Ask The Strategic Genius: The Hammerstein-Equord Algorithm

This is useful for life in general, not merely on the game-board of strategy.

From [wik]

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent – their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy – they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent – he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

Now, if I refer to an “inverse Hammerstein-Equord” I am describing Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. Hammerstein-Equord would recommend relegating such people to routine duties, not the highest office. The algorithm can be broken down into a magic quadrant, which Gartner has tried to copyright or trademark, in spite of Hammerstein-Equord beating them to the punch by decades:

[my mad powerpoint skills]

I’m not sure where Boris Johnson goes.



  1. sonofrojblake says

    One clue: he was a King’s Scholar at Eton. Which means that as a child, he passed among the hardest selection exams for any educational institution in the world. You can buy a place at Eton, and Johnson parents could easily afford to. You cannot buy a King’s Scholarship. This would seem to place him firmly in the far bottom left corner of your graph, despite the public persona he works extremely hard to portray.

  2. Dunc says

    Yeah, Boris is definitely not stupid, and his public persona is a carefully crafted performance.

    However, to fully capture Boris’s character, you need to extend the model into the “ruthless”, “venal”, and “self-interested” dimensions.

  3. says

    One clue: he was a King’s Scholar at Eton.

    That would make him a crafty sociopath of Hannibal Lecter proportions. But so long as he refrains from actually killing and eating people, fine.

  4. rq says

    I dunno, I think I’d give a golden retriever some responsibilities, despite them being (apparently) stupid-diligent. More responsibilities than Jared Kushner, anyway.

  5. says

    More responsibilities than Jared Kushner, anyway.

    True. A golden retriever spends more time licking its balls and less time screwing up the middle east, which makes it smarter and better than Jared. I believe I nudged it over a few pixels on the smart scale but it’s hard to tell with the powerpoint resized down like that.

  6. polishsalami says

    Marcus #5:

    We have no information about how much time Jared spends licking his balls, or if he indeed does so; thus it remains an open question.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    If Jared Kushner could lick his own balls, nobody would ever have seen or heard of him.

  8. says

    This is useful for life in general

    I’m not so sure about this one. I’m skeptical about the very existence of fixed personality traits. I consider the idea of fixed and measurable personality traits as one of the silly things pop psychology has given us.

    Let’s consider diligence vs. laziness. I don’t think it’s possible to put me in some fixed spot on the diligence vs. laziness axis. If I believe that some job is very important, I will do it diligently. If I believe that some job is pointless or that my employer isn’t paying me enough, I will be lazy as hell. How lazily I’ll behave even depends on what mood I have at the moment, because on some days I simply don’t feel like working. I decided not to have a real job, instead I’m self-employed and I work maybe 10 hours per week. Many people would say that this makes me lazy. I probably am. On most days, I don’t work at all, instead I just entertain myself with my various hobbies. But, before you conclude that I really am a lazy person, here’s another fact about me—I have volunteered and worked for free as a teacher in my university. A lazy person would never work for free now would they?

    There’s the same problem with cleverness vs. stupidity. I’m well educated about some topics. I’m totally clueless about some other ones. If you made me discuss computer security with people who, unlike me, actually understand this topic, I’d look like a complete idiot. But would the observation that I appeared foolish in some specific circumstances really be sufficient basis for concluding that I must be stupid? I’d say no.

    Psychologists tend to claim that some people are introverted while others are extroverted. I disagree with this claim. For example, when I joined my first debate club, the guy who was a teacher there seemed like the textbook extrovert. He was a public speaking teacher who talked all the time. Later I found out that my first impression of him wasn’t accurate at all. In different circumstances I observed the same person barely saying anything—if he wasn’t interested in the conversation topic, he behaved like the textbook introvert. The same goes for me as well. How talkative I am depends on various circumstances (am I interested in the conversation topic, do I like the people I’m with, what’s my mood at the moment). My behavior also changes based on the people I’m with. I will be professional and serious while talking with clients or employees. With friends, on the other hand, I will be much more casual, laid-back, and I won’t be trying to show off or impress them.

    Even adjectives like “ruthless”, “venal”, and “self-interested” are complicated. One and the same person might be willing to accept a bribe in some situations, but not in other circumstances. Or somebody might appear self-interested in one occasion, but behave altruistically on the next day. After all, even somebody who often gets perceived as a selfish person can be capable of caring about things other than themselves.

    I’m willing to accept that it’s possible to spot trends in some person’s behavior. “This person has been repeatedly observed to engage in selfish behavior” would be fine with me. For the sake of simplicity and keeping sentences short, I’d be willing to call this person “selfish.” After all, if I have frequently observed somebody behaving in a certain way, it’s reasonable to expect that they might behave similarly also in the future. So there is a practical benefit to ascribing personality trends to people. But I think that humans should be more careful with this. Firstly, I’m skeptical that such a thing as fixed personalities exists. Secondly, I have a huge problem with psychologists making personality tests and charts and putting individuals on some axis and turning them into dots placed in some quadrant. The Hammerstein-Equord Magic Quadrant is the same kind of bullshit as the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or the ancient medical concept of humorism, that four bodily fluids affect human personality traits and behaviors thus resulting in people being sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Real human beings are too complicated to neatly sort them into some simple quadrants.

    More importantly, if personality tests are used for determining what jobs some person is suited for, then that’s as unfair as it gets. Relegating some human being to “routine duties,” because they appeared to score somewhere on some silly chart is discriminatory.

    As for the overall usefulness of personality charts, quadrants, etc., I can think of some situations where those might be useful. For example, when a novelist is trying to create characters for their newest book, using some “stock personality” might be just fine for the minor characters. But when it comes to dealing with real people, it’s better to be more cautious and accept that a simple quadrant cannot portray all the complexity and nuance that the average human being displays.

  9. says

    @8 Ieva Skrebele

    I’d say this sort of thing is not so much about fixed personality traits as about one’s experiences with the typical behavior of certain people, and what, therefore, they should be trusted with.

  10. johnson catman says

    Marcus: Shouldn’t your “Diligence” arrow be reversed? Higher diligence is at the bottom, correct?

  11. says

    johnson catman@#11:
    Marcus: Shouldn’t your “Diligence” arrow be reversed? Higher diligence is at the bottom, correct?

    Apparently I belong in the low-diligence end of the matrix.

  12. Curt Sampson says

    Ieva, I think you’re looking at these terms at the wrong level, not to mention ignoring the literal meanings.

    The latter is normal even amongst native English speakers, but it’s important to remember that neither “diligence” nor “lazyness” says anything about the sucess or even completion of the work at hand. It’s quite normal for a “diligent” worker (that is, one who put in a lot of effort) do a worse job at or be unable to complete a task that a “lazy” worker (that is, one who puts in little effort) does, well, effortlessly.

    But moving on to your characteristic approach to work:

    Let’s consider diligence vs. laziness. I don’t think it’s possible to put me in some fixed spot on the diligence vs. laziness axis. If I believe that some job is very important, I will do it diligently. If I believe that some job is pointless or that my employer isn’t paying me enough, I will be lazy as hell.

    Sure, ok. But at the higher level, as your general approach to life, are you diligent or lazy? That is, is your general approach to work hard at what’s immediately in front of you using the tools at hand, for as long as necessary, or to consider ways to change the job so it takes less work to do? “I don’t mind hard work” is very different from “I don’t mind hard work when it’s truly necessary.”

    Martin Fowler is clearly the latter type:

    Now I’m a pretty lazy person and am prepared to work quite hard in order to avoid work.

    This is also why Larry Wall includes “laziness” at the head of his list of his list of the three great virtues of a programmer. (The other two are ‘impatience” and “hubris.”)

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