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.

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[*] 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. Here’s some information about Le Cuvier.

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

COB-86: ancient bureaucratic wisdom

primary designer of COBOL

Innovation is a fashionable buzzword bandied about by anti-bureaucrats these days.  Don’t be deceived.  The Standard Blue Book of Bureaucratic Procedures and Practices (22nd ed., 1986) begins with bureaucratic wisdom from about 2300 years ago:

What has been is what will be
and what has been done is what will be done
and there is nothing new under the sun

Innovation is unimportant.  The challenge with any new piece of bureaucratic work is to figure out what past work it’s like.  Then you do is what has been done.  Say you have a problem with the Internet’s operating system.  Yup, that’s like that problem we fixed with the file system in the TRS-80.  Add an exception check and an extra rewrite module.  Have you heard about the Go programming language and node.js?  They’ve just variants on COBOL.  A smartphone is a kind of telephone that persons use mainly to do things other than talk with people.  It all makes sense when you understand common law and wisdom: there is nothing new under the sun.

In other bureaucrat issues this month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who received a prestigious Bureaucrat of the Month Award, has announced his retirement.   In internal email published on Microsoft’s website, Ballmer stated:

This is a time of important transformation for Microsoft. … Our new organization, which is centered on functions and engineering areas, is right for the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Re-orgs are fundamental achievements of bureaucratic management.  Some companies like Amazon foolishly seek to please customers.  In his email, Ballmer reiterated again another time for emphasis his bureaucratic focus: “I love this company.”

Researchers at the University of Washington have demonstrated a human brain-to-brain interface.  A challenge in running a bureaucracy is to hire and train workers who do exactly what their managers tell them to do.  A human brain-to-brain interface could facilitate bureaucratic management by having the manager directly control the brains of subordinates.

Oren Hazi provides an amazing, real-world example of the power of bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy isn’t sensational, dramatic, and high-profile.  But it grinds on and gets jobs done that couldn’t otherwise be accomplished.  Hazi explains:

This is how we lose our rights. Not overnight in one fell swoop, but gradually, after getting worn down again and again, and after hundreds of mini-panic-attacks, and with ever-ratcheting procedural changes that effectively invalidate the assurances and safeguards that we’re given.

Bureaucracy isn’t unimportant, and it isn’t just dull.  Your fundamental rights depend on bureaucracy.

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-85: STEM is vital for workforce

bureaucarat sitting at desk (rear view)

Nothing is more important to every nation’s future than STEM education.  With the bureaucratically impressive title “Preparing Students for STEM Careers (9-10),” a recent STEM document forcefully begins:


“The growth paradigm that has driven our economy for the past generation is exhausted” (Palley, 2008, p. B10). … as the workplace changes, STEM knowledge and skills grow in importance for a variety of workers (not just for mathematicians and scientists) (The Center for Education Policy Analysis, 2008).

The opening authoritative quotation and the impressive document citations make the stated facts perfectly clear.  All students, without exception, need more STEM education to prepare for STEM careers.

Not enough students, especially women and minorities, are sitting through lectures in computer science.  Students are not scoring high enough on easily graded multiple choose examinations in digital-systems engineering.  Students are not putting enough effort into technical projects that educators formulate for them to do to learn how to do projects that leaders formulate for them to do.  These projects, of course, have no real-world use.  They’re meant to be educational.  Imagine the value of millions of energetic young persons engaged in arbitrary and duplicative programming projects all across the nation.  That’s part of the future promise of STEM education.

But STEM education is more fundamental than programming.  STEM stands for fundamental, vital skills for the modern workforce:  Sitting, Talking, Editing, and Meetings.  Parents can help give their children a headstart in developing these skills by sitting their children in front of a television.  Encourage the children to talk to the television.  That will help them develop the type of communications skills that they will use as adults in the workforce.

Fostering editing skills is merely a matter of continually making small corrections to whatever the children do.   The children will naturally respond. “Chloe, don’t throw the leaf of arugula that you didn’t eat into the mixed-stream recycling bin.  That goes into the digital organic compactor.” “Why do you keep giving me arugula?  I hate it!”  “You know what the rules are.  Stop complaining, or I’m going to take away your iPhone.”  “You’re mean to me!”  In this way, parental editing of the details of children’s behavior leads to wide-ranging discussions that lead to formal family meetings to discuss members’ roles and responsibilities.  Editing, if done consistently and persistently, provides a strong foundation for meetings.

STEM education for older children is similar to STEM education for juveniles.  Ensuring that seats are the primary ordering structure in the physical institutions of education helps to advance sitting skills.  The school day should be structured as a series of meetings scheduled across the day.  Penalize highly any student who skips a meeting.  As long as students are not moving or not doing anything, talking is productive.  Nonetheless, educational leaders should work diligently to establish procedures to edit the contents of students’ conversations, in accordance with established speech regulations.

Much progress have been made in advancing STEM education.  But much more work remains to be done.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Kremlin is turning to mechanical typewriters to ensure the secrecy of documents.   Forward-thinking bureaucracies never stopped using mechanical typewriters.

Linus Torvalds, a rogue programmer without an official position, has led a fundamental challenge to bureaucratic programming around the world.  Unrepentant, he recently declared:

Because if you want me to “act professional”, I can tell you that I’m not interested. I’m sitting in my home office wearing a bathrobe. The same way I’m not going to start wearing ties, I’m *also* not going to buy into the fake politeness, the lying, the office politics and backstabbing, the passive aggressiveness, and the buzzwords. Because THAT is what “acting professionally” results in: people resort to all kinds of really nasty things because they are forced to act out their normal urges in unnatural ways.

Linus Torvalds should be regarded as incorrigible.  All professional bureaucrats should shun him.

Thomas Benton shows lack of appreciation for the value of bureaucracy in a column about the life of the mind and graduate school.  Benton describes a common tale across humanities graduate students:

She was the best student her adviser had ever seen (or so he said); it seemed like a dream when she was admitted to a distinguished doctoral program; she worked so hard for so long; she won almost every prize; she published several essays; she became fully identified with the academic life; even distancing herself from her less educated family. For all of those reasons, she continues as an adjunct who qualifies for food stamps, increasingly isolating herself to avoid feelings of being judged.

At least such persons, while living on food stamps, have the satisfaction of knowing that they have “published several essays” in journals that make such essays virtually inaccessible to almost all persons around the world.  Nonetheless, leading humanities academic work is priceless.  Personal sacrifices must be made to support academic bureaucracies.

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-84: Shi Miao exemplified bureaucratic virtue

Shi Miao, illustrious bureaucrat

Bureaucrats should study their illustrious ancestors for guidance in virtue and proper procedure.  Shi Miao is one such worthy figure.  He served as a bureaucrat in the Shouchun prefecture in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BGC to 220 GC).  Having lived in impoverished circumstances, he came to his bureaucratic seat wearing an old robe and driving a rickety cart that a female ox pulled.  That ox birthed a calf about a year after Shi Miao arrived in Shouchun.  When Shi Miao finished his term of office, he gave the ox calf to the people of Shouchun.  He explained:

When I came here I did not have this calf.  It was born here south of the River Huai, and it has grown big eating the grass and drinking the water of Shouchun, none of which had anything to do with me.

Note that Shi Miao did not gave the calf to the people of Shouchun because of his generosity or concern for their welfare.  He gave them the calf as a result of accurate accounting of grass and water used.  Virtuous bureaucrats keep detailed accounts and make decisions based on historical records.

In other bureaucratic issues, bureaucratic morale in the U.S. Navy continues to sink as highly successful operational procedures are abandoned based on flighty or earthy reasoning.  U.S. Navy commands have been sent in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS SINCE THE 1850S, OR SO THE STORY IMPLAUSIBLY GOES (typewriters weren’t commercially successful until the 1870s).  SENDING MESSAGES IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS HAS ACCOMPANIED THE U.S. NAVY’S RISE TO A SUPERPOWER ON THE SEA.  IGNORING THAT SUCCESS, THE NAVY HAS RECENTLY ORDERED MESSAGES TO BE MIXED UP WITH UPPER AND LOWER CASES.  JIM HUNT REPORTED THE ORDER:



Unfortunately, the problems at sea are being reduplicated again and again.  Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, has erected “6 tips to screw business meetings as usual.”  Virgin Group should not be in the business of screwing, even if it usually has been.  For Virgin Group to move forward to the next stage of development, it needs to embrace meetings.  Meetings bring people together and perpetuate the existence of organizations.

Goldman Sach’s recent investment in gaming shows that gaming is an important growth area for bureaucracy.  Goldman funded a high-tech, bureaucratically intensive scavenger hunt called Midnight Madness.  Game control, which is another name for bureaucracy, played a key role in the enterprise:

A lot of player behavior is driven by mistrust of the 34 people running the game, who are collectively known as Game Control. The parsimony with which Game Control dispenses information had historically been merciless, and the latest Midnight Madness was similar. … Most players’ default assumption was that Game Control was trying to double-cross them.

Game control makes the game, and bureaucracy makes the business.

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] “Leaving the Calf Behind,” China, Ming Dynasty, handscroll, ink on paper, Freer Gallery, F1916.405.  The relevant quotation above is from the image label for the scroll in the Freer Gallery.

COB-83: every detail matters in bureaucratic work

The relationship between the forest and the trees is widely mis-perceived.  Every forest is made up of trees.  Without trees, there is no forest.  Stay focused on the trees.  After all, if you fail to see a tree, you could run into it and get a bloody nose.

points showing work of punctator

Just like every tree in the forest matters, details are essential in bureaucratic work.  Remember the celebrated bureaucratic career of Berechiah ha-Nakdan.  He was a thirteenth-century Jewish intellectual worker living in France or England.  Probably in part because writing materials were expensive, ancient Hebrew texts were written without vowels.  Missing vowels, like incompletely filled-in forms, pain bureaucrats to the very soft outer skin of the souls of their feet (they spend most of their time sitting).

Berechiah ha-Nakdan evidently worked in a department that addressed the problem of missing vowels in Hebrew texts.  He was a “punctator,” probably a Senior Managing Punctator (SMP).  Punctators added points (dots and other small marks) below the letters of Hebrew texts so that the vowels would be fully specified.  A page of Hebrew text containing a thousand letters could easily require two or three thousand additional individual points.  Thirteenth-century punctators faced a crushing burden of important bureaucratic work.  But like many heroic bureaucrats through the ages, they sat through the challenge.  Berechiah ha-Nakdan’s monumental work as a SMP was recognized in his very name: “ha-Nakdan” means “the punctator.”  Other than Ali Kazma the Rubber Stamper, no one else in history has made for himself a name as distinguished as Berechiah ha-Nakdan.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Standing Committee for the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCOFCAH) of the European Union (EU) has established new rules that make importing giraffes easier.   The EU’s SCOFCAH should be commended for this tall achievement.

Jona Lendering and Bill Thayer at New at LacusCurtius and Livius explain that an elderly historian in 2040 will find that the humanities departments have closed.  Closing departments is a serious challenge for bureaucrats struggling to hang on to their positions.  Lendering and Thayer see the closing of humanities departments as a self-inflicted catastrophe:

The historian will conclude that the humanities had committed suicide.  Still, there had been people, inside and outside the universities, who had done their best.  People who had refused to join the academic rat race, who had not been interested in the length of their publication list, who were really interested in the dialog with the larger audience.

The job of bureaucrats in universities is to lengthen their publication list by producing documents.  Producing documents has no relation to any audience whatsoever.  That’s why academic journals are distributed in a limited number of paper copies.  University bureaucrats should not be punished for following their job descriptions.

When Andrew Mason was fired as Groupon CEO this past February, he wrote a farewell memo.  That’s standard bureaucratic practice.  Unfortunately, some entrepreneurs posted his standard letter on the innovative, interactive text platform rapgenius.  This new platform threatens corporate-speak.  For example, Mason wrote:

I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today.

That’s a bad enough breach of standards.  But then Marc Andreessen, a leading funder of ventures hostile to bureaucrats, added an annotation:

Over the last 20 years it has become customary in business for executives to claim to be “resigning to spend more time with my family” when they have actually been fired. It has become such a cliche that it is now a sort of running joke in corporate-speak.

(The additional subtext to the joke is that most executives are not liked by their families, who would prefer that they not spend more time at home and try to get them into a new job as quickly as possible.)

Bureaucrats must resist these sorts of textual innovations.  As newspaper journalists have repeatedly reported, nothing can replace the feel of paper.

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-82: in trouble, double down on bureaucracy

Back in 2005, the Internet advertising company DoubleClick needed a major business restructuring.  Leading executives David Rosenblatt and Neal Mohan made a brilliant strategic decision: focus for six months on creating a PowerPoint presentation.  Business Insider breathlessly reports their accomplishment:

The result: an epic, 400- to 500-page PowerPoint document.  Several sources who have seen this document, or participated in its creation, say that even today you can see traces of it in similar documents outlining Google’s current product road map in display advertising.

David Rosenblatt and Neal Mohan are now regarded as top-ranked business executives.  Mohan reportedly received $100 million in stock from Google to remain at the head of Google’s display advertising business.  More importantly, both Rosenblatt and Mohan have recently been approved to be nominated to be candidates for preliminary consideration for induction into the Bureaucratic Hall of Fame.  If you aspire to such eminence, you’ve got to lengthen your PowerPoint presentations.

IBM CEO Virginia Rometty provides a case study of the wrong way to lead a bureaucracy.  After a poor IBM earnings report, Rometty addressed IBMers in a “five-minute internal video message.”  Five minutes!  She might as well be having a chat with the cashier in the grocery store at rush hour.  Nothing can be accomplished with only five minutes of talk.

But it gets worse.  Rometty ordered the storied IBM bureaucracy to move faster.  She did that by establishing a new rule: “If a client has a request or question, IBM must respond within 24 hours.”  Establishing one new rule isn’t good leadership to get employees moving faster.  Rometty should have inspired IBMers with a torrent of new rules.  That’s what a Bureaucratic Hall of Famer would have done, after formulating a strategic plan.

bureaucratic drone awaiting guidance from management

Australian Media CEO Greg Hywood knows the value of editing.  Hywood recently decided to layoff 82 subeditors.  No bureaucrats are more essential than a news organization’s subeditors.  The Columbia Journalism Review has incisively investigated this important story.  A leaked document documents that Hywood himself benefited from subediting.  Here’s the details of the sensational embarrassment.  An original paragraph in Hywood’s memo:

After careful consideration of the arguments from staff, publishers and editors, I can now announce the following decisions, which I am satisfied will meet the strategic imperative to invest in the creation of high-quality editorial content by reducing costs in the production process.

The subeditor’s editing edited the internal paragraph into the outie:

After careful consideration of the consultations between staff, publishers and editors, we have now made the following decisions – decisions which I believe will preserve our continued delivery of high quality editorial content and allow us to meet the strategic imperative of investing in more reporters, writers and training – but requires the outsourcing of sub-editing roles.

Stick a fork into it, the news industry is finished, and democracy is done for.

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-81: why nothing gets done

A common complaint about bureaucracy is that nothing ever gets done.  That’s not bureaucrats’ fault.  Zeno of Eleo, a Greek who lived about 2450 years ago, proved that no project can achieve its goal.  Zeno’s insight was that if each day you do half of the remaining work on project, you will need an infinite number of days to finish any project.  Zeno probably worked as a clerk in a major sheep-management firm.  He understood bureaucratic realities.

Committees for millennia have been meeting to establish a program for figuring out how to finish a project.  The growth of global bureaucracy offers a glimmer of hope.  World-wide collaboration through the United Nations brings together an unprecedented concentration of committees, meetings, and documents.  Innovative approaches, such as each day doing a third or a fourth or a fifth or …. of work remaining on a project, are being exhaustively tested to determine is they can yield a finished project in a finite number of days.

The United Nations’ High Level Committee on Management (HLCM) is block-heading the effort to establish a roadmap for finishing a project.  After 23 preliminary sessions, the HLCM turned to physicists’ recognition of the asymmetry of matter and antimatter.  HLCM pursued this innovative insight with a non-paper.  The non-paper observes:

At its 24th Session in September 2012, the High Level Committee on Management {HLCM} called for the development of a Strategic Plan to guide its work for the next three to five years … The HLCM Retreat scheduled for 14-15 January 2013 would build on these consultations, paving the way for the development of a Strategic Plan.

The HLCM’s non-paper is a key step for building on the consultations that are paving the way for developing a Strategic Plan for establishing a roadmap for finishing a project.

doing chores

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Cyrus Cylinder is on exhibit at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC.  The Cyrus Cylinder is an innovative medium for communicating a bureaucratic document within Cyrus’s vast Persian empire.  The Cyrus Cylinder is normally on file at the British Museum.  British Museum Director Neil McGregor has insightfully observed:

Unlike most empires of the period, which were based around rivers, Cyrus’s was a “road empire,” stretching thousands of miles, said McGregor, and also the first “multilingual empire.” It also had a civil service: “You can’t run this kind of an empire without a great bureaucracy.”

Any kind of great organization depends on a great bureaucracy.

Recent research is highlighting the importance of bureaucrats throughout history.  Bureaucrats, not slaves, erected the Egyptian pyramids.  The bureaucrats who did such extraordinary work were far from “fat-cat bureaucrats.”  Additional research on ancient Egypt has revealed the death-inducing circumstances in which the bureaucrats, including local middle management, worked:

although the cultural level of the age was extraordinary, the anthropological analysis of the human remains reveals the population in general and the governors – the highest social class – lived in conditions in which their health was very precarious, on the edge of survival.

Little is given to bureaucrats, and much is asked of them.

Evernote founder and entrepreneur Phil Libin displayed appalling stupidity in a recent interview.  Libin described his management priorities thus:

“It’s really about how quickly you can make decisions and how relentlessly you battle encroaching corporate stupidity,” he adds.

“It’s like you are locked in a battle against the natural forces of corporate bureaucracy – the things that just want to seep in and make everything stupid. It’s difficult to fight that – but it’s fun.”

Bureaucrats produce more notes than the rest of the world combined.  Evernote should embrace bureaucracy, not fight it.

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-80: Chaucer was a bureaucrat

Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived in fourteenth-century London, is widely known as the Father of English literature and the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages.  Chaucer should be widely known as a highly proficient bureaucrat.

After early work collecting and inventorying scrap metal, Chaucer studied law.  He then received a job as Valet de Chambre (VDC) in King Edward III’s bureaucracy.  As VDC, he reported to the Groom of the Privy and Groom of the Stool.  These privy officials helped to care for the King’s daily personal bodily needs.  Privy and stool work remains a mainstay of modern bureaucratic jobs.

commode managed by groom of the stool

Evidently recognizing Chaucer skills in keeping relevant items moving smoothly, the King in 1374 awarded Chaucer a merit bonus.  This bonus was not merely a lump-sum cash award, but an ongoing boon: “a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life.”  Chaucer apparently already had expertise in ports.  In 1374. Chaucer was promoted to Comptroller of the Customs for the port of London.  Chaucer remained in that position for twelve years.   Good bureaucrats themselves tend to stick hardily in place.

Chaucer subsequently continued to work in royal bureaucracy.   Chaucer’s subsequent jobs included Clerk of the King’s Works (managing the King’s building projects), Keeper of the Lodge at the King’s Park in Feckenham, and Deputy Forester in the Royal Forest of North Petherton, Somerset.  Chaucer retired in 1394 on a generous pension.  By that time he should have already received a twenty-year service pin, which apparently has been lost.

The importance of Chaucer’s bureaucratic positions is readily apparently.   Yet during these years of weighty bureaucrat responsibility, Chaucer also produced an enormous pile of English literature.  That literature is cherished to this day.  Chaucer’s bureaucratic work deserves similar recognition.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Harvard Business Review blog reviews a Davos panel on online education.  Larry Summers offered an important insight:

It’s important to remember that we’re not so good at understanding the subtleties of environments that make them attractive to people. Look at football for example. One way to watch a game is to sit on a cold bench with no good food and bad bathrooms, the other is in your own living room, with replay, and food you like at your convenience. And then ask yourself — which would you guess people pay for? Which do people cheer for? You’d get it wrong. There are aspects of bringing people together in groups that we can’t quite understand and judge.

That insight helps to rationalize current educational institutions and other leading bureaucracies.

Bureaucrats in British Columbia have worked heroically to implement reversing political decisions.  CBC News explains that “a team of bureaucrats spent the last 10 months working 80-hour weeks with no extra pay” to implement the harmonized sales tax (HST)   They then put in a huge effort to re-implement the old provincial sales tax (PST):

the normally faceless and silent bureaucrats … toiled for the past four years to help introduce the ill-fated HST, only to preside over its merciless burial.

Those same people then dutifully resurrected the old PST, a task the usually publicity-phobic civil servants say was an ordeal and an accomplishment of near biblical proportions.

A team of 14 bureaucrats, including analysts, auditors and legal experts, hunkered down through the HST’s introduction and death and then through the rebirth of the old, but remodelled PST, which hasn’t been redrafted in 60 years.

Bureaucrats’ job is not to question why, but to do and die.  Take of moment of silence to honor bureaucratic sacrifices.

In Ottawa, the mayor has awarded ten medals to top city bureaucrats.  The award recipients are well-respected, diligent public servants.  There are many such public servants in government bureaucracies around the world.

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-79: hold your memo high

bureaucrat, Tang Dynasty, ChinaWhen entering a meeting room, well-trained bureaucrats always hold a document in front of themselves.  The position of the document relative to the bureaucrat’s ventral surface depends on the importance of the document.  Unimportant documents are held low.  Important documents are held high.  So if you consider a memo that you have prepared for a meeting to be highly important, walk into the meeting holding your memo high above your head.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, Ben Horowitz at ben’s blog describes “how to minimize politics in your company.”  His central point is “build strict processes for potentially political issues and do not deviate.”  Put more simply, build a strong bureaucracy.  Horowitz is a leading entrepreneur and venture capitalist.  Even he recognizes the value of bureaucracy.

At McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Christopher Mah presents the Middle Manager’s Oath.  All middle managers should affirm this oath to make the world a better place.  The oath robustly upholds the value of bureaucratese, also known as jargon: “Jargon is not meaningless as long as it is strategic, measurable, and scalable.”  That’s a game-changing declaration.

The Independence Hall Association (IHA) developed and maintains a U.S. history and civics website.  IHA was established in Philadelphia in 1942.  IHA’s age and bureaucratic history indicate that it’s a bureaucratic organization.  Nonetheless, IHA’s webpage entitled “who are the bureaucrats?” concerns only U.S. federal government workers.  It deserves credit for an inclusive treatment of the federal government workforce:

Vince and Larry, U.S. Department of Transportation crash test dummies, have been used in ad campaigns encouraging motorists to wear seatbelts and discouraging drunk driving. The Department of Transportation is instrumental in enforcing regulations regarding automobiles, railroads, and aviation.

Contrary to the scope of IHA’s web page, the vast majority of bureaucrats are not part of the federal government workforce.  Bureaucrats shuffle papers in the private sector, fill out forms in non-profit organizations, and help to ensure that proper procedures are followed in nursery schools, libraries, local planning departments, state commissions, and many other organizations.  Wherever there are desks and paper, bureaucrats will be found.

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-78: customer experience exhancements

This Carnival of Bureaucrats (COB) is committed to customer-experience excellence.   Some organizations focus on customer service.  However, as a result of a thorough, multi-year mission-statement review process, COB has adopted a more comprehensive framework for managing its customer interactions with the goal of producing customers who not only meet or exceed metrics for customer service standards established for cross-business evaluation and planning, now under the responsibility of the Customer Service Evaluation and Planning Division, but also who are “delighted customers,” in accordance with the definitions adopted in the Final Report of the Commission for Re-Imagining the COB Mission.  To further deepen and expand the “delighting” of customers, Customer Service Representatives have been promoted to Customer Experience Representatives and given added responsibility for a 10-point customer “delighting” checklist.  The Consolidated Facilities Division (CFD) has been given company-wide responsibility for removing lights in customer waiting rooms.  CFD will thus also contribute to raising the disappointing scores received in last year’s sustainable-green washing and painting initiative.

As a result of the corporate restructuring necessary to achieve this new, comprehensive program of service goals centered on customer experience, this month’s COB is rescheduled to next month.  You can 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.