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Company Sabotage 101


History can help us understand present-day issues. Taking a look back in history, we checked out the now de-classified field manual released by The Office of Strategic Services (OSS, now the CIA) in 1944 to help OSS agents motivate and recruit saboteurs. Because cool spy stuff.

It details how to erode and obstruct enemy organisations, and while it was written for warfare, it gives me flashbacks to those battles in corporate life that have you hunting down the nearest happy hour come 5pm. 

The manual offered 34 tips to ‘generally interfere with organisations and production’. I’ve summarised some of the standouts:

  1. More meetings! Hold meetings about meetings.
  2. When prioritising tasks, always assign the unimportant jobs first. Busy work is the best work. 
  3. Do everything through channels, make no quick decisions.
  4. Death by committee. Do you think you have enough people involved in the decision? Invite more. 
  5. Get on your soapbox whenever possible. Have a high word-count in every conversation.
  6. Re-open old decisions. Those items closed in the last meeting – dig ’em up again!  
  7. Drag out those revisions. Insist on perfect work for non-business-critical tasks.  
  8. Embrace the fear of change, stoke it even.  
  9. Quibble over the small details.  
  10. Delay, delay, delay. 
  11. Maximise your interruptions. More notifications!
  12. Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion.

Sound familiar? Well, maybe not crying and sobbing hysterically (hopefully).

In 2019, Harvard Business School Professor Stefan Thomke reviewed the parallels between the manual and modern business practices.

In Stefan’s words:

“We need to be more thoughtful about how we approach our work, especially during the current global health crisis. Just because we’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time doesn’t mean we should keep doing it.”