Academic Matt Alvesson and his colleagues coined the term functional stupidity to refer to the phenomenon where people in an organisation do precisely what is expected of them uncritically and follow the unspoken rules without pausing for thought. In observing such practices, they no longer challenge the rules or conventions because they believe what is occurring is ‘right’. After all, it ‘feels right’.
Functional stupidity is a common phenomenon in many organisations, including early childhood. Enter reflective thinking. Reflective thinking invites us to pause, question and critique. It allows us to question long-held practices that have occurred for some time, even if they feel right. To overcome functional stupidity, we need to dare to be brave and be open to people who challenge our practices without being defensive.
We invite you to pause to consider a practice that might feel right, look right and sound right, but when viewed by outsiders (those not working in early childhood education), might raise some questions regarding the validity of the approach. However, this doesn’t mean that they are correct, either. Instead, it just reminds us that we all see things differently and to challenge conventions or practices which exist, we must remind ourselves that feeling right doesn’t mean we are right.
So, can we catch out functional stupidity – change our ways? Well, yes, we can. Just ask people to be honest and invite new staff to talk about what they see—actions or behaviours that seem at odds with practice and approaches they have enacted or experienced in other settings. Be open to learning the skills of critical thinking and critical analysis.