Sunday, June 24, 2007

Knowledge v Intelligence in management

Great post in the Becker-Posner blog this week!!! They discuss why brilliant individuals often fail when put in leadership positions. The core issue they discuss is that the brilliant person is often a lateral transfer. In other words, he/she may have general brilliance (information processing and analysis skills), but no knowledge in the particular field. Take someone who has made a career in politics who is made Secretary of Defense. If he/she has no knowledge of the nuances of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, etc. can he/she understand the detailed information coming from the career civil servants in the department and make policy decisions? It is the civil servants who have the extensive situation schema of the issues that arise.

From a HF point of view, perhaps not. It depends on whether the person also has the ability to how to get that information from the civil servants in a way that can be integrated into the policy schema that must be used to make the ultimate decisions. This takes a different kind of skill than intellectual brilliance. A good focus group facilitator may be more effective in this position. Or maybe they just need a facilitator to run the meeting. The leader must be able to defer to the more knowledgeable civil servants in terms of the basic information and analysis. Many brilliant people have difficulty with this.

Then the President has an even tougher challenge. He/she has to take the information provided by the cabinet ministers, which has already been through one level of "brilliance" filtering and do his/her own filtering to make the ultimate policy decision. If the cabinet minister has lost important details, then the President can't make good decisions. Its like the game telephone, except with lives at stake.

I guess that why government seems so dysfunctional all the time. It is set up to fail.