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Posts Tagged ‘Harvard Business Review’

Weaponized Incompetence

Posted by Admin on November 27, 2021

Weaponized incompetence — also known as strategic incompetence or skilled incompetence — happens when someone does a task so poorly that one or more people take over and do the task for that person even when the person either knows how to do the task or could learn to do the task for himself/herself/themselves. It usually happens in relationships where one partner purposely does a task so poorly or claims to be unable to do the task as a way to force the other partner to take sole responsibility for the task. It’s a skilled way of avoiding what the individual believes is an undesirable task for them to do by demonstrating an unarguable inability to do said task.

Some claim it is a sexist behavior however males and females have shown both genders are quite adept at weaponized incompetence when they choose to default to the behavior in order to escape shouldering the responsibility of doing the task in the first place.

It happens when a male does the dishes so poorly that the female has to re-wash the dishes before serving food on those dishes.

It happens when a female claims she can’t follow a map or GPS directions to ensure the vehicle in which they are traveling will arrive at its intended destination forcing the driver (or another passenger) to take over the task of reading the directions on the map or the GPS.

It happens when a co-worker half-heartedly does their assigned task on a group project and leaves everyone else to take up the slack so the project is completed in a timely fashion and is done according to set standards.

How do you know if weaponized incompetence may be at play? When one or more people, exasperated with the poor performance of the person slacking off says, “I’ll do it for you” and the person slacking off is not only excused from all duties and responsibilities, but also absolved from any negative fall-out over how the project was completed, that person has successfully pulled off weaponized incompetence.

Like learned helplessness, weaponized incompetence is a learned behavior which can be unlearned.

Many claim that the expression first came to light in 2006 however weaponized incompetence is part of the cycle of gaslighting according to psychotherapists and psychiatrists.

In August 2008, university professor Carl Dyke wrote about strategic incompetence on the Dead Voles blog. At the time, he was teaching three courses of introductory world history as well as an upper-division seminar in World History since 1945. Carl Dyke had the following to say about this behavior:

Strategic incompetence is the art of making yourself more trouble than you’re worth in some area of unwelcome effort. This can involve being a painfully slow learner, a bumbler, or an impediment. In each case the objective is to make it easier for someone else to step in and do the work than to leave it to you. Arguably a species of passive aggression, although shading off into mere passivity or genuine incompetence.

Far from lacking in ability, those who successfully practice weaponized or strategic incompetence are also masters of expectations management and oftentimes project toxic niceness while feigning incompetence.

But long before it was called weaponized incompetence, and long before it was called strategic incompetence, back in 1986, business schools referred to this behavior as skilled incompetence. In the article “Skilled Incompetence” written by Chris Agyris (16 July 1923 – 16 November 2013) for The Magazine published by the Harvard Business Review in September 1986, he described in detail how this happened in large businesses. He described premeditated incompetence that was set up by the individual to avoid being responsible for completing a task they did not want to be responsible for completing.

It appears that while weaponized incompetence may have first appeared in 2006 as reported by a few websites, strategic incompetence was around a decade before that, and skilled incompetence was around a decade before that.

Idiomation understands that faked incompetence has been around for centuries — especially where passing the buck is possible — but the specific terms go back to 2006, 1996, and 1986 respectively.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Move The Goalposts

Posted by Admin on February 11, 2016

Back in 1976, country recording artist Bobby Bare had a hit on his hands with the song, “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts of Life.”  It was a humorous song that crossed over to radio stations with non-country music formats.  But where did Bobby Bare come up with the idea of goalposts being idiomatic for describing life?  And is a positive or negative connotation when someone moves the goalposts?

If you hear someone accusing a person or company of shifting or moving the goalposts, they’re alleging that the person or company has changed the rules while everything is in progress.  Whether it’s done so the company or other person can come up the winner, if it’s done to set someone up for failure, or if it’s just to complicate a situation, is immaterial.  It’s a case of changing the rules while the “ball” is in play.

On February 2, 2016, journalist James Longstreet writing for the American Thinker shared his article about Dianne Feinstein, Vice-chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. had commented on the Hillary Clinton email situation.  He stated that some of what Dianne Feinstein  had to say on the subject had shifted the focus to impact on the Democrat primary.  The article was titled, “Hillary Email Scandal: Feinstein Moves The Goal Posts, Raises Many Questions.”

Five years earlier, in on July 22, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave a press conference on the debt ceiling, and the reasons why he pulled out of negotiations with President Barack Obama on the topic of raising the legal limit to borrow money ahead of the August 2, 2011 deadline at which point the U.S. would no longer be able to pay all its bills.

The problem, according to John Boehner, was that the White House was demanding an extra $400 billion in revenues to the already agreed upon $800 billion (resulting in a tax increase for Americans).  He claimed that the White House refused to consider serious expenditure cuts, and was not interested in making hard decisions that would benefit America. In his comments to the press, he stated in part:

And a tax system that was more efficient in collecting the taxes that were due the federal government. And let me just say that the White House moved the goalpost.

In the article, “Uses and Misuses Of Strategic Planning” written by Daniel H. Gray and published in the Harvard Business Review of January 1986, the writer took on the subject of corporate America’s problems as they pertained to formal strategic planning.  He discussed how it was the poor preparation and incomplete implementation of decisions made through strategic planning that caused corporate America to struggle.  This is how he incorporated the idiom in his article:

What actually does happen is often rather primitive: exhortation, backdoor dealing, across-the-board cuts, moving the goalposts, and mandated performance promises. In other words, the units’ plans are force-fit in various ways into the corporate plan. At this stage of the game, companies normally focus their attention more on the numbers in the business plan than on the strategies.

Back in 1978, Albert Vincent Casey had been with American Airlines for four years after starting his career in the railroad industry.  He had been tapped to be their CEO at a time when the airline was struggling with a burdensome debt load and high costs due to premium services that were a hallmark of the airline.  He piloted the company through this turmoil in the 1970s and 1980s.  With regards to deregulation of airlines, he was quoted in the February 4, 1978 edition of the Washington Post thusly:

“They keep moving the goal posts,” he lamented.  “We’re not afraid of deregulation, though,” he said, “if they really took off all the wraps.”

Just a few years earlier, Time magazine used the idiom in the body of an article as well as in the title.  Published on March 6, 1972, the article, “JOBS: Moving The Goal Posts” took on the concept of what full employment meant.

To economists and politicians, “full employment” does not mean what the words suggest: a job for absolutely everybody who wants one. Instead, the working definition has long been a jobless rate no higher than 4%. Even by that measure, the U.S. has rarely enjoyed full employment since World War II; the last time was in the closing months of the Johnson Administration and the early days of the Nixon era. Now the President’s aides are redoubling efforts to bring the jobless rate back from nearly 6% toward full employment by the elections. Instead of launching another new economic game plan, however, they are trying to move the goal posts.

In Spanish, the idiom is cambiar las reglas del juego.  In French, the idiom is changer les règles du jeu pendant la partie.  Another way of saying this idiom in English is to say that the rules of the game were changed.

The word goalposts first came into being in 1834 and referred to sports requiring upright posts to allow for goals in a game involving two opposing players or teams. At that time, the goal was identified two upright posts supporting a crossbar of a goal.

Used in the current way, it’s easy to understand how, when someone moves the goalposts, it is an unexpected and frustrating occurrence for the person or persons focused on reaching the formerly identified goal.

Moving goalposts was even frowned up in the Christian Bible where it states this in Proverbs 22:28.

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version going back before 1972, however, the fact that it was used with ease in a Time magazine article published in early 1972 indicates that the idiom was understood by the public at large.  It is most likely that move the goalposts as we understand the idiom to mean these days, came about in the 1960s.

Posted in Bible, Football, Idioms from the 20th Century, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »