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Genius at work

Genius at work

Since hell has no fury like a colleague publicly blamed and shamed for an error, it's always a good idea to think twice before voicing criticism.

I've recently become involved in a project that has IT at its heart, but also involves an awful lot of stakeholders from many parts of a large organisation. There are more stakeholders, I suspect, than is sensible, because by no means all of them want the same thing or approve of their colleagues' views of various matters. It makes for some pretty interesting meetings and has revealed to me the secrets of what I now call "which idiot" moments. I'm sure you've experienced this yourself, when you see a piece of work that has been done in such a nonsensical, counterintuitive or sloppy way that you are moved to exclaim, "which idiot did this?"

There are a few other variations available. "Which idiot thought this was a good idea?" can be used to damn a proposal. "Which idiot got paid to dream this up?" is nearly always useful the first time you encounter a new marketing campaign. A personal favourite is: "which idiot got dragged in off the street and asked to do this?" Or maybe that's just something we all say in these days of full employment.

Whichever one you decide to use, I can advise from bitter personal experience that care is needed before trotting it out: I once asked the question and then swiftly discovered that the person next to me in the meeting was the idiot in question. Soon that colleague became an angry idiot with a grudge against me.

So now I try not to use the phrase in meetings, other than as an expression of impotent rage. An example is: "which idiot at Microsoft decided that Outlook should say it is synchronising folders when it is actually downloading mail?" When the idiot is an ocean away, you see, the slur becomes far safer.

How to spot an idiot

If there's a chance the idiot you wish to invoke is within uncomfortable physical or organisational proximity, substitute "genius" for "idiot", for this is a powerful alternative - thanks to its use of irony that lavishes the offender with praise so fulsome it cannot be true.

Now that you know how to call people idiots without offending them, you need to know how to spot an idiot. Most people assume IT is full of idiots. Our industry's ability to delight people in a heartbeat with an iPod but then require a few months and more than $249 to do something like completely transform a business process is generally held to be idiocy of the highest order. And that demonstrates that users are the real idiots. The most prevalent class of idiot is your opposite number in any other business unit of the company you work for. These idiots simply do not understand anything about the business you both work for or how everything they want undermines everything you do. It follows that their boss is an idiot for letting them get away with this idiocy and that the board is probably full of idiots for letting any of this happen, which makes the shareholders idiots, too.

Customers are all idiots. Sure, they pay the bill, but their insistence on having you do things in the idiotic ways they want them done makes them terribly, terrible idiots. Experience tells me that every organisation is plagued by idiotic customers, so take comfort in the fact that somewhere inside BHP Billiton, for example, there's probably someone wondering why "those idiots want 10 bulk loaders of iron ore to dock at Gaungzhou instead of Shanghai?".

A powerful and dangerous class of idiot is the regional idiot. These folks nearly always work in Hong Kong or Singapore and, for idiotic reasons only they understand, from time to time convene regional initiatives. Never mind that Australia is a mature economy that has almost nothing in common with India or Bangladesh. Regional idiots decide we must nonetheless be grouped, thanks to an accident of fiscal geography. The result of this idiocy is lightning trips to whichever Asian city has the newest airport, so that coffee-fuelled meetings can take place at which the strongest English speakers dominate. Needless to say, everyone then goes home to their own countries and ignores regional directives.

I've encountered lots of idiot trainers during days locked in boardrooms, listening to motivational talks made up of recycled bits of Anthony Robbins, gags pinched from a Dilbert comic strip and the occasional piece of occult wisdom that invokes "energy levels" or the Dalai Lama. This is high idiocy at work, although sometimes it is at least cunning self-conscious idiocy as these folks deliver their pap and walk away considerably enriched.

You will have noticed by now that all of these idiots and their idiocy come from large organisations. Which leads me to my final question: Which idiot made these companies so idiotic? And why are we all such idiots that we let these idiots do this to our lives?

© Fairfax Business Media

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