Smart people doing stupid work?

If you’ve ever questioned competence inside your very smart workplace, I recommend you listen to an episode of ABC’s Best PracticeManaging Stupidity at Work

During the interview, Andre Spicer discusses the findings included in a book he co-authored with Mats Avesson, called The Stupidity Paradox: the Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work.

Andre explains that functional stupidity is when intelligent people don’t use their abilities or curiousity to challenge what’s presented to them in the workplace.  They either ‘buy into …, or do, stupid things’, resulting,  at least in the short term, a form of functioning order - which feels like a farce.

Their research shows that it's not uncommon for people to join highly sought after employers, but within a very short time, either consciously or unconsciously, they begin to dumb down. They stop asking meaningful questions, offering up perspectives, or contributing new thinking. While the new employee recognises something’s not right, they've also realised there’s no pay-off in speaking up.

What struck the authors was the number of self-described ‘knowledge intensive’ workplaces hiring the brightest people from the best universities, only to place them in an environment where they're actively discouraged from applying curiousity and knowledge.

To the outside world, these people work for highly respected organisations in engineering, professional services, media or education - but the new employees describe the work they do there as 'dumb'.

Anyway, I encourage you to listen to the interview. It offers an interesting perspective:  my take is that there is a ceiling on interesting jobs, expectations need to be managed, and intellectual curiousity might be better channeled into quality work, planning and continuous improvement. As a bonus, there's also a short discussion on the notion of leadership (hint: it's a bit of a joke).


Image by Mike Smith via Unsplash