If Your Employees Are Stupid, That’s Your Fault

Companies compete to hire the smartest people, only to reward obedience and presentism. Why?

The Three Stooges are super good at PowerPoint. Bet.
We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.
Benjamin Franklin

Every year, the top firms compete to identify and attract the smartest graduates from the best universities.

They use lengthy, complicated tests.

They use long, arduous interviews.

They offer significant pay.

They promise significant perks.

And when these bright young things arrive, what happens?

They discover that “although they have been selected for their intelligence, they are not expected to use it.”

This, according to a new book called The Stupidity Paradox.

The Stupidity Paradox points out that a number of aspects of corporate behavior encourage and reward stupidity:

  • Entry level positions consist of routine tasks that seem pointless.
  • The incentives of the system reward those who keep clients happy and don’t rock the boat.
  • Asking difficult questions or picking at assumptions is seen as dangerous and disruptive.
  • Toeing the corporate line gets you promoted
  • Being seen doing long hours is often more valued than actual work.

All of these stupid, dumb, idiotic and downright ridiculous incentives have one ultimate outcome: they make us reach Peak Productivity faster.

Peak Productivity — the point at which more time is spent on bureaucracy than on actually getting work done.

Lots of companies have passed Peak Productivity — the point at which more time is spent on bureaucracy than on actually getting work done.

Corporate culture codifies into ossified orthodoxy, stifling innovation.

Eventually, smart people go along with collective stupidity, especially if they are rewarded for doing so, and this diminishes them.

“The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.”
—C.S. Lewis

Smart, eager employees either leave, or they turn off their brain.

Guess what? That has a deleterious impact on the firm.

Peak productivity makes people less creative. Being trained into hierarchical submission diminishes creativity, an inherently rebellious act of imagining that which is not.

Peak productivity makes people dumber. One recent study suggests that working for more than 25 hours a week can impair intelligence as we age. Even sitting at your desk all day might be making you dumber.

Peak productivity demotivates everyone — one of the most common problems we encounter as consultants is the sense from employees that the company always seems to promote the most vocal, political person rather than the most talented, industrious or effective.

These perverse corporate incentives don’t foster the kind of breakthrough thinking or collaboration the future of work needs.


How then, can we design an organization that makes people smarter, considering the social drivers inside a corporation?

One solution is structured learning. In “Designing the Smart Organization”, Roland Deiser posits that learning is essential for corporate success.

He points out that much of the economy is now knowledge work, so employees need to be constantly learning as the domain of knowledge expands.

Learning is not just intellectual but emotional, contextual, social and ethical.

It happens best when people are given the opportunity to deal with new experiences and perspectives.

“An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.”
― Victor Hugo

Deiser suggests a tiered syllabus, ranging from standardized training through personalized learning and organizational change, all the way to strategic business and industry transformational initiatives to apply and test learning.

Over time, we have separated out the cultural functions of education and work.

One teaches, the other does, hence the old adage.

But to work smarter in the future, your company needs to act like an academy. You need to encourage learning. You need to reward intelligence.

If you don’t, your employees will be stupid.

And that will be your fault.