The Functional Idiot

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Here is a story. I’m sitting in a room with an extremely intelligent  person. Our new VP of product marketing – Mr Y. He has an MBA from one of the finest universities in the world ,a track record as a C level executive in a Fortune 100 company. He is articulate and presents an amazing vision for the future of our company. Moreover, he defines concrete examples how we will be using social media and go beyond traditional  enterprise marketing. I’m quite impressed. Finally, we have someone in marketing who knows what he is talking about.

One month later, Mr Y Speaks in an executive forum. He repeats exactly the same story with the same social media example and same jokes. I’m getting a bit suspicious , but as the great Jack Welch said – communicating your message is one of the top leadership roles. So, I give Mr Y the credit that he is talking to a new audience.

Two months later, Mer Y is already working with us for four months. We are in a customer conference. The same exact story, word by word :( . Two months later he was not working with us anymore …

He is probably a “Type A” functional idiot.

I recently learned the term “Functional Idiot” which I really like. Unfortunately it is not well-defined, yet. The Urban Dictionary definition for “Functional Idiot” is :

A person who suffers from functional idiocy.

Which does not help much. However, almost everyone seems to “Get It”, so they must have worked with some.

There can be a few of ways to describe a functional idiot:

  • Type A functional idiot - A complete idiot who made it through the system to obtain an important function or position (e.g. George Bush Junior :))
  • Type B functional idiot – A very smart person in specific domains who behaves like an idiot in other domains  (e.g. Steve Jobs’ failure to admit he needs to shower to smell good)
  • Type C functional idiot - A person who used to be very smart and effective, but became outdated and irrelevant (e.g Dan Margalit might be an example for the Israeli audience)

Let’s say you are walking around the office and you spot a “Functional Idiot”  make a stupid decision. Let me provide you with tools to rationalize it.

Here is a second story. In a board meeting, you realize one of your board members (Let’s call him Prisoner X)  suggests the company should release a “simple self-service” version of your costly, sophisticated enterprise product. This could have been   a great suggestion. But we already did it six months ago and discussed it multiple times with him.

The challenge is that Prisoner X is quite smart and has a very good track record in the industry. How can we explain the fact he get’s $40K$ a month ,but is not able to remember the main products of his four companies?

Prisoner X is probably a type B functional idiot. He is very smart in the big picture and in identifying opportunities, but he is very bad in operational work and following details.

Type C functional idiots are easier to spot. You would usually find them in the CTO office, they have the word “Strategy” in their title.  in a recent example I was observing a very long thread on the pros and cons of C vs C++. The heated discussions was taking place in 2012 by people with an amazing track record in the high-tech industry history. And it was a very interesting discussion to have. In 1996.

To conclude,It is essential to identify functional idiots and tell them apart. Otherwise  we are all doomed :)

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2 Responses to “The Functional Idiot”

  1. Tal Says:

    ‘Let’s call him Prisoner X’ :)

  2. What were they thinking? | Evil Fish Says:

    [...] like a character in a Dilbert cartoon.  Why would a very senior, smart executive, who is Not a functional idiot make an obviously senseless [...]

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