On Competence

by on July 21st, 2005

There are days that I think the universe is playing a cruel joke on me, because reality can’t possibly be this ridiculous … Then I analyze the source of my frustration – and it always comes from interactions with people resigned to incompetence.

These range from my stop at McDonald’s to my attempt at getting a presentation from business partners. The examples are countless, but whether they are consequential or not, it is hard to walk away unscathed.

Most of the time we don’t analyze why someone’s leadership inspires a tremendous amount of confidence. Or why we pay a lot of money to watch an exceptional athlete perform. Or even why an efficient operation at Cosi deli in DC rush-hour lunchtime gives you a burst of energy, or maybe even creates a smile on your face. When we have pleasant experiences and walk away satisfied, or sometimes impressed – we very rarely say “that person takes pride in their work.”

Instead of praising competence, however, we often create excuses for incomptence (the pay, the hours, the indignity of the task). But having worked in everything ranging from fast food to defense analysis, I can honestly say that the satisfaction of a job well done brings about an equal amount of pleasure.

So here is my question: Why do so few people take pride in their work? And why has it become the status quo?

Jeffrey Perren might have the answer in his essay “What Happened to Competence?

John McDonald