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Fish On Fridays II

By popular demand, he’s back! Who, you ask? Why, it’s guest blogger “my name is a different kind of fish every time I post a comment on BD00’s blawg“. Here’s the second installment of “Fish (Sometimes) On Friday“. Enjoy!

Surrounded by Marching Morons

 The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”~Bertrand Russell

I saw that quote on the back door of a tractor trailer while driving down the highway. It wasn’t scribbled by hand in the dirty road buildup – it was actually printed on the truck itself as part of the company’s on-road marketing.  Don’t ask me what the company was. I don’t remember, other than it was some printing/copying company delivery truck.  Not sure how that quote was relevant to their business, but it sure is relevant to mine (and maybe yours?)

Does it ever feel like you’re the only one in your org who knows what’s going on, what needs to be done, and ends up taking care of it because the clowns around you are clueless?

Ayn Rand‘s character John Galt in Atlas Shrugged has this to say:

The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.

I scraped the above from  Mike LaBossiere‘s blog Talking Philosophy where he also says:

…innovations and inventions are developed by relatively few people and then used by the many who generally have little understanding of the technology, science, or theories involved.

All this started tickling the back of my head because I remember reading a short story from a Science Fiction collection back in the days of my youth and for the life of me, couldn’t remember what it was called or who wrote it.

After hours of fruitless explorations of my overloaded bookshelves (I did find an old quarter!), I sat down to an internet search where lo and behold, I uncovered the source of my memory.

Cyril M. Kornbluth published a short story in 1951 (no I don’t have the original, just a late 70’s paperback with a bunch of older recycled stories by Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc.) entitled The Marching Morons. I actually found the full text here, but to summarize, The story is set hundreds of years in the future: the date is 7-B-936. A man from the past, John Barlow, is reanimated in this future, where he discovers a fantastic world where people drive around in fancy souped up convertibles at hundreds of miles-per-hour with the wind blowing in their face, but very little makes sense, until he learns that due to a massive population explosion, there are only a small group of intelligent people in the world who struggle to support this ever growing population where the average IQ is around 45. (If you’re interested, you can cheat and read the ‘cliff notes’ synopsis here.)  My favorite part is when he realizes why the wind is blowing in his face, even though it doesn’t feel like he’s traveling very fast.

In my work, as I’ve said before, I’m a designer (with a lower case ‘d’, for style).  I went through lots of schooling to learn my trade – I even have a masters degree.  As a result, I’ve received a great deal of highly specialized training in how to think, look at the world, and solve problems.  Innovate.  All my peers are cut of the same cloth with years of experience, training, and successful problem-solving under our collective belts.  Programmers are the same–you don’t learn code from the back of a crackerjack box.  (or maybe you did, which could be the root of the problem).

Most of the other supporting cast in our company, on the other hand, lack this specialized focus – many have simply fallen into their current management and executive positions by luck, in-the-right-place opportunity, or because they fit the suit.  These are the people who set the parameters of a project, provide the starting information, eventually critique the solution, and the approach to that solution even though they themselves lack the knowledge to effectively ‘drive the bus‘.  And as Adam Bellows says, “… the more incompetent someone is in a particular area, the less qualified that person is to assess anyone’s skill in that space, including their own.”  As BD00’s post on interdisciplinary team effort complexity shows, as a business grows, the seemingly disconnected groups that influence the project direction also lack many of the skills to even complete it, so their own inputs add little relative value to the result other than increasing the size of the output pile – and it’s relative stench.

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