Work is a vital human activity with traditions that go back thousands of years. Getting out of work also has a long history. One of the most sophisticated and effective methods of getting out of work is the technique I call strategic incompetence.
Strategic incompetence is the art of avoiding undesirable tasks by demonstrating an inability to do them. “I’d like to make the coffee, but you know I’ll mess it up.”
IF YOUR IRONING DESTROYS BLOUSES AND MORE,
SOON SHE WON'T ASK YOU TO IRON ANYMORE.
Let me offer some advice about getting strategic incompetence right.
1. Start with your natural gifts. Build on your natural incompetencies first. These natural gifts make strategic incompetence almost effortless. For example, it’s much easier to display pathetic, ham-fisted piano playing when you are naturally uncoordinated. If your spelling is inferior, you can start with that. Or maybe you are one of those lucky people who lack common sense. Think of the blunders that are available to you!
If you don’t think you have any natural ineptness, you haven’t been paying attention. Look again.
2. Focus. Some people make the mistake of trying to be incompetent at everything at the same time. Perhaps you’ve encountered some of these sad specimens. It’s always best to concentrate on building your reputation for blundering in one area at a time. Later you can expand. For example, once you have established that you cannot mow the lawn without damaging life and property, then you can add the inability to prune shrubs, sweep the walk, paint lawn furniture, or shovel snow.
IF YOU MURDER THE HOUSEPLANTS, ONE THING IS SURE
YOU WON'T BE ASKED TO TEND THE GARDEN ANYMORE.
3. Be consistent. Once you have demonstrated that it is unsafe to allow you near the copy machine at the office, you cannot jeopardize your reputation by clearing a paper jam. Even making a two-sided copy could undo your hard work and leave you open to assignments involving technology. If you want the fame of your incompetence to ensure that you get no assignments, never, ever let adequate performance put your celebrity at risk.
4. Don’t fake it. Some people believe one can pretend strategic incompetence. “I’ll cook dinner, but you may not like the result.” They are bluffing.
If you really want to get out of kitchen assignments forever, you must DEMONSTRATE your incompetence with bold acts of inefficiency, foolishness, and danger. You need to do something horrible with the meatloaf. Hinting that you may be deficient is weak compared to a memorable demonstration of exactly how unqualified you are. If, for example, you want to avoid future opportunities for ball-room dancing, your footwork needs to be what is shown on YouTube when someone searches for “dance fail.”
IF YOU BOTCH DINNER WITH CHOW THEY DEPLORE,
NO ONE WILL INVITE YOU TO COOK ANYMORE.
One final warning. You may find yourself in a situation where you are competing to get out of an assignment with someone who is trying to be more incompetent than you. These situations can be dangerous as the escalation spirals to absurd levels. I believe incompetency escalation events may explain some of the worst catastrophes in business, healthcare, and government offices. Anyone want to support my theory?
I hope this advice helps you get out of lots of assignments you hate. Remember, always start with your natural, God-given incompetencies first.
Pittsburgh, November 15, 2018
April 23, 2019
You know my brother intimately. Thanks for putting into words, what exactly his strategy has been over the past 30 years. It’s very helpful to have this insight.