Prussian Wisdom


There is more to be said about people -- unfortunately.  There are both good ones and bad ones.  And some are particularly dangerous.  Recognizing these hazards to the organization is a key function of management.  I first heard the following set of thoughts from Richard Barnes, then the Manager of Product Planning for the General Electric Computer Department, around 1964.


Dick credited this thought to Baron von Clausewitz who was a Prussian general and military writer whose "Art of War" is considered to be a classic.  I have used this thought many times over the years since then.  But, while preparing this essay, I decided to hunt down the source of this quotation and found out that it did not come from Clausewitz, but from Colonel General Baron Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, another Prussian general.  While his exact words are given later on, for curiosity, the version that I was told (and that I have used) went like this:


There are four characteristics of people.  People are intelligent or ignorant, industrious or indolent.  The intelligent and industrious are the Generals (natch -- he was a General).  The intelligent and indolent became Field Marshals (hmmm….) and that a use could be found for the ignorant and indolent. But the ignorant and industrious must be gotten rid of at all costs!


I loved it!  It explained (oversimplified, of course) so many situations that I had seen and experienced.  And it gave me something to think about when managing an organization.  Do you have any Type 4's in your organization?  Do you know who they are?  What are you doing to be sure that they do not pull down the performance of the entire organization?  Are you able to control them, or do you really have to get rid of them?

For the record, here is what von Hammerstein-Equord really said.  Of course he said it in German, so this is how it has been translated:


"I divide my officers into four classes…  The man who is clever and industrious is suited to high staff appointments; use can be made of the man who is stupid and lazy; the man who is clever and lazy is fitted for the highest command, he has the nerve to deal with all situations; but the man who is stupid and industrious is a danger and must be dismissed immediately."