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Karin’s Leadership Articles

Why Smart People Do Stupid Work

by | May 7, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Results & Execution |

Despite my best efforts to encourage employees to think, question, and recommend change, on any given day, I know there are people on my team doing tasks they know are stupid.

Stupid work includes…

  • reinforcing policies without thinking
  • making decisions that lose customers
  • generating reports no one uses
  • focusing on trivial matters when the sky is falling around them
  • _______ I’ll stop here to let you fill in the blank.
  •  If you find that cathartic here’s a few more blanks___________, ___________.

Bottom line, If it feels stupid it probably is.

Forest Gump said “stupid is as stupid does.” But I know the truth. Stupid is as stupid leads.

Why Do People Do Stupid Work?

  • fear
  • politics
  • uncertainty
  • overload
  • indecision
  • it’s not their job
  • they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes
  • it’s always been done that way
  • they think I want it done that way
  • their boss thinks I want it done that way
  • their boss’s boss’s boss, thinks my boss wants it done that way.

And so the stupidity continues.

Lead for S.M.A.R.T.

Encourage your team to think beyond their silos, understand the big picture, and question the status quo. Help them to make S.M.A.R.T. choices.

Speak up

If something feels stupid, it probably is. Say something.

get More information

Ask questions. Understand the context. Reach across silos.

accept Accountability

Own the problem. Work to find a solution.


Determine what’s important. Do that first.

and Try another approach.

Consider alternatives, ask for ideas, try something new.

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?


  1. Eric Dingler

    I think stupid mistakes are also often made in the absence of clear vision. You’ve got to cast, recast, and recast the vision over and over and over and over. Also, I’d add a lack of core values to guide decisions in reaching for the vision is a big cause of stupid at work.

    Great post, and you know I’m a sucker for acronyms.

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Eric, thanks so much. You inspire me to look for acronyms 😉

    • Matt McWilliams

      They work. I’ve only read it once and I remember all five letters!

  3. Steve Borek

    Sometimes the team player lacks confidence.

    This can be a behavioral issue.

    Or, it could be the leader sending mixed signals. This is a leader lacking confidence.

    Common denominator here.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Steve, Thanks so much. Building confidence is such so vital! And… not easy.

  4. Matt Coughlin

    Often times the ability to challenge a process or a organizational norm you dont agree with is more a function of the culture your in. If people feel as though they can challenge what they don’t understand and cant support 2 things occur in my opinion:
    1) They are less likely to do things simply because “thats they way we have always done it”.
    2 ) Once they believe the what they are doing is correct they can passionately contribute to the objectives.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Matt, So great to have you join the conversation. I agree culture has a substantial impact and can make it scary to speak up. I also find that sometimes the culture has evolved but people have scar tissue, and stay scared even though the new environment is more gentle.

  5. Sridhar Laxman

    Thank you for the post, thats an insightful list. Glad to note you have ‘fear’ on top. If I may I would like to add some additional factors that usually lead to not so smart work.
    a. Lack of ownership
    b. Low internal standards
    c. Zero passion
    d. Lack of pride in the work they do
    e. No eye for detail

    Would love to hear your views

  6. John

    I see sometimes that leaders are always wanting to be seen as adding value to the business, and never taking away anything that has always been provided. A “stupid report” may be generated because it’s a security blanket for the leader. It’s sort of like oxygen. When you have enough of it, you don’t think about it, but when it’s gone, now the sky is falling.

    • letsgrowleaders

      John, what an excellent point. Love the analogy of a security blanket.

  7. Madhu Kanna

    Hi Karin, Thanks for this article that’s put in very simple & easily understandable terms..


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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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