In 1944, the OSS was the precursor of the CIA.
Like the CIA, their work was spying, sabotage, dirty tricks, anything to disrupt the enemy.
With this in mind they issued a booklet to be distributed to anyone sympathetic inside occupied territory.
This book was called ‘A Simple Sabotage Field Manual’.
As you’d expect, it was full of suggestions on physical damage, destroying machinery, delaying production, wrecking transport, and so on.
But the really sneaky part was the section on the great harm the average person could do to the enemy’s war effort without any risk of being detected at all.
Sabotage so insidious that it would never be noticed, requiring no tools and producing no physical evidence of damage.
The manual explains the surreptitious nature of these particular actions.
“They are based on universal opportunities to make faulty decisions, to adopt a non-cooperative attitude, and induce others to follow suit.”
It specified that “Middle managers, especially those with white collar jobs should pontificate, flip-flop, and take every decision into committee.”
They should “Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible, haggle over precise wording. Hold conferences when there is more important work to be done.”
Specifically, they listed 8 actions which could disrupt morale and production.
- Insist on doing everything through channels.
- Make speeches. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length.
- Haggle over precise wording of communications.
- Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
- Refer back to matters already decided upon and attempt to question the advisability of that decision.
- Be worried about the propriety of any decision.
- Advocate caution and urge fellow conferees to avoid haste that might result in embarrassment or difficulties later on.
- Refer all matters to committees.
These are subtle and destructive tactics for sabotaging decision-making processes in all organisations.
But the really clever part is they’d never be noticed because they happen all the time.
Check out the list and see if you can’t find several items that happen on a daily basis in your company.
People quibbling about precise wording and missing the whole point of the idea.
People constantly calling unnecessary meetings to delay work that’s already been agreed.
People insisting on scrupulously observing process, even though it results in a dull ad.
People urging caution, anything to avoid perceived risk however trivial.
People desperate to find someone, anyone, who will be offended by an ad.
We all know we are trying to do our jobs surrounded by people like this.
People who will try to make the whole process as dull and suffocating as possible, so the ads end up being soporific at best and invisible at worst.
And the irony is, these people do it all under the belief that they are doing the job.
We are sabotaging ourselves every day, just as sure as if we’d all read the OSS manual.
We honestly believe it’s more professional to act like a handbrake not like an accelerator.
So we take every opportunity to be the anchor the ship is dragging.
We honestly believe the proper way to work is slower, and safer, and duller.
In taking the advice of the OSS, we are sabotaging ourselves.