Words On Words

Reflections upon bosses both dumb and dumber.
Two recent books on the subject of stupid leaders and idiotic business moments differ widely in their merits.


Originally published on Monday, January 19, 2004 in The Miami Herald.

Idiocy may be difficult to quantify. Unlike intelligence, idiocy is more of a functional phenomenon and can only be measured in a behavioral context over a period of time. To be sure, there are isolated instances of idiocy, though each occurrence may be merely random or anomalous. But true idiocy is usually a pattern of aberrant behavior that flies in the face of reason, logic, manners, professionalism, best practices and other recognized and established traditions of business and life.

Many of us have worked for (or with) idiots; some may do so presently (not me!) but, due to the state of the economy or personal commitments, were (or are) unable to remedy the situation through advancement or attrition. Instead, the necessity of devising tactics and strategies for coping with this difficult circumstance becomes a routine matter of efficiency and survival for all concerned. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this self-defense is often the perpetuation of the status quo, but that's another story.

This week we have two books that try to get their arms around dumbness at the executive level.

How to Work for an Idiot: Survive & Thrive -- Without Killing Your Boss. John Hoover. Career Press. 251 pages. $14.99.

Buy this now!

Author John Hoover, himself a self-declared but recovering idiot boss (or ''I-Boss'') presents an often droll, frequently too-painful-to-be-funny series of anecdotes and observations about dysfunctional and dictatorial supervisors and their suffering subordinates. At times, Hoover seems undecided about whether he wants to write a humor book or a business book, so his text is a bit all-over-the-road.

Though he's funny, Hoover's not as hilarious as he seems to think he is, despite the droll and self-deprecating narrative. A tough editor with a sharp red pen would probably have helped (but maybe I'm being an idiot by looking for more than what the author put on the page).

As amusing as his vignettes may be, the proffered advice is pretty sound and includes solid steps for coping and surviving a daily dose of determined and authoritative stupidity without committing any capital crimes.

Hoover closes with a bibliography that includes three of the author's own books, so maybe he's not as much of an idiot as he claims to be.

The Dumbest Moments in Business History: Useless Products, Ruinous Deals, Clueless Bosses and Other Signs of Unintelligent Life in the Workplace. Adam Horowitz and The Editors of Business 2.0. Portfolio. 176 pages. $19.95

Buy this now!

Speaking of stupid, this book is pretty dumb. Oh sure, it's always great fun to laugh at the foibles of companies and executives, especially having the advantage of hindsight, but the compilation of this collection of fairly obvious foul-ups is analogous to shooting fish in a barrel. All the usual stuff is here: New Coke, Xerox's capricious treatment of its groundbreaking computer interface (later ''borrowed'' by Apple and Microsoft), Burger King's ''Herb the Nerd'' ad campaign, Ford's Edsel automobile, the mathematical errors of Intel's Pentium chip, the recent Rosie magazine debacle and so on.

There's very little recounted that anyone other than the most recent arrivals to this planet haven't already heard and read about ad nauseum. That, coupled with an excessively smarmy and condescending narrative tone, makes this slim, redundant and overpriced book a worthy candidate for inclusion in its own next edition.

As if!









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