The Stupidity Paradox

The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work

In The Stupidity Paradox, Andre Spicer and Mats Alvesson explore how knowledge intensive organizations employ smart people and encourage them to do stupid things. The authors, experts in business administration and organizational behaviour, observe that organizations "which employ so many smart people … foster so much stupidity". The authors call this mix of intellect and ineptitude ‘functional stupidity‘, something they define as "the inclination to reduce one’s scope of thinking and focus only on the narrow, technical aspects of the job".

The Stupidity Paradox explains why 'functional stupidity' is actually an important survival strategy for many organizations. According to the authors, functional stupidity is an organized attempt to stop people from thinking seriously about what they do at work. By ignoring the many uncertainties, contradictions and downright illogical claims that are rife at work, people are able to ensure that things run relatively smoothly.

We often value convenience over confronting the inconvenient truth. They however point out that this strategy creates the "ideal conditions for big mistakes" because it builds a conformist workplace, impairs vigilance, instills mindlessness, desensitises people to problems, and obstructs clever decision-making.

Mats Alvesson & Andre Spicer, The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work. Profile Books: London, 2016. 276 pp. ISBN: 9781781255414 (paperback)