The Rewards of Staying Stupid

/The Rewards of Staying Stupid

The Rewards of Staying Stupid

I published a piece titled “Stupid Has Its Own Momentum” in November 2010. Since then, examples of stupid having its own momentum have continued … and continued … and continued.

For instance:

  • We learned that the real cause of the BP oil spill was a lack of leadership, poor decision making, and a culture that promoted short-term returns to shareholders over risk to people and the environment. In hindsight, the leaders at BP were stupid, and it had a huge impact.
  • The elected leaders and several groups in the State of Wisconsin cloaked stupid in the mantle of principle. As a result, Democrats elected to the Senate hid out in another state rather than fight a truly principled battle on the merits of the argument. The Republican leaders used a budget shortfall to accomplish a political goal of changing the state’s long history of collective bargaining. And, public employees walked off their jobs in protest affecting citizens throughout the state. Everyone rationalized their position based on principle, but in the end, all were guilty of varying levels of stupid.
  • The U.S. Congress demonstrated that stupid is a bi-partisan condition by playing a game of chicken with the federal budget. The Democrats had months to pass a budget for the current fiscal year – which began on October 1, 2010. They didn’t. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives had several months to negotiate a budget with the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House. They didn’t. Instead, they perpetuated the age-old practice of waiting until the last minute to actually engage in meaningful discussion. What do you think will happen with the coming year’s budget? It is stupid.

The examples are endless: local and state leaders refusing to deal with budget deficits; companies that continue to violate the trust of their employees; our collective acceptance of childhood obesity; and the continuing popularity of Jersey Shore. Our ability to be stupid appears boundless.

Stanley Bing wrote an excellent piece on the subject in his “While You Were Out” column for the April 11, 2011 edition of Fortune magazine. Bing addressed the issue of regulating the nuclear industry and greedy banks titled “Put on Your Dunce Cap.”

Bing said, “There’s too much incentive to stay stupid.”

Thank you, Mr. Bing. You nailed it.

Stupid maintains its own momentum because there are incentives to do so. Here are three powerful rewards to stay stupid:

  • We can focus on short-term wants rather than long-term needs. Corporate leaders need to build enduring companies that produce sustainable results. That means taking an active role in those “squishy” people issues that create long-term value but not short-term returns to the shareholders. The same principle applies to team leaders who throw their members under the bus to protect this year’s bonus; elected officials who put their desire to be re-elected above their duty to do what’s right; and the individual who makes financial decisions based on what they want today rather than what they’ll need tomorrow.
  • We can do stuff that is easier and more fun. Educating ourselves about the real issues and positions in an election is hard work. So are investing in our own financial literacy, personal and family health, corporate culture, and relationships (both personal and professional). It is more fun to engage in a spirited discussion about who was eliminated on Dancing with the Stars than the important issues facing our families, communities, corporations, and country. The former requires us to be entertained. The latter takes discipline and commitment.
  • We can place the responsibility for our success on others. Remaining stupid allows us to plead ignorance, and how can we be responsible for something that we didn’t know could happen? Elected officials that put politics above their responsibility – not my fault. I took the media reports at face value, or didn’t bother to vote. My child who is overweight due to lack of exercise and a crummy diet – not my fault. Encouraging regular exercise and a healthy diet is hard when my children would rather chill in front of a video game and gorge on unhealthy food. Failure to produce results that keep my company profitable, protect jobs, or ensure that we remain relevant with customers – again, not my responsibility. It was the bad economy, poor strategy, bad attitudes on my team, or any one of a thousand reasons that I could not have foreseen or controlled.

I engage in “stupid” on a frequent – some would say regular – basis. We all do. There are times when it is absolutely necessary to maintain your perspective. The key is to be smart about when it is OK to be stupid.

Living the Results Rule! mantra is about long-term success not short-term achievement. It requires us to exhibit leadership even when we are not in the position of leader. And, it means not succumbing to the rewards of stupid when wisdom and accountability are required.

Stay smart. Reject stupid.