Petit éloge de l’incompétence

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Why we chose this book?
The book includes two important lessons for managers. As we are all inherently incompetent in certain areas, it is a good idea (1) to encourage teamwork as a way of facilitating the transfer of knowledge and (2) to foster professional and intellectual mobility by, for example, devising bonus schemes that reward mobility rather than length of service (the latter of which only encourages the status quo).

What if incompetence could actually be a strength? Michel Claessens, head of communication at ITER (the project to build an International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), suggests that everyone should acknowledge their own hidden, and almost shameful, natural incompetence. With good reason, too, because doing so can release creative energies. And, although incompetence might not be a prerequisite for securing progress, it is certainly a key factor. Firstly, skating over incompetence can be dangerous; secondly, most innovations call for a combination of different skills, which means being able to recognize our own limits. However, as Claessens points out, it takes more than you might think to be incompetent. Against this background, the author suggests taking a “leap of incompetence: deciding that now is the time to break through the barriers and brave the unknown,” even if it means taking time out like Florence Aubenas, the French journalist who put her brilliant career on hold for six months to investigate the insecurities of the job market and went so far as to work as a cleaner.

Petit éloge de l’incompétence by Michel Claessens (Éditions Quae, November 2013).

Read our dossier :

˛ˇTransforming Incompetence into Effectiveness

Based on an interview with Christophe Roux-Dufort, December 2009, and on his book, Vive l’Incompétence (Long live incompetence), co-authored with Sanjy Rambotiana (Pearson 2009).
Business Digest nº 202, December 2009.