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

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Functional stupidity can be catastrophic. It can cause organisational collapse, financial meltdown and technical disaster. And there are countless, more everyday examples of organisations accepting the dubious, the absurd and the downright idiotic, from unsustainable management fads to the cult of leadership or an over-reliance on brand and image. And yet a dose of ...more
Published June 2nd 2016 by Profile Books(GB)
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Maru Kun
Oct 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: larkins-toad
Quite often at work I've pretended to be more stupid than I am. I don't like to do this as it's intellectually dishonest, but from time to time the alternative - looking clever - was clearly the worse choice.

The most obvious reason for pretending to be stupid at work is to make the boss look good and I'm sure anyone who has been in a job for more than a few months has done this.

A less obvious but almost equally common reason for strategic stupidity is to keep a low profile. Some people, early in
Peter Geyer
I'm not a big fan of books on organisations, and there are several reasons for this. Perhaps the most pertinent is that I'd been in workplaces and/or organisations for nearly 20 years before I read one and a number of thoise years were spent wandering in and out of them as a customs officer where I observed a fair amount of incompetence, hubris and success, sometimes all three in the same visit. So when I studied (and later taught) organisations, my experience (as well as other studies) made me ...more
Nguyen Santiago
Though the title implies that there are both benefits and drawbacks to Functional Stupidity (otherwise known as doing what someone tells you to, or obviously wants from you), the book deals almost exclusively with the latter, enumerating the many aggravating, depressing forms of kool-aid foisting and drinking occasioned by a world of interacting with other people, mostly at work.

If you are someone for whom swallowing guff about 'core values' or whatever the current passive-aggressive management
Kristian Norling
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good book, it also aligns well with my grumpy side. I recognise and have experienced a lot of the functional stupidity explained in this book. My favourite quote from the book:

"When specialism rules, we get the problem of people who only have a hammer in their toolbox, and as a result are inclined to treat everything as if it were a nail.

As a consequence, organisations are full of specialists who work on problems as they know them. However, most problems are not isolated. Having many
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
How is it possible that organizations filled with the best and brightest so often end up doing stupid things? Professors and organizational theorists Mats Alvesson’s and André Spicer’s explanation is that there are actually short-term benefits to stupidity both to organizations and to employees – although in the longer term the folly will often prove to be detrimental. Absolutely everyone that has been engaged in the inner life of large organizations will – with a sardonic smile – recognize ...more
Richard Schwindt
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-favorites
Every now and again a book comes along that makes you sit up and say: “This explains a lot.” As one of the few people to serve on the management team of a Children’s Aid Society, public hospital and a Children’s Mental Health Centre, I feel that way about the Stupidity Paradox. So much in this book rang true. Alvesson and Spicer bring a rare glee and accessible prose to their discussion of how functional stupidity pervades our public and private sector organizations. They note how organizations ...more
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I will start recommending it as a good book to start a debate about good and not so good company practices. It has value for been able to create debate, as it has some really interesting insights. "One of us studied manager who claimed to do leadership. They said that having coffee with their subordinates, listening to them or engaging them in small talk had a significant impact on them. They saw this as an exercise of leadership. If another person - say their secretary - had done the small ...more
Allys Dierker
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Liked the analyses of why “functional stupidity” works and thrives in some cases. Alvesson and Spicer do a good job articulating some issues I’ve had a hard time articulating: higher-Education inflation, why “knowledge-intensive” firms are often a confidence game, why economies of persuasion feel so empty, why transformational leadership is often neither. They identify some “tricks of the trade” in “stupidity management” and also some suggestions for resisting stupidification. Wisely, though, ...more
Sam Ladner
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm an old fann of Mats Alvesson, so I was excited to read this book. As usual, he did not disappoint. This book tells you why there's such a thing as corporate stupidity, even though corporations consistently hire people with advanced degrees and high IQs. How and in what ways does this happen? Alvesson describes the social processes whereby we end up making the same mistakes over and over again. It's well read alongside anything by Chris Argyris, who also provides insight into how individuals ...more
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Loved the title of the book, more importantly the contents of the book. The moment is started reading it, felt like it was a ghost written auto-biography of my work life. The best part is, i could see the same pattern being followed in both military as well as civilian organizations that i have worked in. I felt, that these guys heard us and were talking to me. Started the book with lot of happiness at being felt empathetic. Then it ended from the second chapter. What started off as beautiful ...more
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is not going to give you solutions to your functional stupidity. They show you all the ways in which we actively participate in the stupidity and then they're asking you to think and reflect upon it. Sometimes the stupidity is necessary, but often, it is not. It's up to you to decide in your own unique situation what is appropriate.
I loved it because I'm self proclaimed cynic/realist and I was still buying into stupidity. This book really caused me to think hard about so many things
Andrew Doohan
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books you wished you read when you left university but didn't. You then realize that you probably wouldn't have got the message anyway and made all those mistakes that formed you as a manager, leader and human. Now when reading it is painful to watch all that stupidity in retrospective.

I'm grateful for all my experience in all my areas of expertise but I'm also sad that we have created a society that is so stupid that we hinder our internal drive for excellence due to our
Dustin Dye
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Alvesson and Spicer do an amazing job expounding on all the ways stupidity is enabled and flourishes in the working world. They articulate well why stupid people get ahead, and critical thinkers are frustrated. A smart person might read this and do well to learn to pick their battles and go with the flow to avoid shooting themselves in the foot career-wise, while stupid people--let's face it, those mostly in middle and upper-management--should learn to allow thoughtful people to express their ...more
Chuming Ye
Jul 26, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Petter Wolff
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
While quite rant-y, this book still provides a good guide on how to "learn to see" functional stupidity, and thereby becoming able to decide on to which degree it's actually functional or not. And, I agree with the authors, it is way more prevalent in today's organizations than it should be (the degree to which people report themselves 'actively disconnected' from their work is a solid indicator).
So, I'm going to keep fighting against it, and this book will be part of my field guide library.
Jesper Döpping
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wake-up call to all of us who have ever worked!

This book is well argued provocative, enlightening and constructive. The concept of stupidity management as a double edged sword is well balanced and provide a way of thinking about how we as managers, teachers, employees develop a constructive stance and approach to what we do.
Tomoko Shida
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2018
Interesting and worthwhile argument, but felt like they could have conveyed it in much fewer words. Would have been worth the read if it was the length of an article, but instead they stretched it out into a whole book.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to highlight the entire book. So many things jumped off the page about how things are done in corporations and schools. Guaranteed to make you feel vindicated if you've ever endured corporate nonsense.
Hana Bira
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
A great part of the book is spent on describing different systematic stupidities in the corporate setting. I found the last chapter offering good advice on how to circumvent these malaises. However, it seems to end on a rather cautionary tone than positive.
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh how true what is described. One star deducted for being slightly repetitious and not providing solutions. But then that would be an act of rational stupidity, we have to work it out for ourselves!
Wendell Wong
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book offers an interesting perspective on how the world currently functions and how it works to hinder creativity while promoting uniformity.
Ramesh Naidu
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A deeply disturbing book. Easily the hardest and one of the most interesting book read this year , need to re read every couple of years
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Offers a view of common situations that happen in the companies that are just stupid. I could identify some on my career.

Some parts are interesting but others just repeating itself.

Fun to read.
Sarah Jean
Mar 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Feels sadly familiar.
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting but a bit predictable and ranty. Tells you a lot about the problem without offering many solutions. Yes, employers want employees to produce predictable, high-quality work so they put in restraints that mean their employees don't have to think too much. Which makes work boring. But it produces the work they're looking for. It's easy to nod and agree with what's being said but harder to see what to do about it.
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a great book. If you ever wondered if you are in the right place at work and why a lot of what is going on around you does not make much the book.
I can only recommend it to get a sanity check on what is going on and if you are stupid for thinking there is something strange going on
Sanne Marije Visser
Jan 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: work-nonfiction
The article - "Stupefied: How organisations enshrine collective stupidity and employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door" - on the above book actually summarizes the whole book rather well. Which is undoubtedly why I didn't enjoy the book as much as the article.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book it is spot on about the Corporation, the end of the book e.g. Solutions was a bit thin.
Aug 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As very often happens with management books, a very good idea - functional stupidity as the core competence of contemporary business organizations - reiterated for 200 pages and used to re-frame more common organizational problems. Anyway, still a good idea.
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“Most of the time, it is not imbeciles or bigots who do the most stupid things. Some of the most problematic things are done by some of the smartest people.” 2 likes
“We think that most apparently knowledge-intensive organisations can be pretty stupid.” 1 likes
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