Munchausen Syndrome: In Washington, and on Wall Street

You may have heard of an affliction called Munchausen syndrome by proxy, also known as Fabricated or Induced Illness. It was first diagnosed by a pediatrician, who observed that some mothers intentionally harm their children in order to get attention and praise from doctors.

Some now believe that Munchausen has infected the workplace! Harvard Business Review recently came out with the article Munchausen at Work after observing some very odd behavior:

Georgia Tech professor Nate Bennett studied team performance in over 30 companies and was struck by cases of employees creating fictitious organizational problems in order to solve them and receive praise for it. He calls the phenomenon "Munchausen at Work" -- a workplace version of the psychological disorder Munchausen by proxy -- and explains how managers can diagnose it.

Think about it... some idiot at your work decides to invent emergencies, just so he'll be the hero who fixes them. I've seen several of these folks in the software industry: they'll bad mouth the product in front of customers, exaggerate the danger of bugs... then they'll apply an already existing patch so they can "save" the sale, and make the customer happy.

Those people really tick me off...

This isn't without precedent... Firemen have been caught setting fires, just so they can be the hero who puts it out. Security guards have been known to phone in bomb threats, just so they can be the hero that uncovers the bomb. Political pundits invent problems -- like the "War on Christmas" -- so they can be praised for bravely fighting their straw man enemies.

I believe this phenomenon might even extend to Washington... Think about it: politicians are reasonably bright, and yet they sometimes implement unbelievably stupid policies. Some of this could be due to an imperfect political system rife with compromises... but I'm unconvinced. Might politicians intentionally create crises just so they can save us? Are they just desperately trying to demonstrate that they are still relevant?

Its pretty clear that politicians want us to be scared of something highly unlikely but newsworthy -- like SARS or Terrorism... even though the real threats are the highly likely but boring -- like Staph Superbugs or car crashes. Maybe its to get them votes... or get their names in the paper. Or maybe its just another aspect of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Maybe politicians intentionally cause fiscal problems, stir unrest, etc., just so they can be the ones to make everything better.

Or maybe I'm just a bitter cynic...

(Hat Tip: Know HR Blog)

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