The CIA Guide To Fixing An Organization (Sort Of)
Reversing the Simple Sabotage Field Manual.
In 1944, the CIA's precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), distributed a pamphlet titled Simple Sabotage Field Manual, instructing controlled opposition sympathetic to the Allies on how to disrupt and weaken Axis organizations.
The manual has since been used as a source of “what NOT to do” style business advice, since so many of the tactics described as inadvertently done by bureaucrats and busybodies within organizations. I’ve seen many items on this list used by both those I’ve suspected of being controlled opposition and others who were merely incompetent.
While the list is funny, if we were to reverse the list, it would provide a blueprint for how to fix and streamline an organization. Here are some selections from the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, with the advice reversed.
From the original Simple Sabotage Field Manual:
Insist on doing everything through "channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
Make "speeches.' Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. . Illustrate your, "points" by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate "patriotic" comments.
When possible, refer all matters to committees, for "further study and consideration. Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.
Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
Advocate "caution." Be "reasonable" and urge your fellow-conferees to be "reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.
If we were to reverse that, it might look like this:
Communicate directly. Allow short-cuts.
Avoid long speeches. Get to the point.
Put one person in charge and give them decision-making authority.
Stay on topic. Avoid irrelevant issues.
Done is better than perfect wording.
Once you’ve made a decision, move on.
Encourage decisiveness and taking risks.
Empower people to take action, rather than ask permission.
The biggest takeaway from this list is prioritizing action.
The next time you see someone creating barriers to action, consider that they are harming the organization. Or that they might be a CIA asset.
What do you think? Would this fix an organization?