I made a living for many years teaching small business owners and their employees how to use a powerful and intricate computer program. “You must think we’re stupid,” they would occasionally say with a rueful chuckle, after making mistakes. Often the person making such a self-deprecating comment had recently one of those behind-the-scenes websites filled with anecdotes from computer-support techs about their goofy clients. (As a frequent flier, I had a comparable fondness for websites that reveal what airline personnel really think about their passengers.)
I got the “you must think we’re stupid” comment tossed my way in front of a sizable audience once, so I thought it merited an answer. What I said was well-received enough to become a standard part of my seminar presentations. “It’s not a question of intelligence, so much as focus,” I explained. “Most of the time, when people do something they later regard as stupid, it’s because they weren’t paying attention, or because they couldn’t concentrate on the problem long enough to come up with a thorough solution. You folks have a hundred things blowing up in your faces during a busy day at the office. When you pass a problem off to a computer support tech, we get to focus on the problem until it’s resolved. That counts for as much as how smart or experienced we might be.”
Intelligence requires effort. A smart person who doesn’t pay attention or put effort into the task at hand often ends up doing dumb things. It’s like a having a high-performance car with an empty gas tank. That’s true for organizations as much as individuals, which is why we find ourselves facing the Rise of the Ineptocracy. We live under the biggest, most expensive government in history, and it can’t do anything right. It’s one faceplant after another – from bungled foreign policy, to screwed-up website launches, failed economic “stimulus” plans, agencies that seem almost impervious to reform, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Secret Service, and Ebola defenses that shredded like wet tissue paper as soon as an infected man hopped off a flight from Liberia. We’re constantly told our mega-government, which now has virtually limitless power and funding, is supervised by the Best and the Brightest. Boasts about the alleged intellectual superiority of the current President are especially common.
But in …read more