Why do powerful, intelligent, and accomplished people so often exhibit cluelessness or ignorance? (Examples can be supplied on demand, in the unlikely event you need them.)
I don’t mean to rip on powerful people, many of whom become powerful because of outstanding personal traits. But I do think it’s worth understanding the puzzle of why so many people do great things in their youth, and then do apparently sillier things as they get older.
I think my post about the bias towards power contains a partial explanation: powerful people’s ideas often aren’t tested as rigorously as those of the less powerful, and they find it easier to act while ignoring good advice. As an example, a regular Joe with an idea for starting a company has to convince other people of the idea in order to attract investment. A wealthy entrepeneur finds it much easier to get silly ideas funded, in part by investing their own wealth, and in part because other people give undue weight to their words.
(This is also why superheros like Spiderman are interesting: they show what happens when basically well-intentioned people can act without constraint. The results often aren’t pretty.)
However, I think the bias towards power is only part of an explanation. Another part is that powerful people are often far too busy and focused. If you don’t create time just to fool around (“purposeless delectation in ideas” was Gian-Carlo Rota’s lovely phrase), you end up narrow, clueless, and irrelevant. It’s funny to hear that CNN’s Larry King has never used the net, or that George Bush (the elder) was amazed by supermarket barcode scanners in 1992, but, really, these people must have some massive blind spots.