Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Assuming Competence

It is a jarring day when the hard reality of the world's incompetence hits one on the head.

As a child, you go to school and learn about various professions and organizations and an odd attitude infects your thinking: you assume that these exalted groups know what they are doing.

And then one day, you learn that all of those assumptions about things working like clock-work are unfounded. You realize the extent to which "faking it" and "getting by" are standard operating procedures in many organizations. You discover that Prussian efficiency may have always been a myth and that getting basic performance can be a major achievement.

This does not mean that you cannot encounter excellence. There are people with astounding skills and insight. It means that assuming the presence of competence can be a costly and even dangerous blunder.

Do you think that the average professional is thoroughly steeped in his or her subject matter? Think again. Do you believe that the person who went through many years of school has the ability to blend a multitude of disciplines? Forget it. Do you expect that organizations will forego comfort for excellence? Please.

What is needed is not a system that will work when dedication and skill levels are high. No, an effective system is one that fulfills basic needs when dedication is minimal and skill levels are average. Systems that require superhumans will not work for long. The best can function when people are tired and distracted and eager to go home.

We should design our strategies for human beings, not wizards, because wizards are in short supply.


Anonymous said...

"We should design our strategies for human beings, not wizards, because wizards are in short supply."

- I think I just read another Quote of the Day

I very much enjoy - and learn from - your blog, Michael.

Best wishes.../Hugh Donohue

DarkoV said...

Oh, so true...

... and yet, so depressing.

Michael Wade said...


Thank you for your kind remarks. I'm glad that you're a reader!


It is sad and true, but therein lies opportunity.