Management Theory

This series is fascinating.  I don’t know how it applies to anything yet, as I haven’t finished it, but if you’re looking for a good think during your next downtime, check it out.

I will note that the McLeod Hierarchy seems to apply to politics, in that this was the organizational structure of the Third Reich:

Hugh MacLeod’s cartoon is a pitch-perfect symbol of an unorthodox school of management  based on the axiom that organizations don’t suffer pathologies; they are intrinsically pathological constructs.  Idealized organizations are not perfect. They are perfectly pathological.  So while most most management literature is about striving relentlessly towards an ideal by executing organization theories completely, this school, which I’ll call the Whyte school, would recommend that you do the bare minimum organizing to prevent chaos, and then stop. Let a natural, if declawed, individualist Darwinism operate beyond that point. The result is the MacLeod hierarchy. It may be horrible, but like democracy, it is the best you can do.

One of the major problems the Allies had at Nuremberg was figuring out the Nazis’ org charts (this befuddled military intelligence during the war, too).  The whole system was designed to encourage cutthroat competition among the various islands of authority inside the Reich, with the added bonus that nothing utterly incriminating never made it into paper — the Fuhrer would make a suggestion, seemingly off the cuff and definitely off the official record, which everyone knew was an order… and then his subordinates would fight it out to implement it most effectively, enhancing their own power in the process.

[This is the key weapon in Holocaust deniers’ arsenals, by the way — of all the millions of pages of surviving Nazi documentation, there’s nothing in Hitler’s hand (or Himmler’s, or Goering’s, or Goebbels’s either, I think) that actually orders killings.  The mass of evidence is overwhelming, of course, but there’s no smoking gun.  See Richard Evans’s Lying about Hitler for all the details].

This would certainly seem to explain Conquest’s Second Law — all organizations not explicitly and constitutionally right wing will eventually become left wing.  If you assume that organizations are pathological from the start, the indisputable sociopathy of the Social Justice Warriors guarantees that they’ll climb to the top, with predictable results…

I look forward to everyone’s comments.

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One thought on “Management Theory

  1. Gary

    I look forward to everyone’s comments.

    Not so fast, Sev. You may have second thoughts about this if you manage to slog through the following.

    First Impressions on The Gervais Principle

    I read part I and some of part II and my gut reaction is not good. Maybe I was extra cranky when I read it, but this thing really annoyed me, so I’ll just cut loose and blow my month’s quota of rant all at once. Perhaps someone can explain where my initial reactions have gone awry.

    1) The blogger, Venkat, seems to be building a theory of how companies behave and evolve based primarily on a couple of cartoons and a TV show, The Office. What the hell is that? Does he have any real-world experience or facts to work with or is he going to cough up The Unified Theory of Cartoonish, TV Sitcom Companies? If the latter, I’ll keep it in mind the next time I find myself on the set of The Office. Otherwise, I’ll look elsewhere for an understanding of how companies function. (I notice in part II he backs up some of his ideas by referencing the movies “Wall Street,” “Boiler Room” and “Goodfellas.” Is he aware that what happens in movies and TV is not necessarily representative of what happens in the real world?)

    2) Conceptual foundation of quicksand. McCleod’s company hierarchy cartoon divides the workforce into “sociopaths,” the “clueless” and “losers.” While mildly amusing, this categorization has a few drawbacks, like the fact that his “sociopaths” don’t necessarily (or even primarily) behave sociopathically, that his “losers” are not really losers (Venkat says so himself), and although the clueless are indeed clueless, it’s only because he’s defined them that way (as foolish “Organization Men”)–but there’s only a slight resemblance of his Clueless layer to anything I’ve seen in the real world: some mid-management, though not many, are truly clueless Organization Men. Other than that, McCleod’s/Venkat’s taxonomy is just fine. Maybe I need to spend more time watching The Office.

    Most of this can be fixed by just changing the labels: The “sociopath” category corresponds to entrepreneurs and high-level management–who do sometimes behave like sociopaths, but not generally, so labeling them as such is misleading or simply wrong*; the “clueless” are really mid-level management, many of whom foolishly buy the Company Line and act like the Organization Man–though not all, or even most; finally, the “losers” are just the bottom-level workmen who, having “[t]raded freedom for a paycheck,” often do get a pretty rotten deal, but they usually choose this route and, as Venkat himself notes, there are compensations for being a “loser”–which means they’re not entirely losers after all.

    Although this may seem picky, Morgan, Severian, et al often construct theories to explain various phenomena and thus are keenly aware of the importance of labeling concepts with appropriate, meaningful and evocative names. Apparently mesmerized by McLeod’s cartoons, Venkat fails to do this and just recycles McLeod’s comic though misleading names.

    3) The Gervais Principle. The article defines this Big Idea as follows:

    Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves.

    My criticism of this idea is expressed by a minor alteration to a famous quote (misattributed to Samuel Johnson):

    The Gervais Principle is both correct and original, but the part that is correct is not original and the part that is original is not correct.

    a) Unoriginal and correct: top management promotes high-performing “losers” into middle-management, and lets minimum-effort “losers” fend for themselves. Like duh.

    b) Original and incorrect: top management grooms under-performing losers for positions in high-level management (ie “sociopaths”).

    I have never, ever seen or heard of anything remotely like b)–except in silly movies like “Trading Places” (Eddie Murphy) or “Working Girl” (Melanie Griffith), and a bunch of others I can’t name at the moment. Yeah, lazy grunts, worthless office staff and inept assembly-line workers routinely get plucked from a cube or the shop floor and dropped into the boardroom. Once again, I suspect the writer is watching far too much TV and movies because this notion doesn’t resemble anything I’ve witnessed on this planet. The fact that this series is named after this “principle” does not bode well for the remaining parts. I’m not sure how much further I’ll get.

    End of rant.

    * The first three steps in McLeod’s 5-step lifecycle of the firm look completely legitimate to me: 1) A small number of entrepreneurs start a company; 2) It gains traction and hires some “losers” to do low-level work; 3) It continues to grow and spreads the management load to some mid-level managers. To me, this looks like productive behavior and thus the antithesis of sociopathy. My guess is actual sociopaths start to swarm like flies to honey when they see a highly functioning cash machine they can plunder, probably during or after the latter parts of step 3.

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