For whatever reason, when I was a schoolboy and first learnt of the word “diligent”, I assumed that it should be the opposite on intelligent. “Only people who are not intelligent need to be diligent”, the young I had reasoned.
And nearly thirty years later, I came across this stellar 2×2 on intelligence and diligence. I’ve read it in many places now, but will link to the version on farnam street blog. I’m copying this quote from the blog, which is apparently credited to two different military officers.
I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.
Maybe I was up to something interesting back in the 1990s, even if it was rather self-serving. And maybe it is this concept I reprised in the late 2000s when I came up with “studs and fighters“. It was possibly my irritation with the “stupid and diligent” variety.
Now I’m thinking of this “stupid and diligent” 2×2 in terms of our schooling and education. Maybe there is this general feeling among parents, teachers and suchlike that intelligence is something you are “born with”, and you cannot become intelligent.
So the moment they spot a kid who is stupid and lazy, they decide that the best way to “improve” this kid is to make him/her more diligent, rather than more intelligent. In the short run this might work, since the kid is now able to do better in the school exams (which is what most teachers are optimising for). The long run effect, though, is that the kid, instead of ending up in the numerous but harmless “general staff” (stupid and lazy), ends up in the seemingly more competent but actually “dangerous, and only causing mischief” stupid and diligent quadrant.
In other words, our general schooling makes our adult population much more dangerous!