COB-96: Cobra Effect highlights Bureaucratic Golden Rule

British civil servants in colonial India were troubled by the prevalence of cobras.  Without drawing up a strategic plan or having a series of meetings to begin asking questions about possibilities for reducing the cobra population, some renegade British bureaucrats established a bounty for every dead cobra.  The industrious Indians began turning in to the British bounty-payers a large number of dead cobras.  The enterprising Indians did so by establishing cobra farms to raise a large number of cobras.  Without proper meetings and document production, the British then decided to stop paying bounties on cobras.  So the cobra farmers shut down their operations and released all their cobras into the wild.  The net effect of the British program to reduce the cobra population was to greatly increase the cobra population.  This story generated the term “Cobra Effect.”  However, some doubt whether the story of the Cobra Effect is true, because no documentary evidence exists of the British cobra bounty program.

Indian cobra

The bureaucratic lesson is obvious.  No new initiative should take place without a formal strategic plan, a large number of meetings, and the creation of an extensive documentary record.  More generally, an action can bring about the opposite result from the intended effect of the action.  That’s why world-class bureaucrats avoid doing anything if at all possible.  If you do something, the results could be worse than doing nothing.  If there’s any possible doubt about the effects of action, don’t do anything.  That’s the Bureaucratic Golden Rule.  The Bureaucratic Golden Rule is much more practically important than the Cobra Effect.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, Dick Lipton found a mistake on the wall of a Bell Phone Company exhibit at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  The Bell exhibit was entitled “From Drumbeat to Telstar.”  It took visitors on a narrated, moving-chair ride through communications history from drumbeats and smoke signals to the Space-Age present.  While traveling through this exhibit, Lipton saw on the wall a part of the quadratic formula with a missing superscript for squaring b.  The letter is the first letter in bureaucracy.  The Bell System, a leading bureaucracy, forgot to square the b.  Is it any wonder that the Bell System’s Picturephone, displayed at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, was a flop?

Parker Higgins received a copyright take-down notice for his use of the famous “Houston, we have a problem” line from the Apollo 13 flight.  As a US government work, that recording is public domain.  Hence the copyright take-down notice looks like an instance of copyfraud.  Higgins observes:

The real problem is that we’ve bought into the rhetoric and the arguments that an unauthorized use is an unacceptable use. As a result our online services have looked less like the public platforms we want, and more like policed spaces where any activity can be interrogated for its papers, please.

Bureaucrats are against violations of rules.  Copyfraud violates rules, so bureaucrats are against it.  But bureaucrats need to have rules for everything so that they can figure out if something is against the rules.  Unauthorized use reduces the importance of producing documents, lowers the employment of bureaucrats, promotes innovation, encourages change, and reduces the number of meetings people have to attend.  Unauthorized use should not be authorized.

Kevin Poulsen reports that a guy has a trademark including the symbol pi.  The trademark owner had his lawyer send a cease-and-desist letter to a t-shirt seller who was selling t-shirts containing the letter pi.  The t-shirt seller then banned the use of the symbol pi on any t-shirt it sells.  If such actions continue, the effects on mathematics journals could be devastating.  The Carnival of Bureaucrats calls on a committee to be formed to study the question of the legal status of common use of the mathematical symbol pi.  Since trademark law is extremely complex, the committee should include leading bureaucratic lawyers from the trademark bar.  It should study the issue for a few years and produce detailed recommendations on how to deal with trademarks on pi and other mathematical symbols.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-95: bean-counting skill development

Top bureaucracies have formal programs of continual bean-counting skill development.  Under the American Bean Counters Association’s Continuing Bean Counting Education (ABCA CBCE) standards, managers are required to drop a handful of three-bean mix on each worker’s desk monthly.  The worker must successfully separate and count the brown, green, and red beans within the ABCA CBCE performance standard time.

Some bureaucracies prefer to have six managers drop a handful of three-bean mix on three workers’ desk.  Two managers are assigned per worker, with each manager dropping a half-handful of three-bean mix on the worker’s desk.  With three managers per worker, each manager drops a third of a handful.  One worker is responsible for aggregating and counting the red beans, one worker the brown beans, and one worker the green beans.  ABCA CBCE training guidelines don’t prescribe a specific procedure for how this is to be done.  Before the training exercise, management should meet and draw up a strategic training plan specifying whether workers should count each color bean before transfering them to the worker responsible for that color, or whether each worker should only count the beans of the color for which she is assigned.  The latter strategic plan is considered to have more bureaucratic merit.

bean-counting training exercise for bureaucratic skill development

To develop industry-leading bean-counting skills, organizations shouldn’t limit themselves to bean counting.  A handful of quinoa kernels make for a much bigger bean-counting exercise than traditional beans.  The most advanced tool for bean-counting exercise are chia seeds.  Chia-seed counting can keep workers busy for many hours, if not days, with only minimal managerial effort in performing the work droppings.

To push worker skill development to the max, cook up the three-bean training beans and serve them to the workers with copious amounts of cheap soda pop.  Then give them a double handful of chia-seed counting.  In addition, give workers strict orders not to get up from their desks until they have double checked their chia-seed counts.  At the conclusion of that training exercise, workers will be well situated to take on the most bureaucratic of bureaucratic tasks.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, a scientific study published in Psychological Science indicates that listening to “When I’m Sixty Four” makes persons younger.  The study reports:

we asked {randomly} 20 University of Pennsylvania undergraduates to listen to either “When I’m Sixty-Four” by The Beatles or “Kalimba.” Then, in an ostensibly unrelated task, they indicated their birth date (mm/dd/yyyy) and their father’s age. We used father’s age to control for variation in baseline age across participants.

An ANCOVA revealed the predicted effect: According to their birth dates, people were nearly a year-and-a-half younger after listening to “When I’m Sixty-Four” (adjusted M = 20.1 years) rather than to “Kalimba” (adjusted M = 21.5 years), F(1, 17) = 4.92, p = .040.

Psychological Science published Brandt’s 2011 study, “Sexism and gender inequality across 57 societies.”  Given that scholarly record, the study showing that listening to “When I’m Sixty Four” makes persons younger should be taken very seriously.

The New York Times, the world’s leading journalistic bureaucracy, has produced a report ominously titled Innovation.  Fortunately, that title is misleading.  The report is 97 pages long with a very attractive, panoramic cover sheet.  The contents of the report affirm fundamental bureaucratic principles.  Consider this quintessentially bureaucratic declaration from the report:

it is essential to begin the work of questioning our print-centric traditions, conducting a comprehensive assessment of digital needs, and imagining the newsroom of the future. (p. 7)

The task of establishing a strategic plan for the first-stage implementation of beginning the work of asking questions about a print-centric news approach should be delegated to a task force.  The Times intends to consider a task force to examine establishing such a strategic plan when it moves on to “explore more serious steps”:

Consider a task force to explore what it will take to become a digital-first newsroom. (p. 96)

There is no reason for concern about democracy.  The New York Times will continue to be a pillar of American bureaucracy.

On Hacker News, an engineer and architect of large enterprise products has brilliantly described coding bureaucracy:

LINE 10 (remember this)

These things are never rewritten or refactored. They slowly evolve into a behemoth ball of mud which collapses under its own weight to the detriment of customers, a team of enterprise architects (usually from ThoughtWorks etc) usually appear at this point then attempt to sell outsourcing services who will “fix all the shit” for a tiny fee, leave a 200 page powerpoint (with black pages just to fuck your printer up). The company struggles on for a few years and is saved at the last minute by a buy out by a company at an early stage of the cycle who slowly port all the customers and buggy shit to their product platform. Then the team either dissolve and knowledge is lost or they take a cash sum from the sale and start up some ball of shit company that does the same again.

GOTO 10.

That’s enterprise 101 because the people that have been hit by the clue sticks know better than to subject themselves to this and do work in SF and SV and London. Me: I’m a masochistic crazy person who wonders every day why I don’t just go and write web sites for half the cash or flip burgers because it’s less painful.

Now you understand how IT is driving economic growth.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-94: bureaucratic software tools

With the increasing prevalence of cyber-attacks, leading bureaucracies are implementing new layers of software protection.  Advanced bureaucratic security software prevents employees from installing any software on a computer or loading any data on the computer.  The software also prevents employees from transferring any data or files from a computer.  Printing is also forbidden.  Use of USB drives and DVD readers/writers is disabled.  Nothing can be connected to the computer.

Bureaucratic security software includes protection against unauthorized computer users.  After every 100 keystrokes or 3 minutes (whichever comes first), the computer locks and the screen is blanked.  To unlock the screen, the employee must enter a password containing at least 20 characters, with at least one uppercase letter, at least one number, and at least one character from the string !@#$!!.  In addition, the employee must touch the screen with her middle finger for fingerprint two-factor authentication.

To prevent worms from infecting applications, each application has a whitelist of tasks that it’s authorized to run.  If an employee attempts to use the application to do a task that’s not on the whitelist, the application locks.

bricked computer provides ultimate in cyber-security

In level-two security mode, the power cord of the computer is disconnected.  Then nothing typed on the keyboard can get into the computer and no hostile processes can run on it.  Given the threats that now exist, many leading bureaucracies now advise employees to keep computers in level-two security mode.

At leading bureaucracies, planning is now underway to port project management software to computers in level-two security mode.  State-of-the-art bureaucrat project management software has important features:

  • Task hierarchy to the 50th level, with customizable color coding
  • Gantt-like dependency visualization with intelligent, machine-generated recommended voice directives
  • Template-based for repetitive tasks, with a large library of special-purpose, pre-coded templates that can be easily invoked
  • 100% accurate Velocity tracking, with full capabilities for velocity simulating and forecasting
  • single-click Gmail calendar integration, with simultaneous posting to multiple Facebook accounts
  • iPhone, iPad, and Android applications (Blackberry no longer supported) that enable continuous multi-manager monitoring and development of project management schema

The project management software will be ported to computers in level-two security mode using a paper-based interface.  The plan for the port called for an industry-standard software framework.  Unfortunately, the tool-building factory factory factory hasn’t yet been ported to paper.  Management responded by directing the development team to use AngularJS for the port.  The status of that project is currently unknown.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, Sydney Brenner declares that academy and publishing are destroying scientific innovation.  Academy and publishing rank just below militaries in bureaucratic power.  They should be commended for helping to protect society against the risks of innovation.

ProPublica reports that leading tax-preparation software seller Intuit has extensively lobbied against simplified tax filing.  Two issues should distinguished: the complexity of tax laws, and the organization that helps taxpayers comply with the tax laws.  More complex tax codes are an important bureaucratic achievement and deserve to be supported.  What organization should assist taxpayers is simply a matter of cost-benefit analysis.  The IRS is a better bureaucracy than Intuit and offers service at lower cost to taxpayers.  The IRS should provide tools for taxpayers to make simplified tax filings while the tax code gets ever more complex.

Brian Chesky, CEO of the entrepreneurial monster Airbnb, set up a meeting to focus on Core Values.  Setting up a meeting is always a good idea.  Chesky went one step further and issued a memo before the meeting.  The cover sheet of the memo hasn’t been made public, so it’s difficult to evaluate its merit.  But the more memos that are issued, the more output a company has produced.  The key idea of Chesky’s memo is “Don’t {censured} up the culture.”  That’s wrong.  Companies that aspire to be world-class bureaucratic leaders must continually up the culture of bureaucracy.  A good start would be to have custom-made pens and staplers with “Up the culture!” emblazoned on them in your company’s colors.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-93: best bureaucratic jobs are in paper

Despite the unfortunate development of new information technologies, the best bureaucratic jobs remain concerned with shuffling paper.  Deep within an abandoned coal mine in Pennsylvania, bureaucrats in outstanding jobs have worked for decades to this day processing the retirement paperwork for all federal government retirees.  They collect paper documents into files and then type the files into an electronic database.  Computers and electronic databases have changed a lot over the years.  But the job of collecting paper documents together into a file has changed little.  That job is unlikely to change rapidly in the future.  Shuffling paper makes for secure jobs.

paper is the soul of bureaucracy

The advantages of paper are many.  Paper has extremely low power consumption, is immune to cyber attacks, and doesn’t need to be constantly updated.  Paper is the most general interface technology for connecting different information systems.   Paper thus supports a wide variety of bureaucratic jobs:

I used to work for a medical billing company. My job was to print patient and billing information from a database. Then I would manually type all of the information that I just printed out into another database.  {forkboy2}

I used to work for a place called Orthonet where case managers would type physical therapy costs into a spreadsheet, print it out, and hand it to me and another guy to type it into another spreadsheet. We kept our mouths shut and collected that sweet $14/hr to be that extra cog in a very inefficient machine. {kegtech}

Almost every workplace I have been in has had mind-numbing soul-crushing inefficient manual tasks. Those tasks are almost inevitably designed a decade or more ago by the people who are now seniors/management. They don’t like to see their long refined process and work flushed down the drain and respond to any suggestions with absolute hostility.

It doesn’t matter how nicely you go about it; if you don’t love and adore and gush over their paperwork baby then they will view you and the rest of your opinions with contempt and slowly freeze you out until you’re out of a job. I fell for it the first few times. But eventually I worked out “open door policy” means tow the line or it’s game over. {im_cody}

Most reports, even if they are written electronically and never printed out, are designed to be printed.  They have a first page, and another page, and another page, and another page, etc., until the last page.  That organization allows management to count easily how many pages of work employees have done.  Reports intended to be weighty must be printed on heavy paper.  A paper report must be filed in a cabinet to show that it has enduring value.   No one cares about datasets.  But reports produced are measurable outputs.  Paper, whether actually used or not, is the controlling form for bureaucracy.  Shuffling paper is the soul of bureaucracy.  It’s the substance of the best bureaucratic jobs.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, financial services companies are pondering how to migrate automated teller machines (ATMs) from legacy Windows XP systems.  If financial services companies had remained with tellers processing paper deposit and withdrawal slips, they wouldn’t now be facing the difficult question of how to migrate from Windows XP.

Microsoft recently released the source code for the MS-DOS operating system from 1981.  Releasing this code undoubtedly required many levels of management approval.  Hence it’s not surprising that it took 33 years for the code to be released.  Open-source projects that release code more rapidly should consider whether they are staying current with best bureaucratic practices.

A Harvard Business Review blog has ignored obvious bureaucratic economics in examining “why good managers are so rare.”  These management experts think that the limiting factor is inmate managerial talent:

Most companies promote workers into managerial positions because they seemingly deserve it, rather than because they have the talent for it. This practice doesn’t work. Experience and skills are important, but people’s talents — the naturally recurring patterns in the ways they think, feel, and behave — predict where they’ll perform at their best. Talents are innate and are the building blocks of great performance. Knowledge, experience, and skills develop our talents, but unless we possess the right innate talents for our job, no amount of training or experience will matter.

That’s ridiculous.  The easiest way to look like a good manager to hire a lot of other bad managers.  By continually increasing the ranks of management, bureaucratic development works to increase the number of good managers. If good managers are rare, the cause is bureaucratic under-development.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-92: Chigusa and the art of bureaucracy

TPS Report, preliminary draft

The famous tea jar Chigusa is now on display at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC.  Chigusa is one of numberless, anonymous ceramic jars made in southern China during the 13th or 14th century.  Chigusa was routinely transferred to Japan.  There Chigusa received its name, which means “thousand grasses” or “myriad things.”  Japanese tea men displayed, ornamented, and contemplated Chigusa for centuries.  Chigusa, under the appearance of an ordinary ceramic jar, is actually the quintessence of bureaucracy, not surprisingly discovered in Japan.

tea jar chigusa

Chigusa is like a routine bureaucratic TPS report.  To insensitive eyes, a TPS report looks like a large stack of papers and an undistinguished cover sheet.  But behind each word of such reports is a chain of crossed-out words extending to the furthermost reaches of the bureaucratic organization.  “Initiative” became “strategic initiative” then “forward-looking proposal” yielded to “business-pivot implementation step” that fell to “proposed performance milestone” raised to “aspirational millennial goal” then simplified to “initiative” that cycles forward in the never-ending business of planning the business.   Display, ornamentation, and contemplation are the core principles of TPS report creation.  A thousand blades of grass and myriad things are carefully gathered and arranged in a TPS report.

Everyone who aspires to the highest level of aestheticism in bureaucracy should view Chigusa reverently.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, ordinary citizens are now fighting back against efforts to reduce bureaucrats’ paper use.  Elderly persons are being denied ready access to paper Social Security statements.  That, not surprisingly, makes it more difficult for them to monitor whether their benefits are being cut.  Print newspapers are shrinking, and the number of coupons that can be clipped is plummeting.  The cost to consumers is obvious.  Any paper product currently being produced should not be eliminated before a thorough impact analysis report is prepared on paper.

Another disturbing development is complaint-driven development.   This software-development protocol involves pushing the product to real users, listening to their complaints, and fixing the most significant complaints.  A well-run bureaucracy, in contrast, treats each complaint equally.  Each complaint receives a standard response of the following sort:

Thank you for your complaint.  We have considered it.  We hope that you will soon recognize that we have fully addressed your complaint.

This response can easily be automated and sent out millions of times at low cost.  Complaint-driven development, in contrast, is expensive and relatively inefficient.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

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[image] Chigusa image courtesy of Freer Gallery of Art, which acquired Chigusa in 2009.

COB-91: how to deal with a fly on your nose

Leonid Brezhnev with a fly on his nose

Once upon a time in Basra there was a cadi called ʻAbd Allāh ibn Sawwār.  As an outstanding bureaucrat, he was grave, imperturbable, and immobile.  He spoke the proper words at the proper time and wasted no movement other than the necessary movements of his lips.  But one day a disturbance interrupted his work routine:

with his assessors and the public seated around him and in two rows in front of him, a fly landed on his nose and lingered there a long while.  Then it moved towards the inside corner of his eye.  He wanted to endure when it got into the corner of his eye and bit it with its piercing proboscis, just as he had endured it when it landed on his nose, without twitching the tip of his nose or wrinkling his face or whisking it away with his finger. [*]

The pain of the fly’s bite finally forced the cadi to blink.  He shut and opened his eye to try to dislodge the fly.  But the fly kept at him.  Finally the cadi moved his hand and attempted to whisk the fly away.  The fly kept returning.  The cadi tried to wipe the fly away with his sleeve, but he could not.  Ultimately the cadi humbled himself and acknowledged his weakness.  He addressed the fly out of the proper order of the day’s business.

Conscientious bureaucrats should be aware of even the smallest threats to their bureaucratic order.  The Bureaucrat Management Institute for the Next Generation (BMING) has adopted a recommended protocol defining what a bureaucrat should do when a fly lands on her or his nose.  While slowing moving only the right lower arm, the bureaucrat should grasp with thumb and forefinger the standard-issue fly swatter aligned vertically to the left of the pencil on the bureaucrat’s desk.  With a quick flicking motion of the wrist (keeping the upper arm as motionless as possible), the bureaucrat should vigorous plant the fly swatter onto her or his stolid face.  Slowly and solemnly return the fly swatter to its proper position aligned vertically to the left of the pencil on the desk.  According to the BMING standard recommended protocol, the bureaucrat should ignore the remains of the smashed fly on her or his nose until the close of the business day.

In other bureaucratic news this month, Jan Banning has done an outstanding series of portraits of bureaucrats from around the world.  In our age of pervasive hostility toward bureaucrats, these portraits help everyone to understand that bureaucrats are living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human beings.

Dr. Paul M. Johnson at Auburn University has made freely available online a glossary of political economy terms.  The entry for bureaucracy states:

Bureaucratic organizations are typically charcterized by great attention to the precise and stable delineation of authority or jurisdiction among the various subdivisions and among the officials who comprise them, which is done mainly by requiring the organization’s employees to operate strictly according to fixed procedures and detailed rules designed to routinize nearly all decision-making. Some of the most important of these rules and procedures may be specified in laws or decrees enacted by the higher “political” authorities that are empowered to set the official goals and general policies for the organization, but upper-level (and even medium-level) bureaucrats typically are delegated considerable discretionary powers for elaborating their own detailed rules and procedures. Because the incentive structures of bureaucratic organizations largely involve rewarding strict adherence to formal rules and punishing unauthorized departures from standard operating procedures (rather than focusing on measurable individual contributions toward actually attaining the organization’s politically assigned goals), such organizations tend to rely very heavily upon extensive written records and standardized forms, which serve primarily to document the fact that all decisions about individual “cases” were taken in accordance with approved guidelines and procedures rather than merely reflecting the personal preferences or subjective judgment of the individual bureaucrat involved.

The full entry goes on much longer.  But even this meager collection of words should leave no doubt about the value of bureaucracy.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly will tell the Federation of Small Businesses that “by scrapping more than 3,000 rules ‘dreamt up by Whitehall bureaucrats,’ businesses will save over £850m a year.”  Misguided destruction of bureaucratic capability caused the decline of the British Empire.  The decline continues.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

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[*] From al-Jāḥiẓ, al-Ḥayawān (Living Beings), from Arabic trans., p. 185 in Gelder, Geert Jan van. 2013. Classical Arabic literature: a library of Arabic literature anthology. New York: New York University Press.

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COB-90: moss for green bureaucracy

moss garden

You know the old folk-saying, “A bureaucrat on a roll gathers moss.”  In Japanese gardens, moss (dobashi) adds a sense of calm, age, and stillness.  The same is true within organizations.

Here are six additional reasons why you need moss in your organization:

  1. Moss can transform a manager’s hard bark into a green, sound-absorbing surface.
  2. Moss can provide a modern, green look to an organization with a lot of dead wood.
  3. Moss has excellent synergies with organizations implementing modern principles of mushroom management.
  4. Moss grows well in dim environments and will thrive deep within office buildings.
  5. The softness of moss-covered walls helps to lessen employee injuries from head-banging.
  6. The light-green color of moss goes well with yellowing blue shirts.

Moss can be cultivated in many different varieties.  The Carnival of Bureaucrats recommends Splachnum sphaericum:

The stinkmoss species Splachnum sphaericum develops insect pollination further by attracting flies to its sporangia with a strong smell of carrion, and providing a strong visual cue in the form of red-coloured swollen collars beneath each spore capsule. Flies attracted to the moss carry its spores to fresh herbivore dung, which is the favoured habitat of the species of this genus.

If you don’t already have it, get some moss in your bureaucratic organization today!

moss-covered tree branches

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the US Federal Register has been criticized for accepting document submissions on floppy disks.  Accepting document submissions on floppy disks not only honors bureaucratic inertia, but also shows sound business judgment:

In the end, it’s a matter of what’s cheaper. You can pay a lady to load A LOT of floppy disks before you’ve spent the same amount of money that a fundamental IT change costs. And I’m sure the people submitting the files will rather deliver on a floppy than pay a new $35 filing fee to fund the PKI infrastructure.

Change is expensive.  Don’t change unless you can’t think of a reason not to.

The Morning Star Company, which processes tomatoes, is demonstrating the elimination of not only line management and upper management, but also middle management.   The Morning Star Self-Management Institute is peddling this dangerous approach to all organizations.  We call upon organizational leaders to quash this threat to bureaucracy.

Another frightening business development is “get shit done” organizational culture.  This ideological disease is prevalent among startups, entrepreneurs, innovators, and other disreputable figures.  Fortunately, David Spinks has roundly denounced “get shit done” culture: “That’s a bad culture.  It’s bad management.  Poor communication.”   Don’t dump on your organization’s bureaucracy if you want your organization to endure and expand.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-89: new milestones achieved

Edvard Munch, Vampire

Adjusted profits are 23% higher than benchmark expected profits quarter-on-quarter, and 11% higher than last quarter, as measured in quarts extracted.  Seasonally normalized, composite asset sales have risen 17% and have exceeded expected guidance.  That makes for the seventeenth consecutive year that all performance milestones have exceeded guidance forecasts.  Concerns that the staff appears to be anemic and may not be as productive in the future are unfounded as long as our health-care plan continues to fully fund transfusions.  The strategic plan length has been increased by 19%, while the costs of counting revenues have decreased 56%.  The newly hired group of 7 SVPs (“Super Suckers”) has already reduced line staff by 6 FTEs through targeted attrition.  All revenue has been deferred to next year, simplifying the adjustment of this year’s fiscal results.  Management’s in-house auditor has certified the corporation’s debt burden to be acceptable.  No long-term effects are forecast from the seizure of furniture from corporate headquarters last February.  New touch-screen input devices make the loss of fingers during the cold spell immaterial.  Management remains optimistic about the future of the business as long as employee turnover exceeds garlic imports.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, Jerry Pournelle deserves respect as a bureaucratic authority.  He explains:

I certainly started keeping a day book well before most, and long before the term “blog” or Web Log was invented. BIX, the Byte information exchange, preceded the Web by a lot, and I also had a daily journal on GE Genie. Both of those would have been considered blogs if there had been any such term. All that was long before the World Wide Web.

In short, he’s been doing the same thing for a long time.  That’s impressive.  Pournelle has formulated the Iron Law of Bureaucracy.  The Iron Law of Bureaucracy, stated simply, says that there are two kinds of people: false bureaucrats and true bureaucrats.  False bureaucrats foolishly pursue the organization’s goals.  True bureaucrats diligently seek to perpetuate the organization.  Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy declares the world is the best of all possible worlds:

in every case the second group {true bureaucrats} will gain and keep control of the organization.  It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

Set up a meeting to celebrate the good news about your organization’s future!

Unfortunately, some history professors are failing in knowledge of the Iron Law of Bureaucracy.  Consider what Larry Cebula says to his students:

In a way it is the greatest compliment a student can give. I ask them what they want to do with their history degree. They get all passionate and earnest and vulnerable as they answer, “I want your job. I am going to be a college professor!” Then they turn their smiling faces towards me, expectantly awaiting my validation and encouragement of their dreams. And I swallow hard, and I tell them…. No, my esteemed student, you are not going to be a history professor. It isn’t going to happen. The sooner you accept this the better.

That’s typical of dinosaur positivist historians out of date with theory.  Scholarly theory has unlimited potential for growth.  It’s also has low cost to produce.  History students should be encouraged to provide life-long support for the history-student production organization.

Scott Kirsner in the Harvard Business Review blog network describes 11 ways big companies can successfully undermine innovation.  Many big-company leaders fail to appreciate the full magnitude of the risks of innovation in their organizations.  But with thorough, hands-on, detail-oriented management, these risks can be minimized.  Some of Kirsner’s ideas are simple to implement:

Seeking more influence and power, the company’s Chief Information Officer has altered his title, becoming Chief Innovation Officer.

That’s a good start, but staff renaming is also necessary.  The Chief Innovation Officer should move promptly to rename her typist an Innovation Service Specialist.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-88: organic bureaucracy enhances collard greens

bureaucracy-certified organic collard greens ($2.99 plus tax)

When you eat collard greens, don’t settle for old-fashioned collard greens.  Recently I had the pleasure of buying “certified organic” collard greens at an exorbitantly priced grocery store.  An informational tag on the collard greens explained what “certified organic” means:

It means that our product has been grown according to strict uniform standards and rules that are verified by independent state of organizations {sic}.

Bureaucrats relish vegetables grown under “strict uniform standards and rules,” irrespective of what those standards and rules are.  Being verified by organizations is also good.  The more organizations, the better.  The informational tag continues:

Cal-Organic is certified by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) as well as the USDA.

Double-acronym certified!

Our rigorous certification program include many procedures, i.e. inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and testing of soil and water to ensure that we are ultimately accountable to you.

Every consumer-accountant should be pleased: many procedures are being carried out, detailed records are being kept, and testing is being done.  What other information would you want to know?

Our motto is more than just the words “FARMING WITH PRIDE AND INTEGRITY.”  It is our action plan to assure your complete trust in our produce.

That’s a troubling action plan.  It consist of only five words.  Capitalization is no substitute for additional verbiage and a full-fledged mission statement.  Solid growth of organic bureaucracy takes time.   Nonetheless, these collard greens provide a good taste of bureaucracy.  They obviously are not your grandfather’s collard greens.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, postal services around the world have been struggling economically.  Postal services are venerable bureaucracies.  Enemies of bureaucracy deserve much of the blame for postal services’ problems.  Many bureaucratic enemies have been reducing paperwork and the volume of correspondence.  More malicious bureaucratic haters, the sort who write books entitled Bureaucrats: How to Annoy Them, actively attempt to sabotage postal services.  Consider this despicable behavior:

One man who got into a war of letters with the Royal Mail itself persisted in sticking his stamp right in the middle of the envelope. This makes it difficult for the franking machines.

This petty but effective tactic riled every official in the postal hierarchy, right up to the district chief manager. He wrote to the rebel, warning him never to stick a stamp anywhere but the top right‑hand corner of the envelope.

By return came an envelope with the stamp dead centre, and a little rhyme enclosed: ‘Hey diddle diddle, the stamp’s in the middle.’

That’s why your postal rates are going up.

Nothing is more important to the future of bureaucracy than education.  Many young people today do not understand the importance of bureaucracy.  Consider this question put to Yahoo! Answers:

I recently bought the best of rugrats on iTunes and chuckies dad mentions he’s a bureaucrat sometimes and in the episode where the babies become “big people” and go to work chuckie said that they can do what his dad does and “push paper”. what does. Bureaucrat actually do?

That’s a sad commentary on our education system.  The “best answer” is very bad:

Bureaucrats generally serve to administrate and to carry out policies. They often don’t actually get anything done, while doing quite a bit….if that makes any sense…

That makes no sense.  Please write “bureaucrats save the world” three hundred times and re-submit your answer.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-87: Jacques sticks to job description at washtub

Big Rooster, David Smith, steel sculpture

One of the great moments in bureaucratic history occurred in front of a washtub in Jacques’ house in fifteenth-century France.  Jacques, like most men throughout history, was under the rule of his wife.   Jacques’ mother-in-law frequently gave him advice.  She said that Jacques should always follow his wife’s orders, and to make sure he didn’t forget any, he should write them down.  Jacques prepared to write.  He asked his wife for orders.  His wife said:

Write clearly, do you hear?  Put down that you’ll always obey me, never disobey me, and do everything I ask. [*]

In a moment of brilliant bureaucratic insight, Jacques responded:

Nothing doing.  Itemize, and I’ll agree to what’s reasonable.

In any circumstances, the bureaucratically smart choice is always to create a lengthy, detailed document.  Thus Jacques wrote up his wife’s requests: get up first in the morning, warm her clothes by the fire, rock and comfort baby when baby wakes up at night, run to store for bread and milk, feed the cat, wash the clothes and hang them to dry, make coffee, serve her breakfast, make the bed, make lunch, clean the kitchen, wash pots and pans, wash baby’s dirty diapers (Jacques wrote that one down only after his wife threatened to beat him if he didn’t), straighten out the house, have sex with wife five or six times a day (a husband’s sexuality was more valued in the medieval period than today).  After Jacques agreed that his responsibility was to do what was in the list and nothing more, he signed the document.  He thus made that document officially his husbandly job description.

Jacques’ wife immediately ordered him to help pull the wash from the washtub and hang it to dry.  Jacques consulted his job description, found that item on it, and began to help his wife.  After throwing some washwater in Jacques’ face, Jacques’ wife accidentally fell into the washtub.  In that deep, medieval tub, she was at risk of drowning.  She screamed to Jacques to give her a hand to help get her out.  Jacques consulted his job description, did not find “save wife from drowning in washtub” in the document, and thus refused to help his wife.  She cried, begged, and pleaded.  Jacques stuck to his bureaucratic principles:

I’m scrutinizing this paper, but I have to inform you that it’s not in the list.

Save yourself any way you can.  As far as I’m concerned you’re staying where you are.

In a somewhat bureaucratically unrealistic turn of events, Jacques eventually offered his wife a deal: make me master of the house, and I’ll pull you out of the washtub.  His wife agreed.  Jacques saved his wife, and happily declared:

Well then, it looks as if I’ll be in charge from now on, since my wife says so.

Most husband know how the story would continue from there.  The bureaucratic lesson is clear: get a job description, and stick to it.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Backbone.js JavaScript library is creating bureaucratic concern.  Backbone is lightweight and has few dependencies.  Even worse, it’s associated with innovative web services.  Bureaucrats looking to strengthen their spines to help maintain their sitting positions should seek more traditional block-and-post technologies.

Bloomberg Businessweek breaks the story that Jeff Bezos failed to sit through a meeting.  Here’s Bezos’ confession of weakness:

I once found myself in a meeting with a room full of international tax experts talking about a dispute between Japanese taxing authorities and American taxing authorities. I was invited to the meeting because it was a large amount of money and in the worst-case scenario, we would have had to pay both. … But 30 minutes into the meeting I said, “Look, guys, I know this is an important issue, but it’s not one I can contribute to, so I will bow out.”

Amazon will never achieve bureaucratic greatness with a CEO who can’t pointlessly sit through a meeting.

Roy Greenslade reports that Lloyd’s List, which is not the world’s oldest newspaper, is giving up on print.  Currently 2% of readers of Lloyd’s List read the publication only in print.  Those readers are undoubtedly bureaucratic leaders.  Those who look backwards carry bureaucracies forward.  Lloyd’s List is destroying its bureaucratic future.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

*  *  *  *  *

[*] from the Old French farce, Le Cuvier (The Washtub), trans. Oscar Mandel (1970), Five comedies of medieval France (New York: Dutton) p. 144.  All subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 144-9.

[image] My photograph of Big Rooster, David Smith, steel sculpture, 1945, in the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC.

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