“Embracing Stupidity in Jewish Organizational Life”- My comments on this article by Dr. Edward Rettig

Hi everyone! I haven’t posted in awhile (sorry!). In fact, looking back, my last post was right before I went to the States for a few weeks for my brother’s wedding … Mazal Tov! I was very fortunate in that the day that I left Israel, I interviewed and was hired on the spot to work as a grant writer for a company that handles resource development for multiple non-profit organizations. B”H I am really loving my job, as well as my co-workers and manager … but it has been keeping me busy, which is why I haven’t been posting recently. I actually have TONS of ideas for new posts, and I hope that this post will get me back into the habit. 
 
I was not planning on writing a blog post today, however I read an article that resonated with me so much that I felt that I HAD to take time out of my work day to write this post (I get paid by the hour/per client so don’t worry, I’m not “wasting” company time! 🙂 ). 
 
Today’s eJewish Philanthropy e-newsletter featured an article by Dr. Edward Rettig entitled “Embracing Stupidity in Jewish Organizational Life”. 
 
I identified so strongly with the ideas in this article that I felt that I needed to “get my voice out there” as well. 
 
I think this article is excellent and touches on real problems that exist in the Jewish non-profit world. I personally think this problem needs to be addressed from the top down. As Dr. Rettig wrote: “Authors Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer give us an analytic tool to look at ourselves in a new, challenging way. With considerable courage, they call into question a fundamental assumption of our age: that organizations are getting smarter. ” I think that the beginning of the problem with this fundamental assumption is that it is assumed that the director of the organization is the smartest, and the “lower” the employee, the less smart they are. I think this is very backward thinking. Especially in this day and age, many young people (who might be in “lower” positions) may be “smarter” than higher executives in certain areas. Everyone has their own special skills and expertise. I think that the idea that “the boss is always right” is definitely “stupid”, and a manager who does not foster dialogue and brainstorming among his/her employees (and actually act on their ideas if they would in fact aid the organization) is not acting as a manager should, and is missing out on new, “out of the box” ideas from his/her employees that could really benefit the organization. 
 
I think this also ties into what Alvesson and Spicer write: “This (stupidity self-management) happens when various actors (including managers and senior executives as well as external figures such as consultants, business gurus and marketers) exercise power to block communicative action.  Externally imposed attempts to regulate the use of cognitive capacities are taken up by employees through what we call stupidity self-management. This happens when employees limit internal reflexivity by cutting short ‘internal conversations.’” As a personal anecdote, if you have been following this blog, you may remember that I left my previous position this spring after 4.5 years, before finding a new position (B”H it only took me 2 months to find the new position, where I am VERY happy and intellectually stimulated!). I had been working at a “typical” Jewish non-profit organization, and about a year ago I decided to start this blog. As I hope people who read this blog know, the goal of this blog (besides providing an outlet for me to discuss new ideas and trends in the non-profit world, as this type of discussion was not fostered at my previous place of employment), is to create a dialogue with other non-profit employees to be able to share our experiences, learn from and empower each other. As anyone who reads my blog knows, I never mention the name of the organization where I work, nor that of any co-workers or lay leaders, and if I do discuss a challenge that I am facing, it was always within the framework of “how can this situation be improved”? (i.e., this is not a blog created for “venting”). During my job search, a lay leader with whom I am close advised me that, in her opinion, having this blog might be detrimental to me “if a potential employer were to see it”. I respectfully disagreed with her, and said that actually one element of the blog is “getting my name out there” for the job search. I truly think that the blog helped me to land my new job, as I “met” my new employer first on Facebook and LinkedIn, and then finally in person at a networking event. I think that by the time we met in person he had definitely “heard of” me, thanks to my blog. 
 
The last point that I want to make is to agree with Dr. Rettig’s assessment of the fact that “Like most NGOs, Jewish organizations tend to run through a system of parallel lay and professional hierarchies of authority.”  A lot of time and energy is wasted in, as Dr. Rettig puts it, “toe(ing) the line in order to be safe – i.e. to engage in stupidity self-management.” This parallel lay leader/ professional hierarchy definitely leads to “stupid” work behavior. Projects (such as marketing materials, for example) need to get both professional and lay leader approval, and if the parties are not in agreement then a lot of time is spent (wasted? 🙂 ) coming to a compromise to appease everyone. Personally, I think that the professionals should be trusted to act on their judgement (after all, they are the “professionals”!), but of course we cannot leave out our lay leaders (who are also our donors), because we want them to feel involved and engaged. But “we” (as the collective Jewish non-profit community) need to solve this issue in order to be more productive, innovative, and not stifle creativity.
 
What do you think? As always, I look forward to your feedback!
 
Chava Ashkenazi
Jerusalem, Israel 
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