This anti-pattern implies a heavier hand than is common.  While the intellectual violence anti-pattern sounds shocking and over-the-top, it is common and often subtle.  We have many ways of shutting down discussion or “protecting our turf” that are easy to miss.

Defining the Intellectual Violence Anti-Pattern

The Sourcemaking site has a good definition and discussion about this anti-pattern.  They also focus on the primary issue with this anti-pattern. [Click Here to See The Page]

“Intellectual Violence occurs when someone who understands a theory, technology, or buzzword uses this knowledge to intimidate others in a meeting situation. This may happen inadvertently due to the normal reticence of technical people to expose their ignorance.

That primary issue I mentioned is that it puts a damper on a discussion.  The general results from this anti-pattern are fewer questions and review of statements in a meeting.  This has a wide range of symptoms including the classics like, “that’s how we have always done it” and “everyone knows that.”

Question Everything

The best way to avoid this anti-pattern is to create an environment (or culture) that embraces questions.  Destroy any sacred cows and have no fear of rebuilding them as needed.  We see this sort of environment in the solution to other anti-patterns as well.  The world is changing every day so it is short-sighted to think that what we know today will hold true next year (or even tomorrow).  While intellectual violence can be traced back to other reasons, (like job security and fear of having ignorance shown) a culture of feedback and discussion will overcome those as well.

The Tip of The Iceberg

Intellectual violence as an anti-pattern is worth digging into when it appears.  There are other issues that may be behind this approach.  They may be individual issues such as worries of job security or enterprise level problems of respect in the workplace.  All of those are valuable issues to be aware of and address.  It can make your team happier and improve morale.  When that happens you will not only stop intellectual violence now, you will likely squash it in the future as well.

Rob Broadhead

Rob is a founder of, and frequent contributor to, Develpreneur. This includes the Building Better Developers podcast. He is also a lifetime learner as a developer, designer, and manager of software solutions. Rob is the founder of RB Consulting and has managed to author a book about his family experiences and a few about becoming a better developer. In his free time, he stays busy raising five children (although they have grown into adults). When he has a chance to breathe, he is on the ice playing hockey to relax or working on his ballroom dance skills.

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