Tactical Incompetence: Paul Erdos on Skill Development

I’m at a workshop in Princeton on Project Bamboo. I have many notes to share from today’s session, but for now I’ll just repeat a phrase I heard at our table: tactical incompetence. Tactical incompetence is sometimes seen by IT staff when talking with faculty or staff who simply claim they “can’t do” certain things. As a ruse it’s often deployed in the name of gender stereotypes, e.g. the woman who “can’t” change a tire or the man who “can’t” sew on a button. I will claim Paul Erdos to be the undisputed master of this art: he even got out of LEARNING HOW TO BUTTER HIS TOAST presumably because his math genius somehow interfered with this skill… among other life skills.

So, perhaps in response to the Mikey problem below, we need to become tactically incompetent so others need to step up? Of course, becoming more strategically competent wouldn’t hurt, either. Doh!

3 Responses to “Tactical Incompetence: Paul Erdos on Skill Development”

  1. Kyle said:

    Jul 15, 08 at 4:12 pm

    I’ve been calling this strategic failure. When IT is asked to do something not IT related (see previous comments), I let people know we don’t have the resources or skill set to do that and that I don’t really believe it’s an IT function. Usually they complain that nobody else has time, but I persist, even when they say it’s critical to the institution (if it’s so critical, how come I’m the only one who has to sacrifice to get it done). Eventually it is put where it should be, and then we find out the people who should be doing it can’t (like our IR person who can’t do data analysis).

    The one time someone insisted we do the data analysis, it ended up being 4 months late and the Academic Dean wasn’t happy. I reminded her that I had said we didn’t have the skills to do it and she found an outside consultant to do the work moving forward.

  2. essprit said:

    Jul 16, 08 at 5:20 pm

    An additional, less favorable aspect of this is when tactical incompetence on the part of units or organizations lead to unnecessary heroics by others or just plain churn or a total lack of action. I’ve seen a lot of tactical incompetence masquerading as strategic choices. This wouldn’t have withstood close scrutiny, had there been a leader in place who was willing to pay attention and foster real conversations about priorities (and planned abandonment, where warranted.)

  3. g-lo said:

    Aug 14, 08 at 4:25 pm

    Oh my eyes are glazing over. Best to start by quoting the master:

    “Strategy without tactics is the slowest way to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

    Tactical incompetence means you aren’t valuing your boots-on-the-ground enough to train them to use the tools that you make available to them. You are also not granting them enough vision to see where their tactical successes fit into a strategic vision.

    Tactical incompetence is a result of strategic failure. I mean really. Tactical incompetence. Look at that. We’re all lucky because we aren’t working in life/death jobs. If you are tactically incompetent in a life/death job then you are going to lose your tactical forces. If you lose your tactical forces then you can’t achieve your objectives and all that. It’s patently ridiculous.

    Unless someone can give us a Agile method for this (and I love Agile don’t get me wrong).

    Just seems you are all whiners. Whiners I tell you! [insert shaking fist here]

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