LEAVE YOUR POWER AT THE DOOR PLEASE

In Terry Pratchett’s novel ‘Unseen Academicals’, Ms Pushpram, an experienced handler of seafood, knows not to bother with a lid for the crab bucket. If one crab tries to climb out, the others will pull it back.

Oh, how we laugh. In a knowing sort of way.

At some point, we will all find ourselves in a culture that very much resembles that ‘crab bucket’.  What is this recognisable (and dispiriting) phenomenon?  Professor André Spicer and his co-author Mats Alvesson pinned a harsh but temptingly useful label on things in their 2016 book ‘The Stupidity Paradox’.

A tongue-in-cheek routemarch through ‘the power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work’ reveals both the safety, comfort and advancement benefits of ‘going along with – stupid – things’ versus the possibly catastrophic consequences of failing to think critically or reflectively about the project or future under discussion.

The authors suggest useful approaches to escape the stupidity trap: Devil’s Advocate questioning, reflection time, cultivating ‘Negative Capability’ (see Change Chemistry blog October 6 2016), and disaster-horizon planning. All these techniques will help surface the certainly present uncomfortable facts and issues that require smart, not stupid, engagement.

Professor Spicer’s next book, due Oct 2017, is called ‘Business Bullshit’.

Aren’t the words ‘Stupidity’ and ‘Bullshit’ brilliant? Don’t they grab you?  But something niggles.

It is easier to shock and to deride – and both are necessary – when on the outside.
Yet words such as ‘habit’ or ‘ritual’ instead of ‘stupidity’, would suggest a more complicated ecosystem.

We live in a post-modern world.

Multiple realities; constantly re-forming what we mean by right / wrong, good/bad; fluid and re-constructed identities; all form the soup in which we now swim.

Power changes, slips away and reforms.

Organisations need to reform too, into cultures where individuals can recognise and exercise power in different, non-conformist ways.

Inside that bucket, it’s not stupidity at work. The occupants of that bucket are exercising the only power they can see available to them.

Ouch.

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