Thursday, August 20, 2020

Four Scenarios of Authority

Leff's Fourth Law ("95% of apparent maliciousness is actually incompetence") turned out to have been observed by Napoleon centuries prior.

And now the bastard's gone and done it again.

In Part 21 of my epic tale of selling my company, Chowhound to a major corporation (CNET, now CBS), I noted "Leff's Four Scenarios of Authority"(noting that dumb/lazy management can be relatively benign):
In declining order of preference:

1. Smart ideas, good execution
2. Dumb ideas, bad execution
3. Smart ideas, bad execution
4. Dumb ideas, good execution

Scenario #1 is too much to hope for, and #3 is heart-breaking and volatile and makes everyone give up (#4, God help us, is Nazi Germany). Scenario #2 is a stable condition of steady-state status quo (let's call it "Planet Earth").
It turns out that Napoleon got me again:
Someone once asked Napoleon how he decided where to assign soldiers. Napoleon’s reply was that it’s simple: soldiers are either smart or dumb, lazy or energetic.

The smart and energetic I make field commanders. They know what to do and can rally the troops to do it.

The smart and lazy I make generals. They also know what to do, but they’re not going to waste energy doing what doesn’t need to be done.

The dumb and lazy I make foot soldiers.

But what about the dumb and energetic? “Those,” Napoleon replied, “I shoot.”
If you'd told my teenage self that one day Napoleon Bonaparte would be all up in my grill like this, I never would have believed it.

Update: It turns out it wasn't Napoleon who said this, but an anti-Nazi German general, Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord:
The Four Classes of Military Officers

I distinguish four types. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking; their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is both stupid and hardworking; he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always only cause damage.

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