Review: The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work

The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at WorkThe Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work by Mats Alvesson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun – and at times funny – book to read. Drawing upon their own academic expertise and the studies of companies undertaken by themselves and others, Alvesson and Spicer draw into the stark light of public awareness the phenomenon they name as ‘functional stupidity’, that propensity for otherwise smart and intelligent people to not “use cognitive and reflective capacities in anything other than narrow and circumspect ways”.

This functional stupidity that Alvesson and Spicer describe should bring immediate nods of identification by those who work in the corporate culture of any large organisation – I certainly recognise some of the tendency even with a Church setting among those who, although being very intelligent and experts in their particular field of endeavour, can’t see beyond the limits of that field to grasp at the larger questions that arise when talking about the ‘culture’ of Church in theological terms.

As Alvesson and Spicer point out, functional stupidity is a very enticing and seductive approach to working in a large organisation, and one that many will succumb to without even being consciously aware of it. The danger of being captured by functional stupidity, however, is that it essentially turns off one’s ability to think critically about the reality being faced by an organisation. The twin-edged blade of functional stupidity is described in wonderful detail in this tome, and is illustrated by numerous examples drawn from real companies, whether they are identified by name or not.

This book is a ‘must read’ for anyone working in an organisation, particularly if they think that the organisation they work for is great, successful, innovative, or an example of best practice. There’s every chance that if these characteristics describe the way you think of your organisation, you’ve been infected and held captive by functional stupidity.

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