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A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations

Alvesson, Mats LU and Spicer, Andre (2012) In Journal of Management Studies 49(7). p.1194-1220
Abstract
In this paper we question the one-sided thesis that contemporary organizations rely on the mobilization of cognitive capacities. We suggest that severe restrictions on these capacities in the form of what we call functional stupidity are an equally important if under-recognized part of organizational life. Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications. We argue that functional stupidity is prevalent in contexts dominated by economy in persuasion which emphasizes image and symbolic manipulation. This gives rise to forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action. In turn, this... (More)
In this paper we question the one-sided thesis that contemporary organizations rely on the mobilization of cognitive capacities. We suggest that severe restrictions on these capacities in the form of what we call functional stupidity are an equally important if under-recognized part of organizational life. Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications. We argue that functional stupidity is prevalent in contexts dominated by economy in persuasion which emphasizes image and symbolic manipulation. This gives rise to forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action. In turn, this structures individuals' internal conversations in ways that emphasize positive and coherent narratives and marginalize more negative or ambiguous ones. This can have productive outcomes such as providing a degree of certainty for individuals and organizations. But it can have corrosive consequences such as creating a sense of dissonance among individuals and the organization as a whole. The positive consequences can give rise to self-reinforcing stupidity. The negative consequences can spark dialogue, which may undermine functional stupidity. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
bounded rationality, identity, ignorance, knowledge, power
in
Journal of Management Studies
volume
49
issue
7
pages
1194 - 1220
publisher
Wiley-Blackwell
external identifiers
  • wos:000309740800003
  • scopus:84867444523
ISSN
1467-6486
DOI
10.1111/j.1467-6486.2012.01072.x
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
e687e683-8be4-4f96-b7b9-006bad2c0587 (old id 3174007)
date added to LUP
2012-12-12 09:32:09
date last changed
2017-11-19 03:03:27
@article{e687e683-8be4-4f96-b7b9-006bad2c0587,
  abstract     = {In this paper we question the one-sided thesis that contemporary organizations rely on the mobilization of cognitive capacities. We suggest that severe restrictions on these capacities in the form of what we call functional stupidity are an equally important if under-recognized part of organizational life. Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications. We argue that functional stupidity is prevalent in contexts dominated by economy in persuasion which emphasizes image and symbolic manipulation. This gives rise to forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action. In turn, this structures individuals' internal conversations in ways that emphasize positive and coherent narratives and marginalize more negative or ambiguous ones. This can have productive outcomes such as providing a degree of certainty for individuals and organizations. But it can have corrosive consequences such as creating a sense of dissonance among individuals and the organization as a whole. The positive consequences can give rise to self-reinforcing stupidity. The negative consequences can spark dialogue, which may undermine functional stupidity.},
  author       = {Alvesson, Mats and Spicer, Andre},
  issn         = {1467-6486},
  keyword      = {bounded rationality,identity,ignorance,knowledge,power},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {7},
  pages        = {1194--1220},
  publisher    = {Wiley-Blackwell},
  series       = {Journal of Management Studies},
  title        = {A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6486.2012.01072.x},
  volume       = {49},
  year         = {2012},
}