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Overview of The Aspects of Stupidity in The Workplace

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Leadership-induced stupidity
    Structure-induced stupidity
    Imitation-induced stupidity
    Branding-induced stupidity
    Culture-induced stupidity
  3. Analysis


It is often seen and observed that organizations that may seem to be smart, at times encourage something that is very peculiar – stupidity in the workplace. This is one interesting aspect of organizations that the authors uncover and address in this book. Firstly, both the authors are professionals and have worked as professors, teaching organizational behavior to their respective universities employed at. So, this is not only their area of expertise, but they also have a diverse experience in this area which they have gained during the course of their career.

An important aspect that they highlight in the book is that at times shutting off and not using some parts and functions of your brain during work is at times acceptable and understandable – this phenomenon has been coined as functional stupidity. This happens when the benefits of doing this are outweigh the costs. People do not have to use and put pressure on their cognitive capabilities which ultimately frees them for any second thoughts and doubts that may arise. This then makes them conform to the status quo, preventing them from asking any out of the place questions and avoids making them look like a troublemaker. This in return shows them as a leader with certainty. Which also proposes the stupidity paradox. This is not limited to individuals at the workplace but also pertinent to the organization as well.

By avoiding and suppressing the various uncertainties, difference of opinions, challenges to the stats quo that are at times common and prevalent at the workplace, leadership and managers can make sure that no employee deviates and everything goes smoothly. It is often that convenience is valued more and given importance over the inconvenience of truths. However, this may at the end prove to have significant adverse impacts. Gradually and consistently when there is a blind eye turned towards inconsistencies, this starts building up an environment that is bound for mistakes.

The case of the 2008 financial crisis as referred to in the book is a prime example of how this environment was contagious and bound for failure. Functional StupidityWe’ve progressed so much in the past centuries and have moved on to become knowledge intensive organizations and workers, why then does functional stupidity pose to be such a big problem? This can be compared with the analogy of “thinking inside the box” Functional stupidity may take 5 different major forms:

Leadership-induced stupidity

The role of a leader is one that sets examples for others to follow and induces inspiration and admiration from their employees. However, most often this is not the case. Most employees internally desire that their leaders would just not interrupt or take part in their work and let them work on their own. An example of functional stupidity would be believing that leaders have a significant impact and influence on the method of operations of an organization.

Structure-induced stupidity

In every company there is a requirement of having rules and regulations in place. However, many companies tend to go overboard with this. This in result makes workers tend to tick boxes that has nothing to do with actual productive work. Companies make following and adhering to the rules more significant instead of achieving productive results.

Imitation-induced stupidity

In many organizations, it is their view how the company positions itself and looks to outsiders is more important than what the company actually does and how it operates. Living up to expectations of others becomes the forefront consideration.

Branding-induced stupidity

More weightage and importance is given to the fact of what brand the product belongs to rather than its features. Branding gives meaning and a sense of purpose to employees. It creates a delusion and convinces them to do their work which may be senseless chores. However, the essence of a brand can build ignorance which may hinder productivity.

Culture-induced stupidity

A formed culture often hinders provoking thoughts. It makes employees gullible to beliefs that are mistaken in spite of evidence to prove it wrong. Employees are so heavily influenced by the culture that their thought process becomes one with it. Knowledge Economy More and more organizations stress on the fact of being knowledge intensive and employing a workforce that is knowledgeable.

This book is able to shed light on several thoughts of how organizations that consider themselves as smart actually are. Multiple organizations pride themselves on the fact that they rely on and employee highly-educated, creative, and critical thinkers that are passionate to learn. However, on the contrary, this is not the case. They instead desire someone that is disciplined, orderly, mindlessly enthusiastic, and can conform to and accept any irrational idea that comes their way and is put across to them.

The Academic DilemmaThe phrased term “knowledge economy” particularly focuses and scrutinizes the part that universities play. In the book, there is a case quoted of a US study that incorporated 2300 undergrads at 29 different colleges. The test made a comparison of when they started their college and from thereon two years and four years after that. When the 4 years of the study were completed, it was observed that 36 percent of the students had had no impact or difference in their cognitive ability or the capability to analyze different problems.

The conclusion of the study was a shocking result – business students ended up performing worse prior to their undergrad and actually performed better in high school.However, we need to keep in mind that many universities, especially those that belong to more traditional courses – engineering and medicine, have relatively standards that are set high. The authors are more inclined to focus on the change and detriment on capability of the colleges at the lower end spectrum. Something that can easily be learned on the job has now become a complete standalone course. A course that they highlight that is equivalent to a degree is of spa management or bartending.

Due to this, students, rather than focusing on the study and course material, instead check their Facebook notifications and newsfeed. This may partly be because of the low value that can be achieved from a course that is on Beyonce, aliens, or Star Wars. Another surprising element that they highlight in the book is that of the drastic difference in numbers of academic staff compared to administration. Many universities in the UK comprise of less faculty members and more staff in administration. This clearly gives a representation that higher education is not the main goal, but rather administrative gains are. FinaleNear the end of the book and last chapter, the authors explain and give advice on managing and countering functional stupidity. They emphasize on restating the stupidity paradox which poses a trade off for managers and the leadership.

The key question that needs to be addressed is

Would they like more functionality and stupidity or would they want less functionality and instead more smartness? The balance between the two is stated by the authors through the virtue defined by John Keats – a famous poet. John gives a definition of negative capability – ‘the ability to be uncertain, in mysteries and doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. They explain that it is critical for any organization to thrive that a sense of uncertainty is essential.

They identify and lists three skills for employees and people looking to change and seek out:

  1. a sense of sharp observational skills
  2. good interpretation
  3. critical questioning.

They also provide some insights and strategies on how to counter stupidity. There is a disclaimer that practicing anti-stupidity measures and management is not an easy feat and is open to controversies. It is often looked down upon and treads on a dangerous line.


The authors of this book, Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer, are able to depict really well the repercussions and adverse effects in organizations of “functional stupidity.” They are able to shed light on such a radical issue and provide an understanding on functional intelligence and its presence missing from today’s workplace. Throughout the book and ending, the authors recommend and give methods that an organization can take to transform and eradicate stupidity from its organization and head towards being realistically and pragmatically smart. Their argument and viewpoints are supported by examples of past organizational behavior and cases.

However, one factor that they misrepresent or fail to mention is the fact that despite an organization’s dumbness and stupidity in the workplace, how do they end up creating revolutionary products such as the smartphone or computer that have had an everlasting effect on consumer’s daily lives. All in all, it is recommended to c-level management and directors of an organization to implement their program and teachings to progress and head towards smart management and improve the organization’s sustainability and long run health.

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Overview of the Aspects of Stupidity in the Workplace. (2020, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
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