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I am very judgmental.

Well, I like to think I’m not overly harsh–I try not to be.  And I make efforts to remain open to new information and reassessment–although I find that new information often merely refines my initial assessment, rather than fundamentally changing it.  I don’t often share these judgments, unless it is necessary.  But I do use them to make operational decisions.

I have a pretty big toolbox for these assessments, which I’ve picked up over the years (such as a variation of the MBTI).  One of them is a classification which was perhaps not originated by Clauswitz, but which I first encountered in his writing.

Simply stated, it divides people into one of four boxes along two axes: General Intelligence and Activity Level.

So, the four resulting types are:

Smart Active
Smart Lazy
Dumb Active
Dumb Lazy

Harsh, I know, but consider it shorthand.

According to Clauswitz (and I generally agree), the pros and cons work out thus:

Smart Active:  Pros-Generally quite useful–energetic, really gets in there and gets things done.  Takes calculated risks and can achieve great success.  Cons-because they’re smart and generally have been successful in their past calculated risks, they can overextend and their calculated risk can cause a great disaster–they’ve gone to the well one too many times, and the well has suddenly come up dry.

Smart Lazy: Clauswitz’s favorite box. Pros-Smart enough to see when things are working well enough, and to leave them alone.  Good for developing competent subordinates, because they don’t micro-manage, and they’re good delegators.  Great for innovation, because if there is a better, easier, more efficient, and less risky way to do things, they’ll find it. Cons-may tend to be too patient-waiting too long, and thinking too much to get involved.  May leave problems unaddressed for too long. Also can get bored with things if left in position too long.  Can be a bad example for less competent subordinates, who perceive the laziness, but not the intelligent self interest and intelligent management style behind it.  Also, can be too aware of the likely costs of making a change which needs to be made, and decide the cost isn’t worth the effort–organizations often need someone to do things for the good of the organization, but to their own detriment.

Dumb Lazy:  Pros-A “good enough” place-holder.  When you need someone to hold a position, but the person doesn’t have to be smart, this type will do, so long as they have competent subordinates.  Dumb enough to not get ideas “above their station” and to allow subordinates to run the show.  Lazy enough not to screw up systems which already work well enough.  Cons-If not provided with competent subordinates, can let things get really screwed up.  Not smart enough to ask for help when needed–unlikely to recognize when things are screwed up too much.  Bad for the morale of more competent subordinates, who begin to resent being subordinated to such an incompetent. Also prone to being ridden-over by more intelligent subordinates, which can cause other organizational problems.

Dumb Active: Clauswitz’s least favorite–indeed, he says that it is essential to identify DAs as quickly as possible and get them out of the organization completely. Pros-not sure there are any. Cons-Not smart enough to recognize their own incompetence (see: Dunning-Kruger Effect).  Tend to be overly convinced of their own intelligence, and overly concerned with their own power.  They tend to be micro-managers, and to feel threatened by competence, thus they surround themselves with incompetents and are active in purging any competent people from their bailiwick. They are easily swayed by whims and snake oil, and engage in constant “reorganization.”  They converse in poorly-understood (by themselves) buzzwords.  They are infuriating to smart subordinates, constantly butting heads with smart actives, while smart lazies are likely to stand by and let them run over the cliff, having found themselves a safe place to stand while it happens.  DAs will take a well-tuned machine, and turn it into a smoking wreck, taking down competent but unprepared or otherwise unprotected subordinates with them into disaster.  Absolutely horrible for productivity and morale, but may play the sycophant well enough to be successful within an organization which subordinates them to other dumb types.

Now, Clauswitz was looking primarily at military officers, and in the context of the Prussian General Staff system he devised (but which was never completely realized according to his vision–which owed much of its success to the extent it did conform to his design).  But this is a decent rough tool for looking at any organizational staffing.  The Peter Principle  and The Dilbert Principle should also be considered in this context.

Anyway, that’s one of the tools I use–you have to be careful to use it in the proper manner and context, which often only comes with experience (which, of course, generally comes long after you really needed it).  I’m sure I’ll share others as time goes on.

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