Timeless Tips for Simple Sabotage

When the Office of Strategic Services (later to become the CIA) published their Simple Sabotage Field Manual in 1944, the goal was to mobilize Axis-living citizens sympathetic to the Allied cause. This secretive but widely distributed pamphlet was a guide to undermining the enemy’s productivity from within. The goal was to weaken production in factories, offices, and transportation lines.

Declassified in 2008, this field guide to murdering productivity is shockingly relevant to today’s business world. In fact, a detractor hoping to bring his organization’s success to a halt would be well-served to follow the instructions in this WWII CIA spy manual precisely.

From the CIA’s website, an excerpt and sample of such tips:

  1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

  2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.

  3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

  4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.

  5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument.

Do these subtle derailing tactics remind you of anyone you know at your own organization?

Bureaucrats who insist on doing everything through “the proper channels,” committees appointed to study choices at great length, so-called experts who pontification on their favorite subject matter while you’re trying to get a product out the door… these are all medal-of-honor worthy saboteurs of success.

These people might be great at derailing Nazi causes, but they make terrible employees. Sniff them out and get rid of them.

Read our book Got Ideas? How to Turn Your Ideas into Products People Want to Use for more insight into why bureaucracy is bad for digital products.