Stay safe, stay stupid




The new corporate culture change programme was picking up pace

Enough of systems thinking, let’s talk stupid.

Stupid is normally easy to spot. It’s walking into doors, slipping over banana skins and the like.

But what happens if “stupid” is so normal, that nobody notices it?

What if “stupid” is so thoroughly disguised as normal, that like Mr Zombie Deming describes, it is normal!

Welcome to…

The Stupidity Based Theory Of Organisations!

I love it, and you will too.
It describes work and insults it at the same time, what’s not to love?

This isn’t just another mouthful of bile sicked up by me, this is academic fact written up by two clever Scandinavians. Here is the original article, in all its glory.
And here it is in a handy 53 character size tweet, just ready for you click to spread Festivus seasonal cheer with..

“Organisations run on stupid, like cars run on petrol.”

CaptureThe theory states that in order for most organisations to function they need their people to act as if they are stupid.
They call this functional stupidity, where intelligent people can be encouraged to act as if they were stupid and don’t know that they are doing it.

It can’t be overstated, stupidity is vital to the thinking in most organisations. Just as a graphic design firm needs people skilled in graphic design, just as a car manufacturer needs people who can build cars.

Just as that, most organisations need people who act stupid. Simple is as stupid does.
Importantly, it isn’t about hey, we’re all stupid at heart. It’s not that, it isn’t about acknowledging our ignorance in the face of the universe. That’s humility. This theory is about why and how organisations require and encourage ordinarily intelligent people who act as if they are stupid without realising it.

This stupid isn’t about ignorance, what people do and don’t know. It is about HOW they purposefully behave as if they were ignorant, and how they encourage ignorance.

This stupid comes in 3 flavours.

1 “I am a normal person doing a normal job”.

Illustrated by: No questioning, a lack of self awareness


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.

Example: People don’t think there is such a thing as the “right” thing to do, this is not a question to be asked as ‘what is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you‘ The absence of doubt or questioning involves the repression of people’s capacity to use reason, to scrutinize and criticize aspects of an organization.

2 “My job is what I am asked to do”

Illustrated by: People not inclined to engage in dialogue about why they are being asked to do 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.
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.

Example: 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’.

3 “I do my job and that’s what matters”

Illustrated by: Concentrating on delivering the task at hand, not caring or thinking about purpose or what it is all for.


Attention is focused on narrow, task-oriented activities. Not thinking about the bigger picture, or connecting any dots, or of any implications, there is simply a myopic focus to get to the end, whatever that may be.
Thinking is concentrated around a small set of concerns that are defined by a specific organizational, professional, or work logic. It entails the myopic application of rationality focused on the efficient achievement of a given end, and ignorance of the broader substantive questions about what that end actually is.

Example: An accountant compresses a broad range of issues into recordable numbers on a spreadsheet, thereby ignoring many of the more substantive debates around what those numbers actually represent and the moral implications associated with using those numbers in decision making. 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.

None of this will come as a surprise to people who work in organisations, but it is immensely pleasing to me when I see it listed in an academic journal as being real. Knowing that what people grumble about quietly behind managers backs has been actually noticed and recognised and investigated makes me quiver with joy.


Stupid is the grease that allows command and control organisations to function.
But what’s clever eh
? We could ask Zombie Deming but, ssssshhhhhh he’s asleep due to the Advocaat. And it’s best not to wake him as questions like that aren’t stupid, they show you’ve brought your bwainz to work which is his favourite tasty snack so best tip-toe away, bwainz intact for another day…..

For those new to the juvenile smut of ThinkPurpose, click here for more previous adventures of Zombie Deming.

This entry was posted in all wrong, command and control, plausible but untrue, systems thinking, thinking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Stay safe, stay stupid

  1. An example of functional stupidity: the third reich: everyone was just ‘obeying orders’, no one was responsible for all the atrocities demanded by Hitler & co…


  2. ThinkPurpose says:

    Stupid! Such a great word, should be used more.


  3. bulldozer00 says:

    I ADORE juvenile smut!


  4. ThinkPurpose says:

    i spotted a niche in the market, knob-jokes and critiques of management thinking, AND I WENT FOR IT


  5. changearc says:

    I think you’ve been playing Plants vs Zombies a bit too much 😉


  6. Pingback: This is what your brain looks like on Command & Control | thinkpurpose

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