OSS Guide to Simple Sabotage

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was the predecessor to the CIA.  In 1994 they published a ‘Simple Sabotage Field Manual’ explaining how ordinary people could sabotage organizations with “no destructive tools whatsoever” simply by adopting a “non-cooperative attitude” or by “creating an unpleasant situation among one’s fellow workers”.  The following sabotage ideas are taken from the section called “General Interference with Organizations and Production” (page 28).

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • 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.
  • Work slowly. Think out ways to in­crease the number of movements necessary on your job
  • Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.
  • Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.

These examples of “sabotage” should make us think carefully about how destructive ineffective processes, risk-aversion, and selfishness can be to any organization.

View PDF file of OSS Guide to Simple Sabotage

Organizational Change is Everywhere

Today I had an experience that proved yet again that certain elements of organizational change exist no matter how great or insignificant the change may be. It started when I stood at what I thought was the front of the sandwich line at the cafeteria at work.  After a long time of waiting for someone to take my order, I realized that I was standing at the end of the line instead of the beginning.  This was particularly confusing because the entrance to the cafeteria is exactly opposite the exit of the sandwich line, making the flow of the sandwich line exactly opposite the flow of the rest of the traffic moving through the cafeteria.  So my friend Mike (who was standing at the end of the line with an equally perplexed look) and I decided to save hundreds of people confusion and unnecessary steps and switched the “entrance” and “exit” signs.  The process was dramatically improved (Steve Krug himself would have been impressed).  Yet the funniest part was to hear the roles that emerged during our change initiative…

First we had the conformers – people who saw that the current system wasn’t working but figured that they were the ones that were wrong and then decided to get in line.  In fact everyone in the line first stood by the “exit” sign waiting to place their order, but eventually realized that the line was backwards and moved to the other side.  Next we had the change agents, in this case Mike and I, going against the odds (and several direct threats from the lunch lady) to fix a broken process.  Then on to the nay-sayers.  Several people that were already in the line actually turned to us and said, “you know you’re not allowed to change the signs like that, right?”  And of course no change effort is complete without the dinosaurs.  Shortly after we changed the signs two guys walked up to the new entrance of the line, one turned to the other and said, “the sandwich like has changed – but it’s always been the other way!” and then decided that it would be easier to get a salad than to adjust to the change.  And finally, the natives – people who showed up after the change had occurred went right to the front of the new line as if it had always been that way.

So if you’re considering an organizational change effort but are afraid that perhaps it would cause too much stress on your team, realize that they would be just  as bent out of shape if you changed the direction of the sandwich line (and everything falls back into perspective).