It’s Usually Better To Be Careful Than Smart

Greg Satell
6 min readOct 21, 2023
Photo by Edmond Dantès on Pexels

Not too long ago, I had a post about the danger of trusting your feelings go viral on LinkedIn. The reason it was so popular wasn’t necessarily that everyone liked it, but because many wanted to voice their disapproval. A surprising number of people vehemently objected to the idea that they should interrogate their feelings or keep them in check.

Make no mistake. While it is true that our emotions can alert us to dangers that our rational mind fails to recognize, they can also lead us wildly astray. Our hippocampus, where our memories reside, has a bee line to our amygdala, which plays a role in governing our emotions, circumventing our rational brain in the prefrontal corpus.

We tend to assume that good judgment is a function of intelligence and education, but often it’s not. We need to recognize that there are glitches in our neural machinery and that our gut feelings can be triggered by random events as well as by people who seek to manipulate us. That’s why we need to be careful. It’s always the suckers who think they’re playing it smart.

Why Smart People Are So Easily Fooled

For decades, the global elite revered Bernie Madoff as one of the world’s most talented asset managers until it was all exposed to be, in his own words, “one big lie.” Elizabeth Holmes’s prominent board at Theranos were so clueless that they put their reputations behind a product that didn’t exist. Anna Sorokin, the daughter of a Russian truck driver, was able to convince the glitterati that she was, in fact, a fabulously wealthy heiress.

In each case, there was no shortage of opportunities to unmask the fraud. Inconsistencies in Madoff’s records were reported to regulators a number of times, but were ignored. Holmes wasn’t able to produce a single peer-reviewed study during 10 years in business to support her claims and there was no shortage of whistleblowers from inside and outside the company. Anna Sorokin left unpaid bills all over town.

Still, many bought the ruses and would interpret facts to support them. Madoff’s secrecy was seen as confirmation that he had a proprietary method. In Holmes’ case, her eccentricities were taken as evidence that she truly was a genius, in the mold of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg…



Greg Satell

Co-Founder: ChangeOS | Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Wharton Lecturer, HBR Contributor, - Learn more at