Everyday Sabotage

Are you tired of endless meetings and a never-ending cycle of office life? The Simple Sabotage Field Manual, published by the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor of the CIA) in 1944, reveals tactics for undermining productivity and morale in organizations. Even today, these tactics are alarmingly relevant.

Who does­n’t know that? Every­day office life, a series of nev­er-end­ing meet­ings 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 behind those thou­sand meet­ings, there is no world. That’s the way it is, and it’s the way it is every­where. But per­haps there is an entire­ly 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.

Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al 

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 still strug­gled with mas­sive resis­tance. It 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 to weak­en the sys­tem from within.

This man­u­al was clas­si­fied as con­fi­den­tial for a long time before the CIA pub­lished it as a his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment in 2008. Besides instruc­tions for elab­o­rate pranks and some 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.

Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al 

Even today, more than 70 years lat­er, there is lit­tle to add to this. Unfor­tu­nate­ly. For man­agers, the hand­book also pro­vides a few unique “best prac­tices” to weak­en pro­duc­tiv­i­ty in the long term by keep­ing the orga­ni­za­tion occu­pied with itself:

Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al 

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. Often, we sab­o­tage our­selves because we do not know it dif­fer­ent­ly or can do bet­ter. Or because we have not thought about it yet and instead do it as we have always done. But we can work on this if we all active­ly take respon­si­bil­i­ty for our time and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. And then it takes courage to break the pat­terns and do it with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion because: Doing is like want­i­ng, just more badass!


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