Back when I was a newspaper reporter covering the federal courts in Chicago, we’d end up with at least one big investment fraud case in any given year. And when we’d read the court filing, we could count on one truth: A huge percentage of the victims would be doctors.
I could understand why doctors would be targeted by the kind of upscale con artists who ended up in federal court. First, second, and third, they had money. Even the poor ones were rich. In addition, they were accustomed to being treated well, having a bit of extra access to the favors of life, so they weren’t very suspicious when someone offered them an insider’s opportunity to make a killing.
The thing that confused me, at first, was their gullibility. From the outside, after the fact, I could see 500 warning signs that they were being offered something too good to be true. Why didn’t they see at least some of those red flags and walk away from the deal?
Eventually, I figured it out and the lesson has stuck with me for many years. When you’re an expert in one area, it’s all too easy to overestimate your wisdom in uncharted territory. Doctors are smart, well-educated, and they have special knowledge that others value. It’s easy for people in that position to assume they can master other domains, whether it’s investments or spotting frauds. The thinking, as I imagined it, was: 1. I am smart enough to know a legit deal from a fraud. 2. This looks legit to me. 3. Where’s my check book?
They aren’t alone, of course. We’ve all run into people who are savants in one area and totally inept in another. Often, those people are absolutely unable to recognize where their expertise ends and the stupidity begins.
We see it frequently on the public stage, as business tycoons decide they should be politicians, politicians tell business owners how to run their companies, movie stars lecture us about medicine, and some drunk guy at the end of the bar puts the global economy back on solid footing. Sometimes we recognize it when someone has veered outside their lane, but too often we succumb to the notion that genius is a fungible strength.
Actually, we’re a little bit wacky about the whole thing. We think the people who’ve spent their lives in some arcane endeavor know less than the prima donnas who make broad pronouncements based on…on…on…what? Some of our self-declared experts don’t even claim to have read a few articles on the internet. They just know. Even worse, we nod our heads and accept their gospel.
It’s absolutely worst in politics, of course, where faith in the system has sunk so low that voters across the country are opting for “none of the above.” We decide to roll the dice on some never-tested poser on the assumption we cannot possibly do worse than we’ve been doing and then, surprise, it gets even worse. Still, in a cycle that would make P.T. Barnum proud, we do it again and again.
Like our physician friends, we’re just too confident for our own good. We think we can spot the frauds and we think we know the risks, so we trust the promises of the rich and famous, and infamous, as they lead us even further out of our lane.
On the positive side, it turns out that we’re as smart as any doctor we’ve ever met.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.