptor.

So, the moral of the story?

Be the smart person you are. Look it up.