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Finally, a Penalty for Incompetence


I can't help noticing certain parallels between the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina and the way in which many organizations I know deal with IT. In both cases, the tasks at hand are highly complex and involve specialized professionals with lots of training and experience to carry them out. In both cases, the quality of decision-making suffers from having unqualified persons put in positions of responsibility. This inevitably leads to misplaced budget priorities where boondoggle projects continue to receive funding, simply because cancelling them would make too many people look bad. Meanwhile, thanks to what I'll call the "Incompentence Paradox", more worthy (and much less expensive) projects are starved for resources and never achieve their full potential. Having people higher up in the decision chain incapable of seeing through the charade only reinforces this dynamic, as does the tendency to assume that a manager's ability is proportional to the number of people they manage.

In particular I am reminded of the many times I've seen what I'm sure most Lotus professionals would recognize as the "Anti Notes Bias". This often manifests as a group of people within the organization (almost never the people I actually work for mind you) pursuing a "throw the baby out with the bathwater" agenda against Notes. Perhaps these folks have simply drunk too much Microsoft Kool-Aid and believe "Notes is dead." Maybe Notes has earned an undeserved bad reputation due to a poorly planned implementation. Or it could be simple ignorance of what Notes can do. Whatever the reason, Notes seems especially susceptible to the Incompetence Paradox, primarily because it enables so much to be accomplished by so few in so little time. Simply put, large groups wield more political influence than small groups.

In the same way that our Katrina response has shocked a world accustomed to the image of America the Superpower, that such incompetence is allowed to fester in so many U.S. organizations must come as a shock to many younger employees who know only the image these organizations present in slick TV commercials. If the Katrina episode offers any hopeful message, it may be that incompetence does have consequences. The catastrophic nature of those consequences in this instance has already emboldened an otherwise complacent media and apathetic public to *demand* effective leadership and punish the incompentents. With any luck, this feeling will now spill over into the workplace.

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