Andy Borovitz’s book Profiles in Ignorance documents the increasing degree of stupidity in the political domain, documenting such figures as W Bush, Quayle, Reagan, Pailin and Trump.
Phenomenally funny book. And it got me thinking about stupidity in organizations.
But first and to be fair, the book is one sided. There are other examples of ignorance BOTH sides of the political scale, such as Kerry’s middle east policy, knocking off Senor Kaddafi, and Carter’s total misreading of Iran as a island of stability just before the old Shah was disposed.
It appears that stupidity is not limited to one side. In organizations, this is doubly true. At face value, organizations have become more sophisticated over time. Augmented by computing power, easier financing terms and a manpower pool from the global economy, vast knowledge about the market, organizations should have become much smarter. But this has not happened.*
Organizations’ increasing stupidity is often fueled by the innovations that they have adopted. In this post, I want to point out examples of organizational stupidity all based on my experience and observation.
1-Your customer base and our technology acquisition.
We have a great technology but a weak customer base. You have a strong customer base but your technology is weak. So, let’s create synergy by acquisition and sell our technology to your customer base.
And I ask, how stupid do you have to be to know that this seemingly simple plan almost never works, because of all of the personal, political and technical issues involved?
Enterprise resource planning certainly solved a huge set of issues (speed, compliance, built-in siloism) only to create a shitload of new problems, such as the elimination of common sense, lack of flexibility, process Nazism, and a thriving blaming culture fuelled by constant escalation of issues to senior management to solve problems fueling by these very “integrated” processes.
Sounds stupid? It certainly is, unless you understand that all innovations solve certain problems and create others.
3-Spokesmen and Perfuming Pigs
In an attempt to deal with image problems stemming from the intrusive role of the media, organizations began to view “looking better” as much more important than becoming better. This lofty goal was delegated to the spokesperson, and or course, often times this fueled lack of trust on the part of the consumer, as well as the process of “hiding” information from and by the spokesperson.
Can you really sell a 20 Euro ticket from Barcelona to Rome, or a 15 Euro ticket between London and Dublin or an 8 Euro trip between Cairo and Entebbe whilst providing good service? Can airports handle the inevitable havoc as the serfs and hoards start to wander almost freely? Of course they can’t, but by perfuming the pig, organizations appear to be “cruisin’ for a bruise” and/or digging their own grave.
Organizations seem to believe that you work for them. And thus, they download their jobs to their consumers (shadow work), generally via phone support which is often almost impossible to reach. Try installing a new router on your own, or transitioning to fiber optics; try assembling a water filter every six months.
Shadow work denigrates the reputation of companies, results in huge turn over in call centers, and to a lack of customer loyalty.
And back to stupidity, becoming media savvy probably has created politicians who know how to “look good” as opposed to being compatible to the job. And constant innovation and the need to be fast and flexibile have created new organizational configurations, riddled with stupidity.
*Today’s organizations remind me of great boxers with a powerful punch on one hand, like Floyd Patterson or Amir Khan or Vladimir Klitchko, yet with a glass chin- meaning critical weaknesses that leave them exposed to being knocked out in well fell swoop.