Friday, March 29, 2013

The Dumb Company You Keep

A few weeks ago I wrote about sick companies, and today I’m going to write about dumb companies.

Like sick companies, dumb companies are likely dysfunctional, but for different reasons.

But what is a “dumb” company?

Simply put, a dumb company is one that promotes a culture of stupidity. That is, a culture in which learning is viewed with disdain. This is a company where leadership thinks it knows it all, has seen it all, and has done it all. Where “Company X’s Way” is always the best way, even if no one has actually investigated any other way.

If you work for a dumb company and enjoy using your brain, frustration is probably you friend, because dumb companies don’t really have that much use for their employees’ brains. Doing as you're told is more important than contributing a new or even newly considered idea.

So, how are you supposed to hold it together when you work for a dumb company? How are you supposed to get through the work day without dying of boredom, screaming in exasperation, or quietly despairing that you are slowly but surely losing your rarely-used skills and abilities?

Well, you’ll have to do what I call “making your own fun.”

You’re going to have to deliberately seek out those opportunities and projects that feed your interests, perhaps butting your intellect up against your company’s “dumb-dumb ceiling” as far as you can without jeopardizing your position. It will also benefit you to align yourself with like-minded individuals with whom you can have an intelligent conversation on a regular basis. Hopefully your boss fits within this category, but if not, don’t despair. Even dumb companies have employees who want to talk about ideas and the best way to do something (after all, you're one of those, right?). You just want to be careful to not let these conversations deteriorate into a gripe session … all the time. That won’t help you.

Also, actively seek out opportunities outside your company. Take a class. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out the offerings of your local community college or non-profit educational consortium like the Mt. Airy Learning Tree we have here in Philadelphia. Keep your eyes open for free webinars on topics that interest you, too.

Volunteer at a local school or other organization dear to your heart.

Build your skills however you can, so that you’re ready for the next job while maintaining your sanity, too.

But what if your current job keeps you so weary you have no time or energy for that stuff? 

Well, there’s no other answer to that question than this—

You’ve got to find the time and energy. You’ve got to. You’ve got to find a way to disengage from your company’s culture of stupidity long enough to harness the energy needed to find and engage in those activities that feed your passions and your intellect. Doing nothing and hoping your company’s culture changes is not going to cut it. And you’ll find that the more time you spend doing things you enjoy, the more energy you’ll have.

I also recommend thinking long-term about what’s really going to make you happy and will offer a shot at paying your bills. Those jobs are out there.

And remember, over time, dumb companies make their smart employees dumb and their dumb employees dumber.

You don’t really want that for yourself, do you?


  1. This is an excellent post, Crystal, very relevant for me at this juncture. It’s critical that we each take responsibility for our own development and growth. Most companies don’t want thinkers below the executive level, they only want doers. Many have a think only when asked or when it suits the company culture. I personally, refuse to be dumbed-down or to have my highly creative and analytical brain turned to mush so I take courses and volunteer sharing my knowledge and teaching others in the interim while working my long-term plan. One other highly beneficial activity I do and recommend others do is to read regularly about diverse topics.

  2. Thank you, Afrika. I'm sorry to hear that you've landed in one of these goof-ball companies, but you've got the right attitude! Keep on doing what you're doing, and good luck with your goals!