For some time, to the public amusement, there has been an ongoing conversation about mansplaining. Quickly put, mansplaining occurs when a man explains something, which he doesn’t fully comprehend. Or when a man is selling his personal view as the truth about a matter. The term, so it says, goes back to a cocktail party where a man explained a book to the female author of the very same book. The mansplainers’ explanation bases on a resume he read earlier the same day. All of the above might be wrong, and I would then be, yet again, guilty of mansplaining myself as oh so many times in my past.
The critique against these sorts of explanations from men is that these are executed from a place of definition rather than open exploration. I will in this text argue that underlying mansplaining there seems to be a larger and far more destructive phenomenon, which I call, or my woman calls, the “compulsory competence syndrome.” What we mean is that there is an underlying assumption that every man has to prove himself as competent (“not stupid”), compared to strong (“not weak”) and mansplaining is only one of the forms of expression.
The other day I had a conversation with my son and during my introduction to a theme of knowledge he said:
”Yeah I know.”
He had said it before I had even begun talking about the data, which puzzled me for a while. And it was only after a while it came back to me that I, myself have repeatedly throughout my life have been saying the exact same words to older and wiser men who took their time to educate me. So what does this “yeah I know”, actually mean in a context of posturing masculinity?
Before I answer this question, I want to make another point: That there has been a shift in our understanding of how a thought leader looks like and how he or she behaves. At one point in ancient history a woman or man could have read all the books that existed, today it is not even possible to count all the websites that exist in the world. Today we are flooded with information and thirsting for knowledge. During the old paradigm (before The Internet) an expert had to know everything or most of his or her field, an expert of the new paradigm is more often a living example of his or her direction of thought, as in:
“Follow me; we should go in this direction.”
And now to my answer about posturing masculinity: The “yeah I know” was the perfect way of keeping one’s face at one distant point in time but not so much anymore. I would argue that this “compulsively competence syndrome” is devastating to the innovation force of your enterprise as it would lead to “compulsive competence culture.” This business culture could lead middle managers not to go to the CEO:s and say: “I think you might be wrong.”
This ”compulsory competence culture” will kill an open-minded environment so badly needed today to develop better and more innovative products and services.
I love rhetoric as an art form, however in the corporate environment, it is often used to win battles rather than to develop organizational cultures. What is needed in this time of turmoil is an open language, an open mindset as well as an open business culture. This tacit (or not so tacit) “compulsory competence culture” is one of the biggest threats to make your business thrive.