FREE gift with $100 purchase through 6/24 at 11:59 p.m. E.T.


Mastering Incompetence

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.”


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.


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.” 


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


13 Responses


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.

Teresa Schott

November 18, 2018

This is similar to tactics on the list described by Pat Mainardi in her 1970 essay, The Politics of Housework.

""I don’t mind sharing the housework, but I don’t do it very well. We should each do the things we’re best at." MEANING: Unfortunately I’m no good at things like washing dishes or cooking. What I do best is a little light carpentry, changing light bulbs, moving furniture (how often do you move furniture?). ALSO MEANING: Historically the lower classes (black men and us) have had hundreds of years experience doing menial jobs. It would be a waste of manpower to train someone else to do them now. ALSO MEANING: I don’t like the dull, stupid, boring jobs, so you should do them."


“I don’ t mind sharing the work, but you’ll have to show me how to do it.” MEANING: I ask a lot of questions and you’ll have to show me everything every time I do it because I don’t remember so good. Also don’ t try to sit down and read while I’M doing my jobs because I’m going to annoy hell out of you until it’s easier to do them yourself."

Nice to know we’ve come so far since 1970.

SJ Kurtz

November 16, 2018

Reader, I married him.

Thank you for writing my divorce papers for me.

Karen Orrence

November 16, 2018

Don, one of my brothers (who shall go nameless here) changed his newborns dirty diaper and practiced strategic incompetence by not cleaning thoroughly. My sister-in-law was appalled and he was banned from changing any of his children’s diapers. He was insincerely apologetic. Fast forward decades later and he tried to teach his son-in-law how to be strategically incompetent with their children’s diapers. Luckily they are modern men and stepped up to be responsible, engaged parents and refused to learn the trick of strategic incompetence!

B. Delaney

November 16, 2018

Ah yes, the technique used brilliantly by Yoshitaka Sakurada, 68, the minister who heads the government’s cybersecurity office in Japan. He revealed this week that he has never used a computer. He then estimated that the Tokyo Olympics will cost the government 1,500 yen, about 13 American dollars. He was slightly off from the 150 billion yen that’s currently being estimated.

Now there is a man we can all look up to.


November 16, 2018

I’ve been trying to be retired for a year and a half now to no avail. This is just the ticket! This has changed my mindset!

Pamela Hazel

November 16, 2018

Wonderful advice, and just in time for the holiday season! I can bake the absolute WORST pumpkin pie! And don’t even get me started on what I could do with a little gift wrap and ribbon.


November 16, 2018

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I needed this belly laugh today!


November 16, 2018

Thank you. Thanksgiving is now under control.


November 16, 2018

I laughed myself silly. My six children still talk about – The Meatloaf. At New Years we always make Rum Balls. This involves lots of ground up Vanilla Wafers and sometimes we have extra. I freeze them. I also always make my own bread crumbs. You can see it coming. One January I grabbed the frozen “bread crumbs” and made two meatloaves. As they were cooking there was a heavenly smell of – cookies. When done, all of my children politely ate their one piece of Cooky Meatloaf and mysteriously no one asked for seconds. We are still laughing about it and it’s been 20 years. It was truly awful.


November 16, 2018

Given all the advice videos, blogs, meme ETC I’ve taken to ignoring them all. Take no one’s advice, well, that’s my advice. But this post – this one is actually good!

Mary L

November 16, 2018

Holy wow ~ this is genius and I’ve been doing this for eons — thank you for putting into words what I’ve only been able to demonstrate with (mis)deeds.


November 16, 2018

Fabulous tutorial. I almost could’ve written it myself. But after years of being excessively brilliant and competent in too many areas, I’ve had to dial it back, and now I don’t have to write anything anymore.

Leave a comment (all fields required)

Comments will be approved before showing up.