The managerial illusion of "thinkers" vs. "doers"

The managerial illusion of “thinkers” vs. “doers”

12 November, 2023 2 min read
product development, collaboration, organizational culture, management

Nothing good ever came from separating “the brains” from “the hands” in an organization, and in product development endeavors in particular.

But it doesn’t stop there, at the fallacy of considering that those who think, don’t need to do, and those who do, don’t need to think.

  1. Every split creates an interface between brains.
  2. Every interface needs to remain synchronized.
  3. Keeping brains synchronized is a lot of serious work.
  4. The more each brain crawls back into its niche, the more work it takes to keep it synchronized with the rest of the brains in the endeavor.

And yet, many yap their mouths about “scalability”, secretly wishing for a world in which they are “the managers” who leave the execution up to exchangeable, unthinking cogs in a machine… “cogs” who then often, unsurprisingly, act the part that’s expected of them, delivering the bare minimum that will satisfy “the managers”, who get annoyed at “the hands”, who get annoyed at “the brains” and so on and so forth.

However, if you aim to establish a shared mental model of what it is that the endeavor is supposed to reach for the benefit of all involved (monetary or not), you rapidly realize that any such split is driven by managerial fantasies and manipulative tendencies, all of which gives rise to similarly negative behaviors on the other side of “the split”.

  • White collar vs. blue collar.
  • Front-end vs. back-end.
  • Product managers vs. product developers.
  • The thinkers vs. the doers.
  • Those who conceptualize vs. those who execute.
  • The capital vs. the labor.

The worst senior managers I’ve ever had to deal with are exactly those who espouse “the split” in whatever way possible, and parade “splitting and delegating” as some kind of ultimate secret of management.

Divide and conquer, you see, served them well for a while, but has major detrimental side-effects on the entire organization in the long run.