The Competence Paradox

Marianna Williamson says that our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

It’s not just Marianne who has wondered about the powerful nature of the potential of the very talented or for that matter just anyone of us who just has untapped potential waiting to be given wings to. From childhood we are taught to question ourselves if we ever think outside the box. We are chiseled and crafted to not just box our thinking and curiosity within the confines of centuries old learning boundaries or as simple as wear a uniform across our formative years to be like everyone, but to also think & understand & act in a uniform regimented manner. Anyone who ever dares to feed their unique thoughts and convert them into their own unique actions are tempered to toe the line and be like others. Even a child writing a CBSE public exam doesn’t have the choice of writing answers in his/her own words and understanding and rather must barf the answers verbatim as taught. In a robotic environment, all robots are supposed to serve the program and not any intelligence. The artificial intelligence of the mass is the norm, and any rebellion of uniqueness is intolerable.

In such an ecosystem it thus becomes a crime to be brilliant, stunning, talented, magnificent… as all of these come with their set of public problems in the form of peer pressures, societal jealousies etc and authorities set over you usually do not take lightly to those who have a mind of their own. Whenever a regimented robot displays any uniqueness outside the purview of the program norms, as a knee jerk primary & involuntary reaction, this entire constellation of mediocrity starts to conspire in a very automatically clandestine manner on how to “normalize” & “standardize” you.

And as we grow up, the spark in us is killed in instalments. We start conforming to the set standards of uniformity and status quo. And here is how we nurture and breed the vast armies of mediocre mindsets and keep creating better versions of bonsai intellects … breed after breed… and then release these well programmed and trained bonsai mindsets into the society. They slowly keep mauling, mutilating, and morphing these mindsets, chiseling it further within the networks of their mutually shared experiences and eventually start occupying supervisory positions in various capacities in the society, in various realms… be it as teachers, supervisors, inspectors, managers, dogma peddlers, etc etc etc…

And this is the genesis of the competence paradox. In the competence paradox a group of less competent people, societies or even individuals in positions of authority, with questionable competences, collectively or individually as the case may be, are set upon to decide on the future and fate of the comparatively more competent, which usually and most often leads to counterproductive/devastating impact on the contextual aspirations that both these set of people initially set out to achieve.

And as we see all around us, across many civilisations, how the most competent have paid atrocious prices for their competence, the paradox triggers in and conditions us to conformity. Our light starts frightening us and our capabilities become our lethal enemies. And as we start dimming the intensity of our intelligence and our capacities to conform to the less advanced lifeforms set over us, our belief in our own intrinsic powers start diminishing proportionately… till we become caricatures of our own possible selves and instead end up as verbose fierce critics of the potentiality of talent… thereby now becoming a contributing member of the regimented brigade of the mediocrity.

If you carefully analyse the trends from the start of civilisation, the folklore of our mankind is filled with numerous examples of how the potential ones always paid the dastardliest price in their pursuit to deliver their best creativity that usually took humanity a notch better than it always could have been. The coterie of the less competent lifeforms in any age has gone to any extent to safeguard the interests of their ilk. Whether it was Socrates, Stanley Meyer, Sam Manekshaw, Bhagat Singh, Sardar Patel, Gurudutt, RD Burman, Nambi Narayanan… and the millions of similarly ill-fated unknown faces across different geographies, across different industries, across the ages… paid a heavy price for their competence

That’s speaking on a larger scale… I have seen this ‘future destructive’ paradox manifest itself in the most microcosmic manner & most unfortunate of all places… young & fresh talent… hired straight out of management institutes, then being conditioned to conform to set coterie standards … that very same status quo that they were presumably brought to question, challenge, and change. In my professional life, across the last decade, I have witnessed hundreds of these new bright youngsters being hired fresh out of colleges… with an intent to bring in fresher perspectives, agility of action and youthful energy to the organizational aspirations being eventually chiseled to maintain status quo. These young kids, when they start of, come with stars in their eyes and an intense belief that they will challenge the status quo and herald a positive change… in fact not just these sophomore graduates… that’s the case across all bands of new recruits… be in the armed forces, the civil services, private sector management cadres, you name it… the paradox, more often than not, always, and always triggers. They end up usually reporting to “innocent victims” of the famed Dunning Kruger Malady, in which the one with lower competences in a given intellectual or social context overestimates their own abilities comparatively and start believing in the power of their incompetence to deliver. And when these people face those with any better talent or abilities, they not only ignore it, but also take steps to devaluate it and diminish it by reprimanding it & conditioning it to their own levels and pinning their failures on them. And thus the cycle of the incompetent breeds further incompetence keeps rearing its ugly head, leading to mediocre outputs continually. Most of these young bright minds early on realise that you can’t beat them and thus join them and get baptised into the unholy nexus of coteriest philosophies and dogmas. Eventually what could have been a huge bank of fresh possibilities and innovation, metamorphoses itself into average and ordinary.

Challenging status quo, stating the facts as they are seen, recommending improvisations to those ailing with “don’t teach me… I have so so many years of experience” syndrome, trying to wrench open the doors of their closed minds, actually ending up bringing fresh ideas to the tables as per the preachings in the board room lectures… all have become unpardonable transgressions of standard accepted procedures & unseen but irrevocable corporate etiquettes. In such an environment, the talented, the competent, the contributors and the change agents find it extremely difficult to remain objective. They continue to be tormented by the agonizing queries of their intellect on why they should continue to remain objective. Surely enough wasn’t that what they were asked for in their interviews, inductions and key responsibilities assigned.

At the same time, it is becoming increasingly painful to remain neutral as well. In ecosystems always moving in polarized directions, where positions of power are unfortunately bestowed in certain biased ways, new neutrality simply means accepting the way as things are now. Its an ecosystem of clashing interests – incompetence against competence, sycophancy against objectivity, Siloistic interests against professed teamwork, personal greed against collective goals, mediocrity against excellence and “smart work” against hard work…it has just become impossible to remain neutral in these conflicts. And if you ask me, I wouldn’t even recommend it. Neutrality simply cannibalises your time & growth. On the contrary, being the devil’s advocate here, objectivity can possibly kill your interests instantly. So then, within the operating ecosystem of this paradox, is sitting on the fence the only option for the competent?

Honestly, I don’t have any answers or solutions. To each his own. In some brief spark of intellectual intoxication, I felt that the competent must explore entrepreneurial pursuits, if they really want to nurture that element, which they are getting paid to actually decimate in instalments… namely their sanity, their integrity of intellect and their intrinsic competence. I am yet to find a flawless solution. Perhaps there aint any. Maybe they should get together enmasse, as did the best minds in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged & collectively stop their thinking… which actually is fueling the motor of any success & achievements, growth & profits…. Without commensurate rewards in return. Maybe…

Yet in the current context, acceptance has become our major problem. We have learnt to concede to the cabal of the incompetent. We have learnt to accept the things the way they are. In this criminal process, millions & millions of brightest of possibilities are getting doused in the furnace of collective mediocrity. We continue to remain accepting in the face of biased injustice, nepotistic favouritisms & collective idiocies. This is an unforgivable crime against humanity. For with this condescending attitude, we are miserably slowing down the rate of progress & the pace of potential development of mankind. It is this competence paradox that led to the greatest of catastrophes that mankind has ever had to bear. Be it the world wars, the destruction of civilizations, the erosion of humanity in human beings, the climate change or the cannibalising of smaller countries by the powerful ones. It is the same paradox that destroyed the challenger space mission killing all the astronauts on board, or the sinking of titanic, or the sinking of so many corporations & millions of their dependent personnel that I have already mentioned in my previous blogs… this competence paradox is the most disastrous curse on humanity.

While I don’t really have any solutions, perhaps the solution lies in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”


2 Comments on “The Competence Paradox

  1. “Neutrality simply cannibalises your time & growth. ”
    Yet majority of people chose the above context in virtue of professional intact.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very simple words to express the things we are indulged into and expecting the same cut copy paste regime

    Nice thought to ponder & act


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