“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

caterpillar turning into butterfly
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That quote from Albert Einstein has a particular resonance today, given the recent troubles of one of our (Irish) national political parties, Fine Gael and it's handling of the "Alan Shatter affair". Alan Shatter was our Minister for Justice and Defence, a very bright and successful practising solicitor. Had Enda Kenny (the Irish Prime Minister who had delayed calling for Shatters resignation following a number of "issues" ) been a student of management and Peter Drucker in particular, then he might not have been so much in awe of Shatters intelligence, which had been one of the reasons Kenny had offered to justify the delay.

As Peter Drucker would say:

  • "Management should not appoint anyone who considers intelligence more important than integrity. This is immaturity—and usually incurable.
  • It should never promote a person who has shown that he or she is afraid of strong subordinates. This is weakness.
  • It should never put into a management job a person who does not set high standards for his own work. For that breeds contempt for the work and for management’s competence.
  • A person should not be appointed if he or she is more interested in the question, “Who is right?” than in the question, “What is right?” To put personality above the requirements of the work is corruption and corrupts.
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  • To ask, “Who is right?” encourages one’s subordinates to play it safe, if not to play politics."

As someone who works mainly with knowledge worker organisations I find intellectual blindness ( some call it arrogance) to be one the biggest challenges facing such organisations in their desire to improve their performance.

I was was once asked by the CEO of an investment bank to review the organisations operational performance at a time they were winning all kinds of accolades from their peers in the industry and I was met with outright hostility from the senior management team for daring to assume that I might be capable of even understanding their business never mind critiquing it and help them improve it.

To test me they tasked me with working with their most highest of intellects, the "quants" team, a small group of people who spent their lives crunching large volumes of data using highly advanced maths to predict winning stocks or portfolios.

To be fair, when I asked them to show me what they did I got a lay persons quick and friendly overview of what was clearly a highly technical job requiring a deep knowledge of advanced maths. In the course of it they showed me a software application they were building to help crunch these numbers and which would eventually spit out a suite of recommended stocks and portfolios.

I asked why they were developing it rather than IT and they said it was way too complicated to explain to a developer so they decided to develop it themselves. At this point in time they were still debugging it so I asked them to show me their bug list and they proudly showed me a spreadsheet that listed over 1000 bugs which they had diligently tracked and resolved over the past 18 months.

I asked them to estimate an approximate time to fix each bug and when we totted up the time it turned out that they had spent 2 man years fixing bugs. I then asked them to code them by bug type and it turned out that 80% of the bugs related to generic programming issues such as the user interface, reporting etc and only 20% related to the underlying quants logic.

In other words they showed themselves to be great quants mathematicians but poor software developers. In effect they had wasted 2 of these vey rare and expensive talents fixing errors that a moderately experienced developer would find embarrassing to have made. Whats more, in that 18 months they had delivered only one new product, their core purpose at the company.

Despite their vast intellects they had confused expertise with ingenuity and effort with output. The expertise they had trained for and for which the organisation had recruited them had been substituted with ingenuity, their ability to build a very smart quants tool, albeit poorly.

They had assumed that being very bright they would also be good software developers and in doing so had mistaken the extensive effort that they had put into the software application as a measure of their work instead of the effort that should have gone into delivering new products, their reason for being there.

Intelligence is often described as the capacity to learn and it's unfortunate that those who have been gifted with more than their fair share often chose to use it as a substitute for learning.

Deming captured it in his modified "Learning Curve" for TQM below

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