This question came in an email yesterday from Mozilla's Asa Dotzler, who is renowned for his skill as an open-source marketer, especially in spreading the Firefox browser. The engine that propels any open source community is having a wide range of smart and hardworking people who generate and refine solutions, and are eager to step in and fix them when things go wrong. So maintaining norms that encourage people to participate in generating solutions and making decisions-- rather than those who don't pitch in or help make decisions but always complain bitterly about the outcome -- is crucial to any open source community.
I would add that the same goes for life inside organizations: Some people refuse to speak-up or pitch-in when ideas are being developed, are unable or unwilling to go to key meetings, and generally don't have the will, time, or inclination to help their colleagues, but then repeatedly shoot-down the decisions that are made, refuse to help implement them, and bad mouth their more hardworking colleagues. They are destructive assholes in my book. Indeed, as Jeff Pfeffer and I showed in The Knowing-Doing Gap, there are some organizations where people seem to get rewarded and promoted for shooting down other people and their ideas --- not for generating, proposing, and implementing ideas. At one large bank we studied, we saw and were told about episode after episode where people who proposed new ideas were ripped to pieces. The people who got ahead in the organization had learned it was career suicide to actually develop and push ideas -- the rewards were all given to critics who not only took down the new ideas, but also took down people who developed and proposed them.
To return to Asa and his friends at Mozilla, they want to discourage this kind of behavior (and so do people in a lot of other workplaces), and are trying to come-up with a punchy, sticky, and fun word to describe these destructive characters. Here is what Asa wrote me:
A few of us at the office today realized that we didn't
have a good word for someone who opts out of participating in something but
then complains about the outcome. The most obvious example is someone who
doesn't vote and then laments the election results. Ideally this word wouldn't
be specific to simply expressing a preference (as in voting) because we'd like
it to also include people who, given the opportunity to participate in
something much more involved (say, stopping global
warming,) fail to take advantage that offer and then
complain about the results.
We'll also definitely credit any new word to the
creator if we manage to push a that new word into popular use.
I can't come up with anything good. Terms like "lazy complainers," "destructive second-guessers," and "listless lamenters" don't cut it. In the spirit of the open source movement, I asked Asa if I could put this out here and see if the readers of Work Matters could come up with something better. We would love to see your ideas. Language is a powerful thing, and it would be great to have powerful word to describe this destructive behavior and/or the people who do it again and again.