Why the 'Dumb' People at Work Often Aren't

Look beneath the surface and keep searching for a credible explanation.

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Michael Wade
Two executives were conducting a meeting with a large audience of managers. Executive A missed no opportunity to slip in only slightly veiled criticisms of Executive B’s department. Executive B never responded and focused instead on the purpose of the meeting.

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Many people left voicing frustration that Executive B didn’t answer the wisecracks. They missed the reality. Executive B knew that nothing productive would flow if two executives had a cage fight in front of the team. When you are professional, sometimes you ignore the cheap shots.

In another case, one astute observer sadly concluded that a chief executive officer was a blunderer. The man’s strategies seemed to make little sense. Only later did the critic realize that the CEO was like a clown at a circus who initially seems unable to ride a bicycle but, by the end of the performance, has demonstrated that he is an expert cyclist.

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Rushing to judgment and using convenient labels can be an easy way to shut down thought. Dumb moves are not always made by dumb people and, truth be known, are not always dumb moves once time has worked its magic. A seasoned decision maker does not divert analysis with comic book depictions of opponents or associates. He or she knows that there is probably more substance than meets the eye. The members of the French General Staff in 1940 presided over a disaster but they were neither cowards nor idiots. The German General Staff would be the first to attest to that.

Looking beneath the surface requires a serious commitment to keep searching for a credible explanation long after other observers have packed up and filed their stories. There are far too many analysts who, because of prejudice, sentimentality, or sloth, have only a passing acquaintance with reality.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.