The Power of Being Stupid

No, this is not a post about the inner workings of Washington, D.C. Instead, it’s about a study published earlier this yearStupid in the Journal of Management Studies titled “A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organisations,” in which researchers at Sweden’s Lund University found that “functional stupidity” can increase efficiency.

Essentially, they write, although “critical reflection and shrewdness” were net positives, when too many smart people in the workplace offered their opinions or ask “disquieting questions about decisions and structures,” it slows work down. “We see functional stupidity as the absence of critical reflection. It is a state of unity and consensus that makes employees in an organization avoid questioning decisions, structures and visions,” writes Mats Alvesson, professor of organization studies at Lund and one of the co-authors. “Paradoxically, this sometimes helps to raise productivity in an organization.”

In other words, when everyone joins together and simply focuses on the immediate task on hand, then productivity, consensus and engagement levels go up. Mission accomplished! This approach is not without its risks, of course, writes Alvesson. Problems may arise when people don’t pose critical questions about what they’re doing, leading them to ignore risks and warning signs.

“Short-term use of intellectual resources, consensus and an absence of disquieting questions about decisions and structures may oil the organizational machinery and contribute to harmony and increased productivity in a company,” he writes. “However, it may also be its downfall.” In other words, don’t be too hard on those nitpicky malcontents in your organization (annoying though they may be). They may slow things down a bit but they could also end up saving your bacon.