Monday 15 June 2009

Do your 'suits' lack adeptitude?

If they do, then it is very unlikely they will be reading this, so I can be as rude about them as I like.

I have the authority to be rude about executives with a serious lack of adeptitude because I am really one of their generation - although I shrink from the suggestion. I am nearly 56. The history of my relationship with computers is typical for someone my age. When I left at 18, my school had just acquired a machine, but I never saw it. Only whispered about and jealously reserved for those doing Maths A level, as far as I can remember, - not my subject. I was luckier than most: my school was private and well-financed. Most schools at that time hadn't even considered computers. They still had their knickers in a knot about battery powered calculators, and slide rules were still considered a little risqué.

In the 1970s I worked overseas in hotel management where all stock control and accounting was still manual and hard copy. Although we usually had a desktop electric adding machine, mental arithmetic was king - just as important now as then, despite it being out of fashion. There should be no conflict between modern adeptitudes and ancient but vital skills like mental arithmetic. The former are complimented by the latter, rather than rendering them unnecessary.

In the 1980s I wrote articles for magazines using a cheap typewriter from W.H. Smiths. Ink ribbons, carbon paper, real mechanical carriage return, Tippex and all that. Steampunk by today's standards. At the end of that decade, a friend, an engineer already in the IT world, was horrified to see my plight and got me a secondhand PC on which I ran a word processor and a simple CAD program. That was 20 years ago and was my first contact with computers.

Unfortunately some of my peers have hardly progressed beyond that stage of development. These are the potentially capable but lazy and complacent persons who still fill some of the senior management and executive posts in business (and dare I say it - in governments, civil services and the academic world). They have managed to sleepwalk through the last 20 years, just paying enough attention to the new communications revolution to get by in their careers. Now they see themselves as too senior to bother with it all, because the higher they have risen the less need there has been to grasp the nettle. Afterall, they have minions to do it for them. They are part of the Silver-Surfer generation, but they are not actively engaged.

A cheap caricature? Yes, of course. But who doesn't recognise somebody or something in the above? Remember the British politician who not so long ago got caught out when she inadvertently claimed expenses for a couple of porn movies her husband had paid to download? What a wonderful example of lack of adeptitude!

So what is adeptitude? What is this thing that (mercifully few - I hope) executives lack? It is not in a dictionary - yet. It should be. It might be a surprise to read that the earliest record in print that I can find is from 1835. And that is only after a few minutes on Google. The word appeared in the second part for 1835 of The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal in a piece called The Red Man. It was published by Henry Colburn, 13, Great Marlborough Street, London. On pages 196-7 the following passage appears, here thanks to Google Books' new embedding facility:

Those goths and ghouls among you might like to read the whole of The Red Man.

Meanwhile, search results in Google Books suggest that the next use in print was at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. There appear to have been three:

"In the end, even Laura Jewett, who scoffed at her mother's adeptitude, swings into the procession, and she it is who carries off Sir William..." [The Cyclopedic Review of Current History,‎ by Alfred Sidney Johnson, Clarence A. Bickford, William W. Hudson, Nathan Haskell Dole, 1903. Page 745.]

"He adorned it with an imposing presence, varied adeptitude, and a ritual instinct. The small soul restricted his influence among the chiefs, ..." [The Master of Life: A Romance of the Five Nations and of Prehistoric Montreal. By William Douw Lighthall, Toronto, The Musson Book Co., 1908. Page 117.]

"Probably it was within these very temple fastnesses that Yoshisada himself
achieved the adeptitude that enabled him afterwards to enact the part of Moses!" [The Way of the Gods in Japan, by Hope Huntly, Richard G. Badger (Firm), Gorham Press, Morrison and Gibb, 1911. Page 156.]

Apart from an occurrence in The Indian Philosophical Review, by The Indian Philosophical Association in 1920, we jump to the 1950s, and from then on there is a steady flow of examples. One to be most respected I feel, is from Norman Suckling in Paul Valéry and the Civilized Mind, Oxford University Press, 1954. Norman Suckling was lecturer in French at King's College, Newcastle upon Tyne in the University of Durham. On page 89 is the following phrase:
"...was perfectly aware that this is the automatism of one who has attained a high pitch of adeptitude..."

On page 59 of Power Spells for Teens, 'Alyra', Citadel Press, 2005, a children's book, the author states:
"... Adeptitude is the opposite of ineptitude."

Well not quite. Adeptitude is more than that. It is aptitude, but combined with attitude and adaptibility to give confidence and competence to acquire and command targetted skills to engage with and understand the ever-faster evolving world.

To be in possession of adeptitude is surely the opposite of suffering from Alvin Toffler's Future Shock.

So does it matter if your 'suits' lack adeptitude? Yes it does. These people are the ultimate decision makers in all aspects of our lives. If they lack adeptitude, how can we possibly trust them to make the right decisions and correctly judge the advice they are given? Through their lack of adeptitude they are irresponsible. Think of the billions wasted every year by governments on half-arsed, over-ambitious, wrongly focussed digital projects. A bit more adeptitude at the top might prevent some of these white elephants ever breaking loose.

Know an executive without adeptitude? Well, perhaps you should print this out and slip it in their intray when they are on the golf course... ;-)

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