Stupidity in organizations is a choice.
Organizations have their sets of routine and practices. These usually evolved from extrapolation of past successes. Whether these are still compatible are often not called into question. It assumes that a formula that worked in the past is still valid in the present. Britannica’s stubborn belief in the success of printed encyclopedia destroyed most of the company’s value. Its refusal to accept a much smaller share of a much bigger volume of sales with software providers, such as Microsoft, has led it to lose most, if not all, of its market.
When confronted with doubts, individuals are naturally inclined to argue or ask for justification. However, organizational practice may not require this. Often, the instructions from the ‘boss’ are sufficient as a justification. New practices are adopted because “others are doing it.” In the 1980s, General Motors sought to eliminate its worker problems by deciding to install robotics in its production line. What worked for the Japanese competitors proved to be a disaster for General Motors.
Too much focus on a goal may make the organization blind to the real reason for the goal. Resources are channeled to ensure the success of a particular project without understanding why the project has to be successful. Against all odds, Samsung’s Chairman Lee entered into automobile manufacturing in the late 1990s. Less than 5 years later, Samsung Motors was sold to Renault at rock-bottom price.
The lack of reflexivity, justification, and substantive reasoning in varying degrees are indicators that an organization is on the road to stupidity.
One, members of the organization are not encouraged to question the contradictions between organization’s practices and developments in the market. The capacities to use reason for scrutiny and critique are repressed. Overtime, members exhibit an inability or unwillingness to question these practices.
Two, members do not see the need for justifications for their assigned tasks. They are disinclined to engage in dialogue or ask for rationales. Not requiring justification allows practices to be accepted simply because “that’s how things are done here.”
Three, failure to understand the rationale behind assigned tasks prevents members to make meaningful contribution to the organization. Without realization of its significance, a task is completed merely because it is an assignment.
More often than not, this direction is deliberate. Managers are typically tasked to shape and mold the mind-sets of the members. At its core, the purpose is to create some degree of conformity. This is often evident by directly or indirectly discouraging dialogue and communication among members of the organization. Members who voice concerns are branded as non-team players. Those who raise reasonable arguments but contradicts prevailing mood are ignored or marginalized. Challenging tasks are assigned to members who initiated the “bright” idea.
Leadership is not a solution. This perennial management fixation does not necessarily liberates an organization from stupidity. Expected to be morally, spiritually, or socially superior, members naturally rely heavily on the leader to do the thinking and decision-making. “The more emphasis on the leadership, the more frequent are the elements of following and subordination.”
The choice is easy . . . it’s between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Real Carpio So lectures on strategic management, human resources management, organizational behavior and management of organizations at the Management and Organization Department of Ramon del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.