A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations

Mats Alvesson, Andre Spicer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we question the one-sided thesis that contemporary organizations rely on the mobilization of cognitive capacities. We suggest that severe restrictions on these capacities in the form of what we call functional stupidity are an equally important if under-recognized part of organizational life. Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications. We argue that functional stupidity is prevalent in contexts dominated by economy in persuasion which emphasizes image and symbolic manipulation. This gives rise to forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action. In turn, this structures individuals' internal conversations in ways that emphasize positive and coherent narratives and marginalize more negative or ambiguous ones. This can have productive outcomes such as providing a degree of certainty for individuals and organizations. But it can have corrosive consequences such as creating a sense of dissonance among individuals and the organization as a whole. The positive consequences can give rise to self-reinforcing stupidity. The negative consequences can spark dialogue, which may undermine functional stupidity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1194-1220
JournalJournal of Management Studies
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Business Administration

Free keywords

  • bounded rationality
  • identity
  • ignorance
  • knowledge
  • power


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