Weaponized Incompetence in the Workplace

Christina Ou
4 min readApr 6, 2022

I am SURE I am not the first to write about this, but as it’s nearly impossible to have a truly original thought, what’s one more blog post on it.

Whoever came up with the idea of having students work on group projects was right in that it prepares you for the “real world.” Collaborating with others, communicating your thoughts, actively listening — all of this, yes. But even more so, the paradigm that there will always be those that choose to slack off and those that care enough to put in the extra effort. And in the end, every single person in that group getting the same grade.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘weaponized incompetence’. And if you haven’t, might I point you to the episode of the Office where Ryan shirks the task of cleaning the microwave because he would just “make it worse” despite Pam so obviously retorting “how would wiping it down with a paper towel make it worse?” The Ryans of the world will never bother to clean the microwave because they know eventually the Pams will end up doing it themselves.

I have seen this play out time and time again from group projects that started in middle school and lasted through college and that I’ve experienced in one way or another in every job I’ve had in the past decade+ of my career. An exceptional amount of people hired for jobs they either can’t or refuse to learn to do — despite it being in the very job description they applied for. I’m not so unforgiving as to not allow for a grace period of learning, of sharing educational resources/mentoring/shadowing. But as that period passes, especially as our roles get more senior, my expectation is higher — as it should be.

While some of the “softer” skills are grown over time, like strategic thinking or public speaking, there are so many “hard” skills that I am shocked to see others unable to do. I’m no natural genius. My abilities aren’t magically inherent because of my asian background. But…have you heard of Google? A magical place that has the answer for any and every question. 90% of the skills I see people lacking in could SO easily be googled. There is almost nothing that anyone is doing for the very first time and because of this, there are forums, and videos, and templates — all kinds of starting points to problem-solve (of course excluding the specialized roles that do…

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Christina Ou

Senior Product Designer @ Apollo.io. Passionate about innovative SaaS product design, cohesive user experiences, and research-driven decision making.