Functional Stupidity: Really? Really.

"Brilliance, Stupidity" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.“Functional stupidity in the workplace is best described as when smart people are discouraged to think and reflect at work. The ramifications can ultimately be catastrophic, leading to organisational collapse, financial meltdown and technical disaster….However, a dose of functional stupidity can be useful and produce good, short-term results: it can nurture harmony, encourage people to get on with the job and drive success. This is what the authors refer to as the stupidity paradox [title of their book]….

Examples included:

  • Executives who [were] more interested in impressive power point shows than systematic analysis.
  • Companies ran leadership development initiatives which would not be out of place in a new age commune.
  • Technology firms that were more interest[ed] in keeping a positive tone than addressing real problems.
  • Schools focused more on developing impressive strategies than educating students.
  • Marketing executives who were obsessed with branding when all that counted was the price.
  • Corporations that would throw millions into ‘change exercises’ and then when they failed do exactly the same thing again and again.
  • Senior defence officials who were more interested in running rebranding operations rather than military operations.”*

Wait a minute. Wonder if that second bullet about the “new age commune” refers to the mindfulness programs sweeping Corporate America (Google, General Mills, Target, Apple, Nike, Procter & Gamble). If it does, with all due respect, as a mindfulness instructor in corporate settings myself, dumbing down is neither the intent nor the result. On the contrary, mindfulness clears, calms, and sharpens the mind so brilliance can emerge! Ask my client who said the gigantic publishing error she found and was able to stop would have surely gone to press had she not taken my training program, “Managing Your MIND.” **

Moving on from this rant, they do have a point, of course, reminding me of an earlier book on my shelf, Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay, detailing a tendency in employees to focus more on satisfying the boss’ ego than on producing their finest quality work. We know these as “Yes” men and women, who yes it up pretty much for the reasons The Stupidity Paradox authors say – for the comfort, safety, and harmony of a smooth, humming organizational machine. Until it crashes because too many corporate leaders are hanging onto policies of the past no matter how bad they are, and too many employees and leaders alike prefer to live in some kind of Lala land, rather than to face the hard facts, choices, and conflicts necessary to survive and to thrive.

What to do? Keyword: Functional. There are times when decisions have been made, action plans charted; we go along to get along and get the work done. Too many brilliant ideas at that point can slow everything down. Other times are times for brilliance, let’s say when the voice inside your head is saying over and over again that something is or is not very much right. “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” a movie about the gifted mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who gained admittance to Cambridge University during WWI, is a stunning depiction of one man’s triumph in bringing the inner voice of his brilliance to the world. Can you hear yours? Or has it been muted for so long by a noisy, and perhaps fearful, mind that you can barely hear it at all. We can begin to clear that noise away, as you may know by now, by turning your attention to your breath. In through the nose, out through the nose, belly out on the in-breath, belly in on the out-breath, quieting the mind and creating a space for the voice of your own brilliance to emerge, there for you to use in that right time and place, as you see fit. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*”Researcher discusses ‘functional stupidity’—when smart people are discouraged from thinking at work” June 15, 2016

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.




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