[LI] Power, brain damage, incompetence & the “cult of the tech founder”

Three items posted to LinkedIn on power and its dysfunctions.

Power Causes Brain Damage,” by Jerry Useem, The Atlantic, July/August 2019 (posted July 2019)

Another cautionary about concentrating too much power in the hands of individual people.
“How leaders lose mental capacities—most notably for reading other people—that were essential to their rise”

Reply to post by Anne-Rachel Inné about an article entitled “The 2010s Killed the Cult of the Tech Founder. Great! January 2020 (posted January 2020)

Thx for sharing this, Anne-Rachel. Fwiw I’d suggest that the “cult of the tech founder” is (was) part of a larger tendency we have to think in terms of a single individual at the apex of whatever (you see it in governance especially). Or perhaps more to the point, how we invest too much hope and power in one person, even when the size and complexity of the entity they are in charge of is great. And then we tend to assume they have the capabilities to match and moral compass to guide them. But they, like all of us, are fallible.

So basically the concentration of power in the hands of few is risky, and the focus of hopes & expectations in them is a gamble. Some of the examples Steven Levy mentions are cases in point.

How to address that systemically? Personally I would hope for 2020 and the decade it ushers in a move towards ways to deconcentrate power & distribute space for initiative, and in the tech business world increase competition. Can one also hope for a maturity in our expectations – beyond bestowing “halos” on founders, political leaders, etc.?

It’s also important to remember that the capabilities for innovation, leadership, etc. are present in a lot of people. Even if one argues it’s a small percentage, calculate on 7.5 billion and the numbers are huge. Yet our market system seems to seize on what a few well-placed individuals do. Often that is great, in the beginning at least, and many people may benefit. But does the system also have an opportunity cost in what innovations and innovators are eclipsed? What are we missing out on by focusing attention and wealth only on a select few?

En tout cas, Bonne Année 2020!

Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? And what can we do about it? by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ideas.TED.com, 9 January 2020 (posted 15 January 2020)

Interesting discussion by Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic highlighting 3 reasons incompetent men become leaders: inability to distinguish between confidence & competence; love of charismatic individuals; & inability to resist the allure of narcissists.

I’d suggest 2 more:

4. An organizational dynamic – the Peter principle. I.e., promotion to the level of incompetence.
5. A structural / cultural issue – the way we define “leadership” & roles associated with it, investing power & expectations in one individual (who even in the best case is fallible). The risks of dysfunction are higher in larger or more complex organizations (up to and including governments).

(reply to a comment)

Thx. Altho “they look smart” might go under one of Dr Chamorro-Premuzic’s 3 reasons (maybe illusion of competence?), your other two might together make a 6th reason – a social dynamic, the “in” (or “insiders” or “good old boys”) crowd. That would also include nepotism, and perhaps also certain forms of corruption? All of those don’t necessarily mean incompetence, but are clearly not prioritizing competence, nor even the result of the first 3 reasons.

Other blogs > LinkedIn > LinkedIn articles & posts, 2020

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