Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work, by Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer

Staff review by Chris Saliba

In this tightly argued book, academics Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer find that the modern workplace is full of rules and regulations that make people stupid. 

Have you ever worked in a modern office environment or a bureaucratic department and found all the rules and regulations, even the very work culture itself, mindlessly stupid? Then this is the book for you.

Academics Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer have done a wealth of research into organisational culture and the findings are not particularly flattering. Where leading businesses think they work intelligently, provide best practice and offer inspirational leadership, the authors find the opposite. They maintain that straitjacketing employees into rigid thinking and rules, with an over-reliance on metrics and testing, is creating work cultures that they describe as functionally stupid. Amazingly, when intelligent people are put into these work environments, they start doing stupid things. They toe the line even when it doesn't make sense and hold back from giving honest feedback for fear of reprisals. As the authors note, during the financial crash of 2007, the finance industry was run by the very best minds in business, yet they created an unmitigated disaster.

Amongst other startling findings in this book, Alvesson and Spicer maintain that the so-called 'knowledge economy' is vastly overrated (we all basically do fairly routine work, no matter how exalted the job description); ideas of leadership are highly delusional (employees like to be autonomous and resist influence from others); and an excess of bureaucratic form filling, policy compliance and obsessions with metrics do not really increase productivity and work quality.

This book may give solace to workers trapped in cult-like organisational structures, although whether CEOs and business leaders will take any notice of the findings in this book is another matter. In fact, the authors quote their own research (based on interviews) that shows leaders live in a bubble, unable to face the reality around them. Neatly written, persuasively argued, The Stupidity Paradox takes an iconoclastic look at the modern office and corporation.

The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work, by Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer. Published by Profile Books. ISBN: 9781781255414  RRP: $24.99

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