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Stupidity Paradox by Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer

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Book Review: The Stupidity Paradox

   Reviewed by Tayyab Ahmed Jalali        

The book Stupidity Paradox has been co-authored by Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer, esteemed professors of the City University, London. This book published back in 2016 focuses on the behaviours and activities that the workers do at their workplace. They have rightfully referred to several activities and behaviours of these workers as acts of stupidity. The implications of functional stupidity have also been discussed. The book that might have been written in a much better way and could have been much more interesting is rather filled with boredom for a reader with one thing being discussed repeatedly. The book is basically an extension of the author’s research article published in 2012 in the Journal of Management Sciences under the title “A Stupidity based Theory of Organisations”.

This book is divided into three broad parts where the first part discusses the Stupidity of today’s practical world while the second part provides details about the 5 different kinds of Functional Stupidity followed by the third part which merely is just a chapter telling on how to counter and manage functional stupidity.

The authors realized the issue of functional stupidity while they were having dinner at an official event where one of the authors initiated a discussion on one of his students interning at a government department was asked by his young supervisors to make a presentation on an important task. The authors realized that the universities have failed in playing their actual roles which I believe is incorrect as the universities are still striving to provide the best of education and developing knowledge and enhance the student’s cognitive abilities and attempting at providing with more visionaries to the society. Some universities in the modern world might be failing to cope up with the core purpose of their existence but most of the universities have done a remarkable job in ensuring that they don’t deviate from their purpose of existence.

 The businesses now have become so called knowledge intensive firms, but the level of intellectual activities found in there is lower than one would expect. People would happily do tasks that they should raise questions on without any critical thinking or using their cognitive abilities. A text that really got my interest was how decision making nowadays is being done by bringing idiotic ideas into practice instead of bringing logical thinking in the process of decision making. People doing their works without raising questions is more dangerous for a firm that might consider the person blowing whistles and raising questions regularly as this behaviour of the employees does benefit the organisation in the short run but can give disastrous results in the long run.

Discussion about the lead up to the famous 2008 financial crisis was also done and it was clear that the crisis came into effect through smart people overlooking trouble and mistakes thus committing acts of Stupidity that one wouldn’t relate to them. Perhaps if they were more vigilant and did their work with eyes open might not have resulted in thousands of people filing for bankruptcy after the crisis as the situation might never have come into effect.

These acts of Stupidity are a paradox within themselves as while they provide positive results in the short run their outcomes in the longer run are negative. The concept of Knowledge economies across the globe also gets discussed in this book and how it has affected the workplace environments. Agreed to the fact that Knowledge and intelligence are key resources for any prospering nation but there are certain questions that we must ask ourselves like whether we want all smart people, is being smart of importance, how do knowledge intensive firms act and is nurturing human intellect capital as important as we think of it

Truth was spoken when the authors said that jobs are getting much more qualified people than what the job required. As suggested by US Bureau of Labour’s report only 20% of jobs in the market required a graduation degree in 2010. It has been seen that managers also lack on the independent critical thinking aspect which has real life examples that we come across on daily basis at our workplaces. The managers simply follow the order and methods that have been forwarded to them and they just need to get the task executed without doing any innovation.

The question that was answered in the chapter 3 of this chapter was what really is functional stupidity? It is simply the reducing of an individual’s thinking scope and contracting the focus in narrow job aspects, it would be like putting blindfolds to horse eyes on both sides to make him focus only on the target set for him. Employees stop thinking about their works and do the works as they have been communicated to them without putting in their own intellect to find more shortcuts and increase efficiency at work. It is like an action of a machine that eats, drinks and sleeps too in the form of a human being. A human will always be perceived of having intelligence and thinking capacity unlike that of machine that functions on the programs instilled into it.

A stereotype exists in the world that Stupid people have very low Intelligence Quotient (IQ) which is true, but it is surprising to know that people even having high IQ have been seen engaged in doing acts of stupidity at their workplaces. A middle level management personnel might be following the CEO’s footsteps without proper scrutiny unescorted of the fact that he might go down as the situations for both can be very different in the span of decision making.

It has been observed that people who try acting smart and differentiate themselves from these people indulged in doing stupid things are often recognized as problematic and have therefore been dealt severely sometimes. Some actions that have been taken against such people include increasing in the workload burden and ensuring that the person doesn’t feel comfortable at the workplace.

The employees have realized that functional stupidity leads to convenience at work and resulted in more comforting and stress-free working conditions. Since the employees don’t argue with their management therefore the management also compliments them with ease in their workloads and more incentives are offered to them as they help maintain a good environment at the firm. The employees feel at ease since they are not required to use their personal intellect in doing tasks assigned to them and they are simply required to follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) set for the task.

The book states in its starting that Functional Stupidity tends to bring in crisis and disasters for the firms in the long run which logically is a fact that can’t be denied as overlooking mistakes will create troubles and if these troubling situations are not tackled in time then a crisis is inevitable, and the business will face the consequences of the negligence. Thankfully functional stupidity does tend to lead to crisis but that’s not always the case because if the organisations realize their mistakes and start working on them in the nick of time then disasters can be avoided. Precautionary measures must be taken well before the problem gets too big to handle.



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