During my daily routine internet surfing, I’ve found an interesting article at Motherboard. It covers the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, the small booklet, that was created by the Office of Strategic Service (OSS a predecessor of the CIA), was released in the year 1944. It’s goal is to lower the morale of the enemy. The CIA released the Simple Sabotage Field Manual in Jul 2012 to the general public. At Project Gutenberg you can find plain text versions of the manual for better reading ease.
Why do I tell you about the Simple Sabotage Field Manual?
It’s not that easy to answer. Actually I can somewhat relate to the manual and I’ve done some observations during my work life. There was a time in my work life, during that I faced some very strange feelings, that some of the stuff you get thought in business school, can kill all innovation and progress in a company.
After my study of the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, I knew that my feeling was on the right track.
I’m going to take a look at the section I found most interesting while reading the manual. Everything I’m going to talk about can be found in the chapter “(11) General Interference with Organizations and Production“.
The first section in that chapter lays the further rule set for the saboteur regarding corporations. Some of the stuff I could observe in multiple companies I’ve worked for and with. I would even say that some of that behavior can be found in almost every corporation. One of the examples I’ve actively noticed multiple times is about building committees.
A word about committees
What I’ve learned about committees is that as soon as you need a committee to solve a problem you’re doomed and have to deal with immense time scales. Nowadays most committees meet at defined times, once a month or even once a quarter year. During their meeting they need to have all the information available to make decisions. Since no one wants to be blamed for wrong decisions, in many cased that decisions get postponed. You can imaging what that means for a project.
About written orders
Another thing I’ve actually seen is the demand for written orders. Without written orders you’re doomed, when you have written order you might still be doomed. So there is not to much difference to having a written order or not. The only thing about a written order is you don’t have to discuss afterwards about what was included in the offer.
Little impact large issue
There is another thing managers tend to do unintentionally. Refer to point 7 in the manager section. It’s hard to believe that stuff like that really happens, but I’ve seen stuff like that happen. When dealing with data in large quantities from an unstructured source and import it in a structured manner, you almost always happen to have to deal with data issues. So let’s say we have a set of multiple millions of entities and then we have 4 to 5 errors. How would you approach that issues? I would say let’s have a look at that specific entries and see if we can solve the issue or if they simply don’t fit with the new data structure. You won’t handle that 5 corner cases in an automated way. You’re wrong, I’ve seen multiple project go way over time because of issues like that.
Another thing I’ve noticed is point 12. In every company, there was some sort of time tracking. So you have to do time tracking for your attendance and about what you did during that time. That’s something that should be easily handle able by a single system. Everywhere I’ve worked there were at least 2 systems to solve this issue. The worst I saw, was a written paper form, that was signed by the customer, to be transferred into a digital system by the consultant. It’s all OK you would say but in that case there where 3 places to keep track of. Another example is filling out a form for one € 4,– USB Cable (even that’s something I was able to observe).
So why did I write this post. I always thought there must be a reason behind such behavior. Now that I’ve learned about the Simple Sabotage Field Manual i know better. I really wonder where and how the middle management get’s educated in that direction. Maybe there is a textbook out there, I don’t know about, that sheds a different light on behavior like that.
Feel free to discuss your thoughts or your stories you can recall that could come directly from the inside of the Simple Sabotage Field Manual.
This post is also available in: German