Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Srini Chandrasekharan of What ho! fame on my blog. Srini’s Laughing gas is among my favorite reading haunts. On twitter, @waatho is one of my favorite places for chuckles.  He is a published author of 3 Lives, In Search of Bliss and Instant Karma, a collection of short stories. Srini’s blog is a place where high quality humor and satire rub shoulders with science, philosophy and spirituality — an eclectic mix! And on the rare occasion when he comments on your blog, his comments are a delight in their clarity and knowledge, opening up new vistas of discussion. With great pleasure, I welcome him at my space. Over to Srini…

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The Moron Menace

I don’t read management books. Frankly, most are a waste of time. I’d rather pay a person to beat me over the head repeatedly with a baseball bat. Management books are compilations of mythologies. The few that are written well are fun to read, rather like Harry Potter novels. But they don’t work well beyond the contexts from which they arose.

Davids and Highly Successful People..

A rare alignment of stars and the wind blowing at exactly the right speed in the right direction worked for David on the day he decided to load up his sling and take a shot at Goliath. There’s no record of David having slain giants either before or after this tale. In fact, when he became king, David did not distribute slings to soldiers. But the myth stuck on. That’s because winners tend to write the mythologies. For every David, there are a dozen Damodarans who’ve been squashed between Goliath’s thumb and forefinger before they could say sling.

Take Stephen Covey, the author of ‘Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’ with which I was impressed when I was in business school. Apparently he spent a lot of time studying successful people and compiled his list. I wonder if Covey spent time on interviewing unsuccessful people who happened to possess the seven habits of successful people. When he says X leads to Y (in this case, X = seven habits and Y = success), the scientific imp in me wants to know if he’s mixing correlation with causation. What if we find out that out of every 10 people who have all the seven Covey habits, only one became successful? Someone ought to dig into this. Success has a way of distorting the way we look at data.

Black holes of logic

Let’s take another example. Team work. Everyone believes in team work, right? There’s no ‘I’ in team. Collaboration. Consensus. Blah. Blah. We’ve all heard the buzzwords and phrases, I presume. The notion that a large group of incompetent people working together will deliver better performance than a small group of competent individuals has gained currency and swept the world of management without being contested. Let’s take this piece of conventional wisdom and see how well it holds up to logic and reason. Luckily for you, I studied engineering and it so happens that engineers possess a superpower which allows us to spot black holes of logic within nanoseconds of observation.

The What Ho! Law of Inevitable Moronism

Let’s agree on the following before we proceed further.

1. A team consists of 3 people or more.

2. We expect the team to perform useful work.

And, I’m going to define a ‘moron’ as ‘a person who has a bad attitude towards people and life.’ Examples of bad attitude are being a jerk towards others, being incompetent coupled with unwillingness to learn, has an inclination towards illegal and unethical activities like stealing other people’s money, etc. Note: I’m not defining morons based on conventional measures like IQ, analytical capabilities or general knowledge.

Now, allow me to present Exhibit A: The What Ho! Law of Inevitable Moronism. This law states that as a team becomes more successful, it will inevitably attract one or more moron(s) who will then disrupt and destroy the team. In other words, this law avers that teams will always evolve from being locally unstable pockets of high performance to globally stable pockets of mediocrity.

I suspect that teamwork was invented by those who recognized the impossibility of stopping morons from entering the workplace and designed teams as a mechanism to limit aforesaid morons from inflicting irreparable damage. There’s no greater lie than is said when someone stands up at a company town hall meeting and gushes eloquently about ‘how the team pulled together under very challenging circumstances.’ What she means is ‘I did not expect to be herding cats after spending $200K on my Stanford MBA. There were many moments during the project when I vacillated between suicide and firing off a few rounds at the team. I hope to God that these morons get hit by a bus. Teams suck.’

A corollary of the What Ho! law states that, “The probability of a team being destroyed by morons equals 1, when n > 5, where n = number of people on the team.” In some industries, ‘n’ has been seen to be as low as 3. In others, they have managed to push it up to 8. Don’t get hung up on 3, 5 or 8. The point is that n is a finite single digit number.

There’s another law which comes into play with regards to teams. It doesn’t have to do with morons. This law merely re-states the obvious which is that people are fundamentally different. We view the world differently. We have differing risk tolerance. We are not motivated by the same things. We have different energy cycles. This law points out that the odds are pretty heavily stacked against a group of people with similar attributes finding each other to form a team in the first place, and then sustaining superior performance over time.

The Seven Habits of Incorrigible Morons

So, what’s the deal? Why bother? Should we ban management books? Should we dismantle teams?

These are not the right questions. Instead we must ask:

1. What makes morons tick?

2. How can I avoid being a moron by avoiding the things that make morons tick?

We’re looking at the wrong data when analyzing success. Most predictors of success today are not predictors of success. They are usually outputs of selection bias. Instead, let’s study morons. And God knows we have plenty of them in our midst. Success is, in a sense, the avoidance of being a moron. Here are maybe a few ways to get there:

1. By rewarding failure: Failure happens when people have wrongly estimated either risk or execution capability or both. Rewarding failure will encourage people to take risks and build their skill sets. You have to believe that they will succeed eventually.

2. By firing people who haven’t failed at least once in the last two years: They are the lazy ones. Let them go join the government.

3. By not hiring morons: Beware that morons have magical powers and invisibility cloaks. They will find a way to sneak in. Keep a top-notch moron detector handy to hunt them down and fire them.

If you follow these What Ho! principles, be warned that your company size will never exceed single digits. As for me, I’d like someone to write a book called “Seven Habits of Highly Incorrigible Morons.” I wouldn’t mind plunking down ten quid for something like that. I have a feeling that it will contain insights of such extraordinary value which could lead to the discovery of a Nobel prize winning anti-moron vaccine.

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33 Thoughts on “The Moron Menace

  1. The only lesson that I believe about teams is that ‘The IQ of any group of people is equal to that of its Lowest Common denominator’ – in other words, the team works as best as its most moronic component (And, for this law, moron is defined by IQ 🙂 )

    Like History, Management books are also written by/about victors 🙂 So, if two million people chucked up their jobs and started scratching around in the dust for treasure and one finds it – that one will be known to the world and all the others will be lost in the crowd. And, all management pundits will have a new mantra for success “Winners scratch around in the dirt for treasure while losers work for their living” 🙂

    Take that story of Gates that is doing the rounds – The mantra for success is “Be a school drop-out” 🙂

    Great piece Srini! Rachna! At least a humor post has not let you down 🙂

  2. Dagny on April 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm said:

    The first law was inevitable given that for every intelligent human being (like you… or yours truly) there are two dozen morons. I mean, come on. An idiot with water on his brain can do the math.

    As for these:

    1. What makes morons tick?= They don’t. They just breathe and grow roots.

    2. How can I avoid being a moron by avoiding the things that make morons tick?- Refer to one. Not Applicable. Permanently.

    We’re looking at the wrong data when analyzing success. Most predictors of success today are not predictors of success. They are usually outputs of selection bias. Instead, let’s study morons. And God knows we have plenty of them in our midst. Success is, in a sense, the avoidance of being a moron. Here are maybe a few ways to get there:

    1. By rewarding failure: Failure happens when people have wrongly estimated either risk or execution capability or both. Rewarding failure will encourage people to take risks and build their skill sets. You have to believe that they will succeed eventually.- In other words, turn into a Pollyanna… with or without a skirt.

    2. By firing people who haven’t failed at least once in the last two years: They are the lazy ones. Let them go join the government.- Hmmm… there is something there. But it still wouldn’t make you successful. Bald yes for you will be pulling your hair out- successful no. Sorry to burst your bubble.

    3. By not hiring morons: Beware that morons have magical powers and invisibility cloaks. They will find a way to sneak in. Keep a top-notch moron detector handy to hunt them down and fire them.- Nah. They know how to camouflage their moron-ism. Its depressing really.

    Dagny

    • Boy oh boy, are things really that dire? How about a moron detector mounted on an unmanned drone silently flying around detecting morons in our midst ? 🙂

  3. Sometimes I look at my team and wonder why I’ve earned the wrath of God. The general rule is there is always one black sheep and there is always one person to disturb the equilibrium of the team!

  4. Reporting this post to the Intergalactic Moronic Confederation. What a narrow view of Moronia, obviously looked at through the lens of intelligence – that bane of personal fullness. You were off right from your definition of morons, and if only I could remember, I would correct you. But think of it, what would life be without morons? Who would you govern? Who would you announce election manifestos to? Who would stand in the sun and the rain at Jantar Mantar or Ram Lila Grounds? Who would declare their entire income and pay taxes? Who would follow rules? Who would send peace proposals every year to the United Nations? Who would buy what Monsanto sells? Who would read the blogs of Shobhaa De, Big B, or Milind Deora? Who would read Subho’s Jejune Diet? Who would sit and write long comments to add some truth to propaganda posts like this one?

    A delightful way to start the day. Thanks, Rachna for making this brilliant piece happen. Thanks, Srini. Moron Bharat Mahan.

    • OMG! I’m sitting here and laughing my head off reading your comment, Subho! 🙂 Hilarious.. an awesome way to get my day started! I owe you a beer or a Lifestyle voucher or something thoughtful like that for making me laugh like this.

      Sir, please don’t include Subho’s diet in the list. Breaks my heart to see that 🙂

      “Who would send peace proposals to the UN?” I’m going to keep smiling through the day remembering that line at inopportune moments, I’m sure..

    • Your comment deserves to be highlighted and shared for the sheer number of laughs it elicits, Subhorup :).

  5. Interesting analysis. And the humor is so subtle and blended that at some points one is unable to differentiate between humor and serious analysis.

    • thanks man.. the ‘blending of humor and seriousness’ is a technique which comes in handy when someone calls you on something you said. you can always defend with ‘the spirit of humor, not meant to be serious’ line instead of admitting errors/ignorance

  6. thanks man.. the ‘blending of humor and seriousness’ is a technique which comes in handy when someone calls you on something you said. you can always defend with ‘the spirit of humor, not meant to be serious’ line instead of admitting errors/ignorance 🙂

  7. I am tapping my head and thinking of the many people I want to email this post to…those who earn money by teaching team building, leadership for executives and yes, conflict management. The things I have heard and how I have banged my head wishing and praying (to no less that Jesus, the cosmic Shepherd) for a new goatherd to come along (sick of goats myself)…
    I am smiling away since morning–what validation! Finally somebody understood!

    • Hey Bhavana, please feel free to share far and wide although it’s possible that I might be banned from entering workplaces and B-schools after that 🙂 Glad to have brought a smile to your face!

  8. Hah! Clearly, between C. Suresh and you, there is more potent Management gyaan to be gained than from all the books in a B-school library (To the moron reading this – ‘B’ as in Business, not grade)

    But, I am quite worried now. You see, whenever I have learned of a ‘great team’ at work or life, I have always wanted to be a part of it. And, usually, through my profound skills of begging, cajoling and threatening, I have even succeeding in doing so, only to end up being extremely disappointed – the inner truth has never matched the outer sheen. Now I am finally figuring out why! My number was always 6th or higher…

    Time for some introspection…:D

    Great read. And time to connect with you on your blog and Indiblogger. I can’t believe that I haven’t done so already!

    • Thanks Rickie! 🙂 As someone said, teamwork is the ability to work in unison towards a rapidly blurring goal 🙂 I’ve read your posts on Purba Ray’s blog (and must confess to my guilt at not having connected with you as well).. we must connect. thanks and cheers.

  9. Sigh !! I just finished dealing with one Moron at work ! What a delightful read. Love the understated and subtle humor.
    Thank you Rachna for introducing me to Srini’s Blog. (Kicking myself for not reading him earlier!)

  10. Lokesh Bahety on April 4, 2013 at 12:22 am said:

    What does the what ho law say about handling a moron that one reports to? From where i come from, many a moron has crept to the top; do you have more-on this?

    P.S: No article/blog/post of yours ever fails to impress. Huge fan! 🙂

    • Lokesh, you honor me far more than I deserve. And I will do what is the best thing under the circs – which is to accept such accolades with glee and without guilt 🙂 Every organization reaches a point when it loses its ability to succeed in spite of itself. That’s when you know that the moron managers have taken over! The moron manager is really a special category of morons, a person who is essentially paid to underestimate and downplay his team’s capabilities 🙂

  11. This article is impressive thanks to your engineering super powers, that I’m going to highly recommend it to my company CEO to read and circulate!
    I see that you too are a Wodehouse fan! Thanks so much for a great post, Srini and thank you, Rachna for hosting!

    • Yes, a major Wodehouse fan here! Great to see a kindred soul, Roshni. Thanks for reading.
      ps: all this talk of circulating this among CEOs worries me 🙂

  12. Srini, what a delightful post this is truly. And really honored to have this gem on my blog. I have always admired your writing. About management books. you are absolutely right. It is when you start working that you wonder why you were actually reading those? And about morons, seriously what does one do about them? We seem to be living in the republic of morons :).

    • Hi Rachna, the honor (if we must use such a word among friends) is entirely mine. Many thanks for this opportunity to write for your blog. It was a blast to do this.

      In each era, a few nations rise to the top when it comes to producing morons. Unfortunately, it seems to be India’s turn in the 21st century 🙂

  13. I think there must be a computer working in Srini’s brain, that breaks up inscrutable fundas, reducing them to moronic denominators 🙂 How else can morons like me be made to understand such things? 😀

    • Hi Zephyr, there’s no greater pleasure than in accepting a compliment that so blatantly overestimates oneself which comes from a great friend. 🙂 thank you!
      ps: Computer working in my brain? you know what.. that could explain the whirring sound in my head that rises to a crescendo when i encounter people with bad attitude 🙂

  14. Do you realize, morons are the happiest? Everyone but them knows that they are morons. And it is you who has to put up with them.

    • Amen! There’s a theory known as the Dunning-Kruger effect – in which incompetent people don’t have the ability to know that they are incompetent. Am sure there’s a special case of this effect which applies to morons 🙂

  15. Ha ha.. Good Post. Im turning into one of the lazy government guys. Should wake up before my boss wakes up 🙂

  16. Fortunately, I have been working in a moronless team since the last 3 years. We in fact threw out the morons one by one and it has been smooth sailing. But I can see the black clouds gathering. The powers to be will find ways to insert the virus.

    • There’s a reason why the law is christened “What Ho law of *Inevitable* Moronism” 🙂 If you see black clouds gathering, it’s time to check if the moron detectors are functioning and load them up with fresh batteries..

Do not leave without commenting. I love a good conversation :).

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