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The Obedience of Fools

The quote “Laws are for the guidance of wise men and the blind obedience of fools.” is attributed to Solon, the Lawmaker of Athens, from 559 BC, so obviously blind obedience to rules has been a problem for a long time.

It’s an idea I find particularly appealing because if you follow this blog you will have noticed that I am not enthusiastic about obeying laws which I disagree with, and am even less dedicated to arbitrary rules imposed by petty bureaucrats in the workplace, etc.

When talking to my contact, Fred (not his real name), recently I heard of some interesting experiences which partly mesh with my own observations (Fred works in a similar environment to me and I find it useful to comment on his experiences instead of my own).

Thought number 1. Many of the leaders in Fred’s organisation are – how should I put this delicately – less than inspirational in terms of their leadership qualities, intelligence, and creativity. To put it more bluntly he thinks that his managers are idiots! If they were idiots they would be more likely to want to follow rules instead of trying to think for themselves and that is exactly what Fred sees. Conclusion: managers actually are idiots!

Thought number 2. These same leaders live in a very top-down hierarchy, so instead of taking guidance from the people they are theoretically there to help they take it from their immediate “superior” (that’s the most inappropriate use of the word ever) in the hierarchy. It’s much easier to just follow the rules and not risk any negative consequences than to try to introduce any new, innovative ideas which might fail. Following the rules also generally results in failure but in that case no blame can be attached to the individual. Conclusion: managers are idiots, and nothing will ever get any better.

Thought number 3. As if the two observations above weren’t bad enough Fred also reports the following interesting comment from a petty bureaucrat in his organisation: “I like rules, they make me feel safe”. I don’t think there’s much I can say except I have ever heard anything more pathetic in my life. Conclusion: managers are idiots, and nothing will ever get any better, and that’s the way they like it!

It’s hard to imagine that all the management in Fred’s organisation are quite as bad as he reports or the place would hardly still be in existence, but I do have to say that his comments do closely parallel those I hear from many other workplaces. So maybe the only reason each of them survive is that all the others are just as bad. It’s sort of like an evolutionary process where stupidity is rewarded. In fact maybe “devolutionary” would be a better word!

You know, I’ve got nothing against rules, and I’ve got nothing against managers – well maybe that’s going a bit too far – but they both have to stay in their place and should not be taken too seriously!

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