Sunday, November 06, 2005

von Krawitz attribution

Something just reminded me of a proverb I read over a decade ago, but to which I have forgotten the source. I want to believe that I read it somewhere in a John Keegan book, but this may not be true. The proverb was attributed to someone in the Prussian military, possibly in the mid-nineteenth century. My attempt to paraphrase it is:
1. Some use can be made in an organization of stupid, lazy officers.
2. Intelligent, hard working officers, on the other hand, are suited for staff positions of the greatest responsibility.
3. Intelligent, lazy officers are destined for the highest positions of leadership in an organization.
4. Stupid, hard-working officers are dangerous, and must be driven out of the organization as quickly as possible.
I just searched online using what scraps I could remember as keywords, and managed to find a mangled version here:
Field Marshall von Krawitz on war and the kinds of people the are, wrote:
1. Hard working but stupid...they make good soldiers
2. Lazy and stupid...no body wants them
3. Lazy & clever...they make good officers
4. Hard working & clever...get rid of them
...this version mangles the original intent so thoroughly, that it no longer makes sense. "Hard working & clever...get rid of them"? Stupid. As " Field Marshall von Krawitz" does not appear in the first several pages of search results, I suspect he is a phantasm.

This person has attributed the proverb to the 1940s, which I don't think is correct, but he has got the gist right:

Many years ago, the German High Command (GHC) reportedly had a simple, effective model for classifying and assigning officers based on two characteristics: intelligence and industry. Intelligent, industrious officers, for example, were assigned to staff jobs. They were very detail-oriented (translation: anal-retentive/obsessive-compulsive) and would make sure every bit of staff work was done to the last decimal place.

Then there were the intelligent, lazy officers. They made miserable staff officers, because they'd only do the bare minimum expected of them to make things pretty. However, they were ideal as combat commanders because they would achieve their objective with the absolute minimum expenditure of effort and resources. And, because they were intelligent, they would do it correctly the first time so they wouldn't have to do it over.

Stupid, lazy officers weren't much of a threat, providing they were assigned to positions that required a figurehead or were backed up by competent staff. In those days it was easy to sort out the stupid from the intelligent: the stupid ones got killed, unless they were consistently lucky. Those that survived through obvious luck were simply moved so they wouldn't endanger anyone else.

The really dangerous people, however, were the stupid, industrious (SI) ones. Combine industry and enthusiasm with a complete lack of understanding and knowledge and you have a recipe for disaster. It will normally take the combined efforts of many other people to undo the havoc and chaos caused by even a well-meaning "SI."

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