Is 'Psychology of Incompetence' competent?
April 26, 2011 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Is Norman Dixon's On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence still considered to be an accurate portrayal of organisational psychology?

The book is a very funny and (to a layman such as myself) plausible examination of the social pathologies of hierarchical organisations, using case studies from military history; his essential argument is that military organisations select for personality types in peacetime that are actively detrimental in wartime. As a historian, I've seen Dixon's book quoted in reference to organisational failures many times, but I'd like to know whether it stands up in light of contemporary psychology and/or organisational theory. For instance, Dixon uses Freudian terminology when describing personality types; although this isn't critical in terms of his wider arguments, it leads me to treat the rest of the book with some caution.

I know that previous psychological concepts such as the 'stages of grief' are no longer considered valid; as it's now over thirty years old, has anything similar happened to Dixon's work?
posted by Jakob to Science & Nature (1 answer total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak for the psychology establishment, but I read this a few years ago and loved it. I felt it stood the test of time not because of the Freudian jargon (which was somewhat annoying) but because of his identification of common organizational problems. The labeling is secondary. Are you considering using it in a presentation or something similar and worried people may not take it seriously because of the Freudian references?

Also, I don't know of any other Americans who have read this; I only read it because a dear friend from the UK recommended it. I'm not sure if this will get a very wide response on the mostly US-centric Metafilter.
posted by Atrahasis at 4:38 PM on April 26, 2011

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