November 28, 2022

Binary Blogger

Are you a 1 or a 0? News, Thoughts and Reviews

The Key To A Productive Business Is Having People Be ‘Functionally Stupid’?

5 min read

In order to be an effective manager and team leader you constantly need to stay educated on How to be one. Times change as well as the people. Old school methods of clear cut productivity, everyone working toward a single goal is over. The openness of the Internet, more fluidity of people moving around, and the changing political landscape has changed out businesses are being ran either consciously or subconsciously.

Each Sunday as I get some alone time to read the papers I also read through several professional journals and think tank papers. I can across one today that really began to clarify some things I have seen over the past 5 years in various organizations I have had professional contact with.

Now this article is controversial and has turned ‘office behavior professionals’ running for the hills because it basically takes all conventional top-down management structure thought processes and throws it out the window.

The new concept, brought forth by two professors at Lund University, is called Functional Stupidity. What they say is that companies with too many smart people disrupt workflow by overanalyzing and offering improved alternatives. The best team players are those that do their job without questioning everything or their bosses. They call this trait Functional Stupidity. They go on to clarify that functional stupidity is not a lack of IQ rather a trait brought on by office politics and from an organization that has lost its motivation or has an environment with a fear of reprisal for offering opinions.

Subtle suggestions and pressures to to have the employees ‘go along with the status quo’, ‘go along to get along’, ‘soften the tones’, ‘don’t stir the pot’ and to those that do speak up they hear that ‘They are not a good fit’, ‘There are intellectual differences’, ‘We agree to disagree’, ‘You need to change your messages’.

Other studies have found that employee engagement, encouraging input is becoming more important when it comes to attracting employees as well as retaining them.

The article goes on to explain that the corporate world needs Stupidity. It’s beneficial in some cases and disastrous in others. Take the Dot Com bubble, the financial crisis, mortgage failures all had people that saw what was coming and didn’t speak up about it or were not allowed to speak up. This is what happens when the functional stupidity is taken to the extremes or is allowed to go unchecked.

At the end of the day it is the job of the management and leaders to be able to analyze and read the business and employees against productivity to identify if things are as optimal as they can be. As a trade off however if there is functional stupidity and you start to open up to opinions you better be prepared to start making changes and adopting those alternatives. If not your opinions will stop as fast as they start when the employees realize that even though the business is open to opinions but nothing will ever be done with it so why bother.

Here is a great breakdown of Functional Stupidity characteristics. I also added the link to the full article from The Journal of Management Studies.

Excerpt from the journal article A Stupidity Based Theory Of Organizations – Full Article Here

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We can view what we refer to as functional stupidity as being characterized by an unwillingness or inability to mobilize three aspects of cognitive capacity: reflexivity, justification, and substantive reasoning. Lack of reflexivity involves an inability or unwillingness to question knowledge claims and norms (Alvesson and Sköldberg, 2009). This happens when members of an organization do not call into question the dominant beliefs and expectations they encounter in organizational life. Organizational rules, routines, and norms are thought to be given, natural, and good (or unproblematic or inevitable) and, therefore, not worth thinking about in negative terms. For instance, employees may not consider or question organizational (im)morality because ‘what is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you’ (Jackall, 1988, p. 6). Such a lack of doubt involves the repression of organizational members’ capacities to use reason, to scrutinize and criticize aspects of an organization. 

The second aspect of functional stupidity is lack of justification. This entails actors not demanding or providing reasons and explanation (cf. Boltanski and Thévenot, 2006). Given relatively ‘open’ social conditions (such as freedom of speech), individuals tend to consider all statements in terms of sincerity, legitimacy, and truthfulness. They are also inclined to argue or ask for justification when confronted with what is viewed as problematic validity claims. This is what Habermas (1984) refers to as communicative action – a dialogue that creates views and norms that are well-grounded in arguments. By not asking for justification, individuals are disinclined to engage in dialogue or ask for rationales for doing something. This often means assuming that an account of the reasons for a decision or action is not required. Not requiring justifications allows practices to be accepted without any significant critical scrutiny or robust process of reason-giving. For instance, organizations will often adopt new practices with few robust reasons beyond the fact that they make the company ‘look good’ or that ‘others are doing it’ (Alvesson, 2013a; Meyer and Rowan, 1977; Zbaracki, 1998). Refraining from asking for justification beyond managerial edict, tradition, or fashion, is a key aspect of functional stupidity. It also results in the reproduction of problematic conditions and a shortage of what is sometimes referred to as ‘voice’ in the organization (Morrison, 2011).

The third aspect of functional stupidity is a lack of substantive reasoning. This happens when cognitive resources are concentrated around a small set of concerns that are defined by a specific organizational, professional, or work logic. It entails the myopic application of instrumental rationality focused on the efficient achievement of a given end, and ignorance of the broader substantive questions about what that end actually is (Alvesson and Willmott, 2012). For instance, an accountant may compress a broad range of issues into recordable numbers, thereby ignoring many of the more substantive debates around what those numbers exactly represent and the moral implications associated with using those numbers in decision making (Dillard and Ruchala, 2005). This is a form of stupidity because it can halt a reasoned investigation and consideration of the possible links and implications of one’s action. Instead, it frames questions in very narrow and focused ways.
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As with any journal publication take it with a grain of salt. Only you can determine if it makes sense to your style or organization. At the end of the day if everyone does their job, the rest will fall into place.

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