Does a leader really succeed only if most of the followers are dumb?


My cab driver yesterday was of Bulgarian origin. We had quite an interesting chat driving from PHX airport to my home.  He was quite upset with the state of the union, and had a curious listener in me as his passenger, and we had a half hour to drive. His perspective somewhat amazed me – on two counts.

 

His first point was “The root cause of America’s problem is a lack of focus on education”. This in itself was not exactly new to me, as I have heard this from several people before. His next sentence was “And no government will do anything serious to solve this. Why? because it is easier to rule over people who are either uneducated, or who are not capable of thinking for themselves”. Apparently this guy got so worried about the system, that he sent his two kids back to Bulgaria to live there, primarily to “learn to think for themselves”. I could not help but ask him “So why are you living here then?”. He burst out laughing and said something like “because it is easier to survive here with just my average skills , unlike back home in Bulgaria”.

 

He also gave me his view on the state of his homeland. In his opinion, Bulgaria had been under Turkish rule for many centuries – and that any one who had been courageous to question the rulers have been systematically eliminated from the society over several generations. So, as a result – he thinks the remaining gene pool primarily is of people who could adapt, and get things done by going around rules, and cutting corners without getting caught.  He predicted without certainty that his country does not have a bright future.  I didn’t push him a second time on why he sent his kids there if that is the case. I am planning to do some reading on Bulgaria this weekend, and will reserve comments on this topic till then.

 

I have been thinking about this throughout yesterday evening and today “Does a leader really succeed only if  most of the followers are dumb?” .  My instinct is to say this is absurd , but the cabbie is probably not totally wrong either.

 

We don’t always question the information that we get, and as time progresses – I think, at least in general terms, we are mostly dealing with opinions and less on factual analysis.  In enterprise software space, where you would typically expect people that hang around to be not all that dumb  – often, you can see tweets and blogs along the lines of “I am right, you are sooooo wrong” about stuff that is yet to hit the market.  And if a big name fella says so – then it gets mindlessly repeated by his/her followers.   If you miss the sequence of events, it will become impossible to distinguish fact from opinion.

 

What is worse – the concept of self appointed leaders who scratch each other’s backs, and they hunt in packs. They remind me of an old story which goes like this.

 

There was this bully in a village market who used to go around asking “I am the strongest, is there any one here to challenge me?”. Well, it so happened that there was this other dude standing at a corner who had enough of this nonsense, and he stepped up to say “I challenge you!”. Next thing – the bully walks up to the challenger, throws his arms around the challenger’s shoulders and asks the gathering “Who is there to challenge us?”.

 

This behavior amongst people I follow online gets to my nerves very quickly these days, and I almost immediately remove them from the list I follow.