Functional stupidity

Mats Alvesson is a Swedish professor at Lund University who has succeeded in adding a term to the Swedish Academy’s dictionary SAOL – Functional Stupidity. His definition is

“the inability and/or unwillingness to use cognitive and reflective abilities in anything other than narrow and circumspect ways. It involves a lack of reflexivity, a disinclination to require or provide justification, and avoidance of substantive reasoning.”

I see this phenomenon often when I am working, but also in private life, for example when I commute to work every now and then. Bags or feet on the seat in the bus or metro is a mischief, but when I was younger, I seldom reflected over it. And here, all of a sudden comes the Zebra – did you spot it? Now I am the old grumpy man telling people how to behave with the risk of getting into a heated discussion or a punch in the face. That’s a risk I am happy to take to sleep well. At work it is often obvious when people with both company knowledge and updated information don’t speak up, rather hoping others will, to save their own skin in favour of short-term rewards, like shorter meetings. (‘At the end of the day our bosses know what’s best, so just leave it to them instead.’) Functional stupidity is also about maximising bureaucracy in favour of trust in people, adding more laws to solve problems or covering the bad news with nice words as core values etc.

More reading on this topic is recommended in the book I refer to in the Inspiration Part above, but you can also find great talks by Mats and his partner Andrew Spicer on YouTube. Mats Alvesson also talks about the question we all should keep in mind to start with:

“What is really going on here?”

/MAts Alvesson

This is a part of the book Psychological UNsafety from the trenches you can order or read more about here.

Ove Holmberg

Doubter, gaffer, author