242. The Strange Matter of Job Incompetence

Some peo­ple are very good at their jobs. Some jobs are pretty easy to be good at. In my expe­ri­ence, extremely large num­bers of peo­ple are rather bad at their jobs, and a fair num­ber are a down­right men­ace. In fact in some occu­pa­tions, most peo­ple are quite bad at it. For exam­ple, look­ing back ratio­nally with a 66 year score­card, around 80% of the med­ical doc­tors I’ve encoun­tered have been use­less to dan­ger­ous, at least for my needs. As a teacher, it also pains me to say that a very high per­cent­age of teach­ers and lec­tur­ers are inept at best. Why is this so? There seems to be no sim­ple con­nec­tion with intel­li­gence or length of train­ing.  I have heard that truck dri­vers who are too bright are dan­ger­ous (they get bored), or too slow wit­ted, also risky (they can’t make the nec­es­sary quick traf­fic judge­ments).  The most likely fac­tor for wide­spread incom­pe­tence how­ever may be whether indi­vid­ual job tasks vary much. On a pro­duc­tion line, it doesn’t vary, so you want some­one sub­mis­sive with no imag­i­na­tion (and that is what many edu­ca­tion sys­tems aim to pro­duce). In med­i­cine, patients are immensely vari­able, so you want a medico with sci­en­tific curios­ity, alert to the unusual, and who can think out­side of the box when nec­es­sary.  In fact most medicos by char­ac­ter and train­ing seem to act more like tech­ni­cians. They have mem­o­rized a cat­a­logue of pro­ce­dures and apply them to invented “dis­ease” cat­e­gories, regard­less of the patient. Hence their level of fail­ure. Sim­i­larly the vast major­ity of teach­ers (and the insti­tu­tions they work for) fol­low a rigid “cur­ricu­lum” which eval­u­ates stu­dents for their con­for­mity to the plan, regard­less of real per­sonal stu­dent learn­ing. Teach­ers are actu­ally required to do this, on pain of los­ing their jobs. If true teacher pro­duc­tiv­ity is mul­ti­ply­ing stu­dent learn­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, teach­ers are often required to be unpro­duc­tive. Sim­i­larly, many occu­pa­tions require work­ers to be unpro­duc­tive, if pro­duc­tiv­ity means doing a job well. What a strange world.

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