Kakistocracy and a thicket of idiots

A few weeks ago I was sent via facebook messenger the Wikipedia page on the Dunning-Kruger effect.   An initial read of the first couple of paragraphs and I found myself nodding my head in agreement (mainly with relationship to some work colleagues).

Further reading after laughing and further cussing, you settle into the understanding that this is actually quite a serious assessment and study and probably why Dunning and Kruger won an Ig Noble in 2000 for this work.

There are plenty of other writings on the subject, some commentary of these below, as well as my own thoughts. 

Now interestingly both the Wikipedia article and Dunning Kruger mention a quotation from Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher, mathematician and general, all round interesting person. 

In their article (with a host of coauthors) “Why the Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent” there is a 1951 quote from Bertrand Russell (see below), but alas it’s not cited so you cannot understand the context in which it’s written. 

Bertrand Russel 1936
Bertrand Russell in 1936

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

If you do a quick search on Bertrand Russell quotes, then you find another quote (usually #1 in the lists) which essentially says the sames thing.  

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

And if you have a quick search on BrainyQuote, then lo and behold you can find a similar quotation, again without citation from Russell (though BrainyQuotes allow you to do a citation from them, raising the whole can of worms about the search for the real truth in sources). 

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

However, this is to a large extent a distraction, though if pressed on the accuracy of the quote and what it means,  you may have to say that you aren’t really sure of the exact meaning. Irrespective of the versions of the quote then it’s meaning and is clear.  That some people are not aware and are incapable of being aware of how wrong or foolish they are. 

The process of understanding and accepting this statement as fact leads onto a number of other statements that need to be considered :

  • that the only people who think that they might be stupid and overly confident are the people who are probably not; that they are wise but that they doubt that they are.
  • that it will be impossible to convince individuals that they are foolish; attempting to do so will fail because their confidence is in opposite proportion to their ability to reason and their intelligence. 
  • that mechanism of assessing the foolish and overconfident isn’t possible by those around the person, because it is also true that rather than being solely applied to individuals, it is indeed  a more powerful force in groups, where self reinforcement is backed-up by reinforcement of others. 

In hierarchical organisations it is far easier for the foolish to thrive, where lack of actual ability can be hidden from managers through effective managing-up techniques [1] and from the lack of ability of the manager themselves. Rather than a meritocracy, you have a kakistocracy , where you have government and management by the most stupid.  Given the current state of politics in parts of the world, you may also want to argue that this democracy [2]. 

 The clever and wise, attempting to confront and challenge the position and ideas of the foolish, their followers and their advocates, comes with risk. Risk of accusation of  harrying, of undermining and having a personal vendetta. It also comes at risk of livelihood, future rights of representation and in extreme circumstance, risk of life. Therefore does it make sense to do so ?  Suffering fools gladly has in modern times being primarily used in its negative context, where not suffering fools gladly has been a call to wise to get off the fence and get angry with the stupid.  This confrontational approach it could be argued is doomed to failure, as the stupid will ignore any remonstration and seek others for confirmation of their views and abilities for the equally stupid. It is therefore not wiser to suffer them gladly, to live within their group, their world and make the best of the organisation that this provides ?  By using their techniques, is not very easy to the wise to coast through life in the happy knowledge of life being easier if the stupid are happy and content with their own oblivious view. 

This happy state is however hard to achieve; the stupid will place repeated, excessive calls upon others to reinforce their overstated view of the abilities as well as making decisions that negatively impact you, the wise. Their ineffectiveness means you need to do their work for them and their overstatement of achievement means that you find yourself providing evidence to counter it, in order for your own efforts to be effective and recognised. 

Obviously a kakistocracy thrives in an environment that is doing well, where resources, climate and other inputs ensure that it is doing well, despite the input and actions of the stupid. In a world which is struggling, then the stupid cannot thrive and their actions and views do not have ingredients in which to survive.  It can therefore be argued that a long game, not a short term strategy is needed by the wise, one where that ultimately the stupid will be responsible for their own undoing, rather than this being brought about directly by others. 

Shaun of The Dead : a metaphor for surviving stupid ?

For those therefore not wishing to suffer the fools gladly (or at all) there the following might be worth considering:

  • remove the nutrients from the environment where the stupid currently exist; this could be intelligent, long suffering coworkers and subordinates
  • remove the mouthpiece and routes for pontification and therefore self-reinforcement
  • provide clear and distinct means of measurement of ability based on actions of the individual, not words 
  • ring fence the groups of stupidity and use individual measurements and apply them to the group.

Reading the above, it comes across more of a mechanism for dealing with Zombie apocalypse than it does a strategy for dealing with frustrating friends, colleagues or politicians.  This sense of inevitable doom is sometimes whats faced when dealing with an increasing hoard, that’s infecting a large majority of people around you.  Sitting there watching Shaun of the Dead and you can easily transpose this to the task of explaining the real impact of Brexit to the people who your are connected. 

So, finding yourself surrounded by a thicket of idiots, you have a number of strategies for survival, but none of these provide any guarantee of success of personal survival. 

[1] Of the articles you will find online, see managing up as personal skill to be enhanced.  For example :-   https://psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understand-other-people/201304/eight-ways-manage-effectively.

[2] A useful list of government types is provided by Wikipedia, of course. So happy was I with the discovery of kakistocracy that I donated £20 to Jimmy Wales.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_forms_of_government.


Red Hat and IBM : The Present Age

About a year ago (November 2017), I wrote a short blog about Nuxil and The Present Age, which itself referenced a short book called The Present Age by Soren Kierkegaard (see Wikipedia for a list of references about the concepts and the philosophy being discussed).

The key premise from Kierkegaard is that the ‘present age’ lacks passion and energy and there is a tendency to live on the glories of the past.  Presenting, talking about and discussing the glories and excitement of the past lacks something over having actually being there, lived through it and experienced it first hand.  Though the blog post was written quickly and slightly tongue-in-cheek, my thoughts last year was based on a need to promote and preserve the culture within Red Hat, that had in the past kickstarted and driven the companies approach to business and the success that it brought.   I thought then and still think now, that this was also going to be difficult from the safe environment of a successful company.

Rereading the blog post now, a year on and a few days after the news that Red Hat is to be acquired by IBM, it’s made me think that irrespective if you are concerned or not by the news, then you also be excited that you will be part of an ‘event’ [1] and that you will as such be really living.

Kierkegaard’s philosophy is relatively abstract and as such takes a view goes through to penetrate, but one common theme is his concern around the dangers of sleepwalking through life and therefore not really experiencing it.  For example whilst no one enjoys the trauma of a relationship breakdown, bereavement or any other adverse event, the emotions you feel can as such make you feel alive.  You are living a life.

In Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film, The Seventh Seal [2], the knight played by Max von Sydow is tricked by the devil and as such knows he is doomed to die. In this moment he looks at his hand,  and sees his blood flowing through it and as such knows he is currently really alive.

Whilst no one is going to die through being acquired by IBM,  the sense of adversity or excitement that will be directly experienced, good or bad should be embraced.  For me, change is a means to avoid being complacent and even in the last 4 days, I’m having great conversations with colleagues and friends about the acquisition. We may not agree on some things but that’s not the point. We are all directly experiencing something significant that will change our life.  Whilst Trump and Brexit are also seen as divisive issues with lots of negative impacts, they are significant events that you are living through and as such contribute to who you are.

Of course, there is a spectrum where an ‘event’ can be viewed in this way; impacts of war, famine or addiction might be too serious and detrimental to the self to be viewed in this way.   All things in context and corporate change is significant but not catastrophic.

I’ve always been slightly reticent about following people and their ideas that have come from the Management and Business section from the airport bookshop.  In many cases, to make them appealing they provide direct instructions on how to transform something (yourself, company, lifestyle, diet, thinking etc). By being instructional, they don’t provide the space for you to interpret the wider message and the context of what is happening to you.

So, as part of the acquisition process, share, read and discuss, but also take the time to reflect on your own feelings, in isolation.  Review how you feel and develop as a result as you go through this event.  Whatever your opinions, seize the opportunity to really live with your emotions rather than the complacency of the present age.


[1] revolution if you wish, I’ve used this term a lot since the 1990’s around open source and have been at times castigated as a result, in particular by a senior exec at a software company when I worked for UK government.

[2] The film is full of Kierkegaard themes and as such is one that gets better with each viewing.

MLA Day 3

There is a lot going on with Mountain Leader Training

My notes (and those of others from today) :

– confidence support : talking to people whilst holding them. contact with one arm is better than 2 as allows for balance from the leader

– confidence rope. z shape hold keep rope taut. elbows in.

– shape, size, sharpeness and stability : anchor point

– overhand knot, with a stopper knot as an adjustable waistloop

– South African abseil lots of friction. only for the leader not for the group

top tip : take a half a seat back before position

– belay point: knots in line, use rucksac to reduce friction.

– ABC anchor belay climbe

Who you are responsible for.

  1. yourself
  2. team
  3. other public
  4. next of kin
  5. people you are representing
  6. landowners
  7. environment
  8. organisation

Mountain Leadership Course : Day 1

Course is being run by Sam Leary from Leading Edge in Llanberis and the day starts in Pete’s Eats with a good breakfast and some classroom introductions. Two of the people on the course have been vomiting all night and the 3rd (from the same centre) has made it.

Some theory and a look at the weather forecast before a day walking 8.5km up Moel Eleni and back with plenty of map and compass work. Some good tips and tricks and reinforcement of stuff I did know not had forgotten or lapsed in use.

Plenty of time for discussion and exploration. Using contours as part of the navigation assessment is something I do but was really good to check this out. Measurement of distance by pacing stuff out isn’t something I did but I do now (73 double paces for 100m, double paces).

We didn’t walk far but plenty to think about and do as went. What was good was to have a chat about the flora; not the obvious thing but makes a walk in the mountains more interesting. I was unaware of the two types of carnivorous plants, Butterworts and Sundews (Drosera).

Back to Pete’s Eats for a debrief and chat and finally plodded back to the campsite for 7pm. The shower was okay too and then settled in for some guitar after the second part of the ravioli

Mountain Leadership Training : introduction

Decided a few months ago to sign up for the Mountain Leadership Award primarily on the understanding that sometimes I take colleagues and friends on the mountains and in some cases they’ve not had too much experience and that I need to be better prepared.

To get the award you need qualifications days in the hills (well mountains), to complete a training course and the take an assessment. The training starts today in Pete’s Eats in Llanberis and is with a company called Leading Edge. Not sure how it’s going to work but going in with an open mind and ready to listen as well as participate.

I am not the best at training courses especially non technical ones that look to adapt culture and style. You can’t force people and usually the best way is over time through demonstration and nurture.

Decided to camp in the van for the week and the campsite in Llanberis is handily placed above the village though finding a flat spot is a challenge. This was achieved okay and then went for a short walk over towards Snowdon Ranger as a warm up which was straightforward enough an in excellent weather.

Lots of weary people coming down from Snowdon, probably doing the loop of up the Llanberis pass and down Snowdon Ranger. Generally seen as the easiest way though very much the longest also. Really nice day for it.

Let’s see what the week brings !

Morocco Travel Thoughts

I’ve seen plenty of lists online and the Rough Guide also has plenty but there is always space for another list. I would point out this is based inn 3 weeks of travelling and only to limited places. I’ve mainly been in the south, beyond Casablanca, Rabat and Fes.


  1. Drive on the rightrŕè
  2. Importing the car or van isn’ttt l towed on the back. The best site for going through the process is this one and the online forms make it easier.
  3. Most garages only take cash when off the Autoroute though Total tends to take cards in most plac6s. Further south the Afriqua and Ziz stations tend to be cash only.
  4. Diesel is currently about 70p a litre and cheaper in the subsidised Sahara region.
  5. You’re normal driving insurance won’t cover you for Morocco so you will need a green card or buy insurance as you arrive. I got a green card from Aviva after an hour on the phone for £74 for 6 weeks. Note arriving on Sundays usually means the usually means the insurance offices at the ports are shut.
  6. The motorways are good and you can do Tangier to Agadir in 8 hours if you want with Marrakesh about 6 and Casablanca about 4 hours on the way. They are toll roads and whilst cheap (Tangier to Marrakesh less that 200 dirham, 16 quid) they only take cash so you’ll need to change some money at the port or get to an ATM first


  1. There are no supermarkets outside the big cities and everything happens in small shops or the market. You can find most things from cheap plastic essentials to food to expensive carpets.
  2. The gourd haggling scene in Life Of Brian is good training and you may want to start out with low value items first before going to more expensice things like carpets (er not that’s what I did).
  3. You don’t haggle for groceries normally and if you are paying what you think is a decent price (like £4 a litre of extra virgin olive oil) even if it is cheaper for locals you still know you are getting a bargain.
  4. Cash again is essential and funnily enough only the carpet shops have a credit card machine.


If you like tagine, cous cous or brochette (meat on skewers) then great but the choice can be limited in some places beyond that. A Moroccan salad is good and near the coast the seafood is stunning.

Price wise it’s cheap in most places and if you cook yourself then really cheap. That said a trip to the butchers is very different to most countries and not too much in the way of a fridge around and if you want chicken you may need to not only pluck it but also carry out the coup de grace.

Everything is bought fresh and even the smallest villages will have a small shop which opens longer hours than Arkwrights so no problem there.


Campsites were very mixed from the shithole in Essaouira to the decent sites in Tafraout which were similar to southern Spain standards.

Red Hat Summit is Record Store Day

Once a year some of the Consulting and Training organisations globally get to travel to Summit, to get the latest technology news first hand from engineering and the business units.

For me it’s got the same excitement as Record Store Day, the annual frenzy for fans of the vinyl audio format as they look to find the things they like and the collectable items that will add both quality and value to collection.

The UK Record Store Day for 2018 had over 400 releases and my personal interest involved some releases from some great folk artists like Sandy Denny, June Tabor and Anne Briggs. I also had an hankering for a Factory Benelux release of a Durutti Column classic. I spent 2 hours in the queue outside the Tangled Parrot on the 21st April and managed to pick up all the items I wanted as I was #11 in the queue. Other record stores had much longer queues and not such a good selection of records.

Red Hat Summit has a range of important announcements across a range of products and technology areas and the coming week of presentations, workshops and sessions covers a full range of interests. The Open Source elements and the less technical sessions really add to the flavour to the event which attracts over 7000 delegates. That most of these are customers and partners allow Red Hat to get as much back as is put in. However it’s always a challenge to pick the right sessions and prioritise the main ones of interest.

In the end day 1 of Summit was exactly that; a lot of announcements at key note sessions and a lot of PR events. You couldn’t cover it all and the filter of coffee and jet lag focused you on the most relevant. That you were also attracted not to the most important but to the best delivered also highlights that the presentation has to be good to cut through the noise.

As they day drew to a close, I did manage to get out and buy some records at a great unsung store at 510 Green Street. So it’s all good.

Chaos all around. Brilliant !

This is partly inspired by Cairo traffic, which in itself probably the worst I’ve experienced in terms of safety, volume and complete lack of road sense. But it’s brilliant and whilst something normal for the 20 million or so Egyptians who live there, it’s something different to the occasional visitor like me.

Been an interesting week and one thing that been on my mind is the constant attraction to the day to day activity for people rather than the tackling of the bigger picture.

There are good reasons for this:

  • It’s business as usual and you tend to know what you are doing. You are generally good at it
  • You get immediate results. Bit of a rollercoaster as they can be good and they can be bad
  • They need to be done and someone needs to do them.
  • We tend to go for routine as it is well defined and usually easy.

However there are sometimes problems with this focus :

  • The day to day activity may be inefficient and / or obsolete.
  • No-one necessarily appreciates the activity you are doing.
  • By doing the day to day you’ve not got time for strategy or development work.

One other area of concern (well to me this week) is where the way of working for day to day is also the approach for strategic work.

This way of working has a number of characteristics which centre around confirmation bias. You are going to do what you know best or what you’ve done as routine even if you are working on something new. What you therefore produce as new will be course elements of the old even if it’s seemingly been completely rebuilt.

There’s a great film from the 1950s which highlights the reluctance to change and inefficient working practices that persist. Okay it’s a comedy (and well worth watching) but it does give you a sense of the frustration and the mood towards change.

I’m Alright Jack ” also highlights corrupt bosses and the power of the trade unions (Only one of those two thrives in the UK) but by watch the time and motion man you get a sense of what might need to be done to make things happen.

I’m writing this in the context of software development and IT architecture but of course they are many different areas where this is true.

The shifts and changes in IT are probably more rapid than in other areas so the need to change agreed practices and ways of working happen more frequently. What you might see is new applications written with new languages and but where the paradigm for development is still the same. You will see that way of working hasn’t changed.

Saying “we’ll develop this for a container platform” is all well and good but it’s not going to be that effective if:

  • You don’t use the right languages that support the design
  • You keep legacy functions and features in the application, even if they are provided by the new platform
  • That the process of software development changes as well, with greater levels of automation
  • It is actually proven to be more effective than the previous application platform.

People (and in this case software development teams) will always try to:

  • Work the way they’ve always worked
  • Use the same shortcuts, coding standards, testing procedures etc they’ve done before
  • Use the minimum effort needed
  • Minimise risk by as doing as little change as possible.

So what approaches can use to break the cycle and the reliance on the old way of working.

  1. The lab: using a safe environment where external coaches work with  an initial group of people, who will in turn share new ways of working with others in the organisation
  2. The core team : internal team, as the lab, which is ring fenced to do the right thing and correct way or working 
  3. The acquisition: acquire a business or organisation that has the new culture and way of working and use that to drive change.

Plenty of scope for discussion and some interesting but this propensity for change is key; it will impact if you can change and how quickly this can then happen.



Reading a sign of The Times

It was the best choice of free newspaper prior boarding the Lufthansa flight from Birmingham to Munich. I don’t read The Times too often,  but I was hoping for something slightly cerebral so I could delay ingesting the contents of this month’s Record Collector for later on my work trip to Austria. However it’s clear I was over optimistic.

A few things are clear: Papers want to give you their opinion, with comment sections seemingly outnumbering news stories.  The letters page is bonkers and ‘proper’ news articles aren’t easy to read and don’t seem to flow at all. Nothing dragged me in for a longer read.  The Times and it’s contributor seemed to be intent on banning me from using wood burners, making me eat more fibre, continuing to live in London (rather than moving to a 30 acre estate in Berkshire?!!) and that telling me that micro cheating on my partner is not okay. What is micro cheating ?

That one of the letters was written by a resident of Llangynidr, Wales’ very own nimby Surrey village, and it comes as no surprise.  I am still a bit bemused on why the letter was written and why it was published.  Newspapers still have clout when it comes to swaying the opinions of people, on their choices in life, in particular their politics.  Even if you aren’t a regular reader, the right leaning views of The Times are pretty clear from the story of the “left wing” takeover of the Labour Party. It’s a conservative tendency (with small c) that takes aim at the thrice married UKIP leader and his girlfriend , who happens to be 30 years younger than him. However, for me,  there is indeed a case of a personal need to combat the confirmation bias I have, where possible and pick up The Times rather The Guardian from time to time. I would have picked up the latter had it been available but I would then missed out on the slick 8 page insert offering rail holidays (in partnership with The Times). Perhaps seeking out something that challenges my views and opinions is better than something that agrees with them. This is a challenge for us all but of course doing things we wouldn’t normally do (Christmas eve shopping, buying out of season fruit and veg in supermarkets or listening to Radio 3) wouldn’t necessarily make you happy ?

Like all things, doing it in moderation and balance is good and I’ve achieved that to some extent by ingesting the hateful Murdoch sheet for hour. I am now a secular newspaper reader with a wider tolerance of other readers.