omfg- “A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations”

I haven’t read all of this yet, but omfg… Abstract below, with my translations into English in [square brackets].

Journal of Management Studies 49:7 November 2012
doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6486.2012.01072.x
A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations
Mats Alvesson and André Spicer
Lund University; City University

In this paper we question the one-sided thesis that contemporary organizations rely on the mobilization of cognitive capacities. [Academics and management gurus are always banging on about how firms want smart and innovative employees. We think that life is more complicated.]

We suggest that severe restrictions on these capacities in the form of what we call functional stupidity are an equally important if under-recognized part of organizational life. [Organisations want smart and innovative but only if they are obedient and not-upsetting-the-comfortable-life-of-bosses. ]

Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications. [You are encouraged to lobotomise yourself.]

We argue that functional stupidity is prevalent in contexts dominated by economy in persuasion which emphasizes image and symbolic manipulation. [“contexts dominated by economy in persuasion” – means in the PR end of things, where there is little real feedback (buildings and bridges collapsing, planes falling out of the sky, etc.  In advertising etc etc, or any where that feedback is ambiguous, can be “spun” etc]

This gives rise to forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action. [stupidity management – bosses forcing/encouraging potentially gobby employees to STFU and Obey.  And encouraging employees to do it to themselves if they want to get ahead…]

In turn, this structures individuals’ internal conversations in ways that emphasize positive and coherent narratives and marginalize more negative or ambiguous ones. [If you want promotion without going mad, you learn to suppress your doubts.]

This can have productive outcomes such as providing a degree of certainty for individuals and organizations. [Some employees go mad. Fuck’em, plenty more where that came from.]

But it can have corrosive consequences such as creating a sense of dissonance among individuals and the organization as a whole.[see previous]

The positive consequences can give rise to self-reinforcing stupidity. [And everyone else is happy. Until a black swan comes along and shits all over the party.]

The negative consequences can spark dialogue, which may undermine functional stupidity. [Bosses hate dialogue. Applause, sycophancy, yep. Dialogue, not so much]

Keywords: bounded rationality, identity, ignorance, knowledge, power


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