Who doesn’t know that? Everyday office life, a series of never-ending meetings, rounds and circles that should have become an e‑mail. Or to say it with Rainer Maria Rilke: His gaze against the sweeping of the slides has grown so weary, it can hold no more. To him, there seem to be a thousand meetings and back behind those thousand meetings no world. That’s the way it is and it’s the way it is everywhere. But perhaps there is a completely different explanation for this everyday sabotage of productivity from the last years of World War II. But beware: some of the answers are likely to unsettle the population.
In the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor organization of the CIA, describes the art of simple sabotage. The handbook was published in 1944, when the Allies slowly gained predominance in World War II, but were still struggling with massive resistance. It was aimed at collaborators and supporters in the ranks of the Axis powers, to whom it offered practices and tactics to systematically undermine productivity and morale in order to weaken the system from within.
For a long time this manual was classified as confidential and was published as a historical document by the CIA not until 2008. In addition to detailed pranks to solid crimes, it also contains astonishingly timeless “tips” for undermining morale and productivity in organizations. And already 1944 one essential element of this simple sabotage were useless and excessive meetings.
Even today, more than 70 years later, there is little to add to this. Unfortunately. For managers, the handbook also provides a few special “best practices” to weaken productivity in the long term by keeping the organization occupied with itself:
Courageously Assume Responsibility!
As plausible as this conspiracy theory may sound, I always stick to Hanlon’s Razor instead: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity or incompetence.” We are therefore not the victims of foreign powers and their deliberate acts of sabotage, but often enough sabotage ourselves, because we do not know it differently or are able to do better. Or because we simply have not thought about it yet and instead do it as we have done always. But we can work on this if we all actively take responsibility for our time and our productivity. And then it takes courage to break the patterns and just do it without asking permission, because: Doing is like wanting, just more badass!