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Explaining Corporate Culture Through "The Office"

kdawson posted about 5 years ago | from the rising-to-the-level-of-their-convenience dept.

Businesses 224

Writing in the blog, Venkatesh Rao uses The Office to explain and illustrate a theory of management he calls the Gervais Principle (after the TV series's creator). Taking off from Hugh MacLeod's cartoon laying out a corporate hierarchy in layers of Sociopaths, the Clueless, and Losers, Rao riffs on and updates the Peter Principle, in these terms: "Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into [clueless] middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves." Don't know about you, but this analysis suddenly makes sense of much that mystified me in my sojourn in corporate America.

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Office space (4, Funny)

symbolset (646467) | about 5 years ago | (#29741619)

That makes better sense for slashdotters.

/I believe you have my stapler.

Re:Office space (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29741687)

I believe you have my nigger. Look, that cotton ain't gonna pick itself.

You WHAT?!? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742297)

You stole the mans nigger? Who's going to shine his shoes now? That's just low

Enough (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742685)

Enough of this bullshit. This "nigger" would love to meet with your acquaintance

Yes men (5, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#29741637)

Where I work a sure fire way to get promoted is to do exactly what your boss says, no matter how stupid or badly thought out. The boss is alwaye right.

The result is that middle management is crammed with hyper reactive former engineers who jump from task to task on a seconds notice and literally cringe when the phone rings.

The final result is that out product line is a mess of modules built with incompatible tool chains, and our actual code is a mess of short term hacks.


Re:Yes men (4, Interesting)

cjfs (1253208) | about 5 years ago | (#29741659)

Chin up, your situation can't be all that bad. I noticed you referred to "boss" in the singular. It only gets rough when multiple bosses say conflicting things that all must be correct. Then you have to start redefining words.

Re:Yes men (2, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#29741673)

Chin up, your situation can't be all that bad. I noticed you referred to "boss" in the singular. It only gets rough when multiple bosses say conflicting things that all must be correct. Then you have to start redefining words.

Don't get me started on matrix management across different countries with nationalistic paranoia thrown into the mix....

Re:Yes men (1)

daem0n1x (748565) | about 5 years ago | (#29742583)

I guess we're co-workers.

Re:Yes men (1)

yoblack (1656457) | about 5 years ago | (#29742745)

Damn. We are all here complaining. Something must be wrong ...

Re:Yes men (1)

rubi (910818) | about 5 years ago | (#29743011)

Of course, that's why none of us is "management"!

"multiple bosses" (4, Insightful)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 5 years ago | (#29741715)

Clearly you have never worked in an environment when one boss has several personalities, they change several times a day, and each one contradicts what the last one just said. And it's no good getting things in writing because the claim will then be that you've "misinterpreted" it, as in "when I said black you should have realised I meant white."

It took me two years to realise that this was a deliberate boss strategy by a clueless middle manager who was overpromoted, and was using it to freak out his underlings. More usually the multi-personality boss has only two personalities, the before lunch and the after lunch, resulting from a lunchtime session with his or her personal psychoanalyst (Dr. Jack Daniels).

Re:"multiple bosses" (2, Funny)

cjfs (1253208) | about 5 years ago | (#29741781)

Clearly you have never worked in an environment when one boss has several personalities, they change several times a day, and each one contradicts what the last one just said.

Now that you mention it, I have had a few bosses that looked awfully similar...

Re:"multiple bosses" (2, Interesting)

jimicus (737525) | about 5 years ago | (#29742159)

It took me two years to realise that this was a deliberate boss strategy by a clueless middle manager who was overpromoted, and was using it to freak out his underlings.

BTDTGTTS. Though (in my case at least) the boss in question didn't seem to realise he was doing it.

Having said that, he was known throughout the organisation as being "difficult to work with" (in much the same way as bubonic plague is "a slight case of the sniffles") and when he resigned (having been headhunted in a profession where headhunting simply does not happen) giving significantly less than his contractual notice, not a word was said.

Re:"multiple bosses" (4, Insightful)

rtb61 (674572) | about 5 years ago | (#29742173)

Well, no, you have met the sociopath. They spend all day, seriously, all day plotting and scheming how to get ahead or how to entrench themselves in their current position. The plotting and scheming includes the two most important skills of the sociopath, how to blame others for the mistakes the sociopath makes and how to take the credit for the good work down by others, often simultaneously ie. they bugger up come to you for solution and before you know it, you made the mistake and the solution becomes theirs.

The multiple personalties are nothing more than masks and they will create and use as many as they need to further their schemes, The most difficult part is surprise, surprise, they get into their position via nepotism, best solution, leave, you might as well if you are any good you will be targeted for termination as they will recognise you as a threat, unless of course you are a willing accomplice in their inevitable criminal schemes to rip of customers, other staff and of course investors, in that case watch out, they will have a plan in place to ensure you take the fall while they take the money.

Now you might think sociopaths are smart, that is not really true, what you have to realise is, they really do spend all day every day, day in and day out, plotting and scheming, ingratiating those who will benefit them and back stabbing threats. They really do derive very little pleasure from life it is a part of their mental disease and ties in with they, from their own point of view, being the only person in existence, everyone else is an artefact, a piece of furniture, a chair to be sat on or thrown against the wall.

Re:"multiple bosses" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29743083)

You just described my boss! This all must be true.

Re:"multiple bosses" (0, Troll)

master_p (608214) | about 5 years ago | (#29743031)

You could simply have said "my boss is a woman"...

Re:"multiple bosses" (1)

rubi (910818) | about 5 years ago | (#29743049)

One of our "thinks is a boss" has only one, but troublesome nonetheless, we have called her "intense"! Sends email about work on sunday night.

Re:Yes men (1)

rubi (910818) | about 5 years ago | (#29743029)

Where I work there are several "bosses" who are too affraid of the "true boss" to actually DO anything, but in the end think the other people in the company are mind-readers that can do work without any clear objectives. The company's objectives are "top secret" and no one can know them, but we all have to work to make them come true!

Re:Yes men (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29743123)

Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.

Bob Porter: Don't... don't care?

Peter Gibbons: It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation? And here's something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.

Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?

Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.

Bob Slydell: Eight?

Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Re:Yes men (1)

feepness (543479) | about 5 years ago | (#29741693)

The result is that middle management is crammed with hyper reactive former engineers who jump from task to task on a seconds notice and literally cringe when the phone rings.

Wow! My work is the same way! How do you think we should fix it?!

Re:Yes men (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#29741701)


Re:Yes men (1)

cjfs (1253208) | about 5 years ago | (#29741725)

Wow! My work is the same way! How do you think we should fix it?!

Short the stock, then you're guaranteed to win!

Re:Yes men (1)

Sobrique (543255) | about 5 years ago | (#29741905)

Dust off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Re:Yes men (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29741717)

Cheer up. It could be worse!

For example your name could have been Michael Bolton, and/or one of your co-workers might make a "jump to conclusions" board game after he botches his suicide.

And don't get me started on the TPS reports.

Re:Yes men (2, Interesting)

jandersen (462034) | about 5 years ago | (#29741887)

Firstly: I think this model, with 'sociopaths' on top and derogatory names all around, is a load of nonsense, really. A sociopath is what used to be called a psychopath in the not so old days; but since it turned out that the general public, helped by the entertainment industry, completely misunderstood what it was all about, the term 'sociopath' was coined instead. Now, of course, people use the term to try to sound as if they have a clue, which, alas, they still haven't - the author of the OP included.

So what is wrong with this description? Well, for one thing, psychopaths are not typically ambitious, target-seeking people; they are generally lacking in purpose and direction and their choices often seem random and trivial. They can land a top job only to throw it away a week later; they can steal an expensive item and almost give away on a whim to somebody in the pub - they seem to feel little in the way of regrets, remorse or empathy. This seems to be at the root of why psychopaths are unreliable and sometimes become serial killers - but it also makes it highly unlikely that they will be found at the top of any pyramid; IMO the most likely personality disorder to be found there is the one called narcissistic personality disorder, but that is only a layman's opinion.

The other problem I have with this sweeping description of companies is, that you are either 'sociopath', 'clueless' or 'loser'. While there are certainly some of those around in most companies, I don't think you see many successful businesses around if that was all there was to it; my personal experience from about 25 years as programmer and UNIX system manager is that most employees are 1) competent in their area, 2) want to do as good a job as they can, and 3) are not afraid of telling their managers that they disagree.

The real problem in many companies is, that there is an overweight of top-level managers with a background in sales or finances - too many MBAs and too few people with a genuine, technical background. This leads too often to a lack of appreciation of the very essential group of employees that go under the term 'engineers', and far too much focus on superficial sales-targets, that are often not realistic. And because the top-leaders don't understand why their targets are never met, they end up being timid and frustrated, which is then channeled into a climate of bullying and vengefulness.

Re:Yes men (1)

Sobrique (543255) | about 5 years ago | (#29741911)

Lack of regrets, remorse, empathy? That sounds quite a lot like the kind of traits that would make their way through tiers of management. Some companies do 'deliver value' by being downright nice and wonderful. The majority however, get ahead by being more ruthless than the others.

Re:Yes men (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742155)

You, sir, are either clueless or an authoritarian manipulator yourself. Your definitions are erroneous and not a little bit pompously wrong. A sociopath is not the same as a psychopath. A sociopath is aware of connsequences that affect him, though he may be guiltless and conscienceless in regard to effects of his actions on others. A psychopath on the other hand often does not care about effects on him, he will carry out destructive actions without bothering to worry about the future.

In my career I've run into a more than average number of sociopaths in marketing positions and have come to realize they rise because they lie slickly, are destructive to companies without caring what happens as long as they benefit from their actions and are not personally damaged. I've also seen sociopaths in engineering and non engineering positions, and at the top of companies.

And your last sentence is hogwash.

Re:Yes men (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742227)

Nice post.

Re:Yes men (5, Informative)

DangerFace (1315417) | about 5 years ago | (#29742307)

From the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, the premier psychological dictionary of Britain:

sociopathy n. Another name for antisocial personality disorder. sociopath n. A person with sociopathy.

And here's the definiton of antisocial personality disorder:

antisocial personality disorder n. A personality disorder characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, beginning in childhood or early adolescence and continuing into adulthood, with such signs and symptoms as failure to conform to social norms, manifested by repeated unlawful behaviour; deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying or swindling [confidence trickery] for pleasure or personal gain; impulsivity or failure to plan ahead; irritability and aggressiveness involving frequent assaults or fights; reckless disregard for the safety of self or others; consistent irresponsibilty involving failure to hold down jobs or to honour financial obligations; and lack of remorse for the mistreatment of others, as indicated by indifference or rationalization.

Please note that not all of these indicators need necessarily be present for a diagnosis of sociopathy, but my apologies, I don't have a copy of the DSMIV with me right now. In any case, jandersen is talking out of his arse, and has apparently made up a definition of sociopathy by watching some TV shows.

... but that is only a layman's opinion.

Yes, jandersen, it is a layman's opinion. Perhaps you have heard the saying "'tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt"?

Re:Yes men (1, Flamebait)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 years ago | (#29742775)

The United States is antisocial. All its residents share in a sort of collective sociopathy where our very lifestyle represents a disregard for and violation of the rights of others. If you could be made to feel the suffering caused by the production of a product when you buy a new car or stereo receiver you'd keel over and die of heartbreak. The country has repeatedly lied to and swindled other nations (look at all the dictators we've propped up, then left to rot causing new problems, *cough*Saddam*cough*Taliban*cough*Khomeini*cough* Which was all done for monetary gain, or to get more power, which always involved assaults and fights, with reckless disregard for the safety of civilians; Let's not even get into financial obligations. Lack of remorse? How long did it take to get a shitty apology for slavery? And of course, it's all rationalized away.

Our nation, and therefore all the people in it: suffering from an antisocial disorder.

Re:Yes men (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | about 5 years ago | (#29743147)

Nations don't "Socialize"...

And I have to disagree with you, I work in manufacturing(Of raw materials to finished products), there isn't much pain or suffering going on here besides the occasional grumpy boss...

Re:Yes men (4, Informative)

Nidi62 (1525137) | about 5 years ago | (#29743087)

DSM-IV: Diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder requires 3 or more of the following(after age 15): 1. failure to conform to social norms with respect towards lawful behaviors 2. deceitfulness, as indicated by repeat lying or conning others for personal pleasure/profit 3. impulsivity or failure to plan ahead 4. irritability or aggressiveness 5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others 6. constant irresponsibility(failure to honor financial obligations) 7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

Re:Yes men (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742339)

"Organisational sociopaths: rarely challenged, often promoted. Why?"

Re:Yes men (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742431)

Well, for one thing, psychopaths are not typically ambitious, target-seeking people; they are generally lacking in purpose and direction and their choices often seem random and trivial.

I'm going to go with the general profile for someone with antisocial personality disorder (which is one of the more common forms of "sociopaths")

        * Persistent lying or stealing
        * Superficial charm
        * Apparent lack of remorse or empathy; inability to care about hurting others
        * Impulsivity and/or recklessness
        * Poor behavioral controls — expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper
        * Narcissism, elevated self-appraisal or a sense of extreme entitlement
        * Tendency to violate the boundaries and rights of others
        * Aggressive, often violent behavior; prone to getting involved in fights
        * Disregard for the safety of self or others

Seems to me that this would be the PERFECT person that would climb the corporate ladder.

A sociopath is what used to be called a psychopath in the not so old days

That works both ways. A psychopath ten years ago is called a sociopath today, a sociopath today would be called a psychopath ten years ago. It is not a term that changes the definition of what the person is suffering from. That you have a prejudiced view of "psychopaths" (no doubt fueled by decades of movie-portrayals) does not make it true.

completely misunderstood what it was all about

Yes, yes you have.

I've gone to the Dark Side... (3, Insightful)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | about 5 years ago | (#29741907)

...and become a manager. It's hard work with lots of moving parts that need to keep spinning and lots of things that need to be done by this or that timeline. My team members respect me and do as I ask because I'm not full of shit.

But when I reflect on managers that I've had, a significant number have been seriously mentally ill. I refused to work for one recently when I realised he was paranoid schizophrenic (and I know what I'm talking about on that one).

Those managers appear to have been chosen because of their mental illness which makes them unable to empathize with their underlings and spend most of their time in controlfreakery or worse to keep the people below off balance and never know whats going on.

Not too many sociopaths but plenty of managers with schizophrenic spectrum type disorders.

Re:I've gone to the Dark Side... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742109)

I'm sure my boss is borderline Asperger.

She tells 2 or 3 people to do the same thing usually missing out some aspect on each request. Very frustrating to find out a colleague is working on the exact same thing when you ask them if they know anything about x,y or z.

The brain dumps are my favourite. 2 minutes of rapid fire half sentences that ricochet from one subject to another leaving you confused as to what the fuck it was you were/are supposed to be doing. I have realised lately that I can ignore the whole conversation and just wait for someone else to ask me about the thing that the boss asked them to do :-)

Yes, mental illness and/or personality disorders really do seem to help in climbing the corporate ladder.

Re:I've gone to the Dark Side... (2, Interesting)

bytesex (112972) | about 5 years ago | (#29742195)

I've discovered that it is generally rare to find a person, anyone, that isn't somehow a bit crazy or plainly batshit insane (although functioning in society). To meet a person that is balanced, is so much rarer than to meet their opposite number, especially after thirty or so. Before that they're obviously just as crazy, but at least you can forgive each other 'for being not yet completely grown-up', or something. So statistically, you'll see these people everywhere, also in higher functions in white-collar companies.

This is just personal anecdote of course, and I wouldn't, for the life of me, rank myself amongst those balanced people I've just described. I just wouldn't.

Re:I've gone to the Dark Side... (2, Interesting)

gwappo (612511) | about 5 years ago | (#29742135)

My team members respect me and do as I ask because I'm not full of shit.

Work up your courage and do an anonymous 360; you'll be surprised. I'm assuming the team you're managing is of a meaningful size (eg. 15-20) the diversity of comments you get back is amazing and educational. People tend to have diverse needs from their superiors but face to face you usually get mostly smiley faces.

Re:I've gone to the Dark Side... (2, Interesting)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | about 5 years ago | (#29742175)

Nope, of this I'm sure. I've only been doing this for a short while, but there's open communication in the team and questions and queries come up frequently, but none of it is hostile to me. Unless you're completely stupid, a team of engineers would let you know pretty quickly if they disrepect you.

Probably because they've had a manager who was pretty bad, narcissistic and difficult, I come across as competent and workmanlike by comparison. You never really know for while whether you're cutting the mustard, but at the moment its pretty good between team members.

Not everywhere is like Dilbert, but everyone has known PHBs and know how destructive they can be. But I'm not one of them.

Just do it, see what pops up (2, Interesting)

gwappo (612511) | about 5 years ago | (#29742215)

Not everywhere is like Dilbert, but everyone has known PHBs and know how destructive they can be. But I'm not one of them.

I would definitely not suggest you're a PHB, you sound like a good team leader. It is however very rare for a group of people to all have the same opinion; which is exactly why a 360 is so damn interesting.

Re:Just do it, see what pops up (2, Interesting)

Hal_Porter (817932) | about 5 years ago | (#29742597)

I see what you mean, but there are a lot of people middle managers who are "good enough", usually compared to the likely alternatives. Most people know this and will even cover up their few mistakes.

Basically it's a self interest thing. If you know your boss will get replaced by someone truly ghastly should they get fired you're going to stop that happening. My guess is the OP is in the "good enough" category from the way he writes about things. Of course he could be a deeply deluded sociopath who is unaware that he is loathed by a significant percentage of his team.

Re:I've gone to the Dark Side... (4, Interesting)

obarthelemy (160321) | about 5 years ago | (#29742695)

The simple fact that you think that everyone loves you is proof that you are deluded. And that you say so emphatically on slashdot, narcissistic.

Re:I've gone to the Dark Side... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#29742191)

I turned my back on a good team leader position a year ago because I had been put under a manager who had something seriously wrong with him. Hard to say what. He could just be a good actor. But I don't want to work for somebody who can live with pissing people off the way he was, so I found a different position in the company.

This persons defining attribute was that he gave orders from the first hour he was there but clearly know nothing about the area he was managing. Most people learn their limitations in this business. Some apparently don't.

I don't know how I would recognise a schizophrenic spectrum type disorder. I associate that type of thing with people who overemphasise relationships. A lot of us engineers swing the other away I think. Engage brain before putting mouth into gear, and so on.

Re:Yes men (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742011)

Oh so you work for Cenitex too do you? []

Not just corporate culture... (3, Insightful)

feepness (543479) | about 5 years ago | (#29741683)

Any bureaucracy. Government as well.

Sadly, all are lofty goals eventually come down to a sociopathic bureaucrat acting solely to benefit himself.

Re:Not just corporate culture... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29741903)

Damn skippy. I say we do away with the lot of them! Les aristocrates a les lanternes, the sooner the better!

Education!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742887)

The problem is education.

For those that understand the American college/university system. How many of you remember that student that binged drank all weekend was a master at getting and reviewing test from the year before, but actual knowledge of anything was superficial at best. Basically skated through college.

Well, these people are out in the wild now. And they need jobs. They are not qualified to do anything technical. But they aren't necessarily stupid either - just lazy. They are learning on the job. The ones that are actually have a brain will eventually figure out what works for them. They will lather-rinse-repeat.

About all you can hope for is that the people in the company will focus on their jobs and just their jobs. The CEO keeps the financial ship afloat. The marketing / business development people stick with trying to figure out what the customer wants (and stop telling me to add "USB" without telling me what for ) and engineers design the best products they can with the given resources.

If you ever want to see clueless, go talk to your HR department about insurance options. At best, they can tell you which one theoretically costs the company less.

BTW. If you're disappointing now, wait to you figure out what "executive compensation" is.

That's why a large, ignorant electorate is BAD! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29743115)

Lately in the US we've been obsessed with cultivating as large of an electorate as possible, no matter how ignorant (see MTV's Rock the Vote campaign for but one example), when what the founders intended was for a small but representative educated electorate - the kind of people who usually have a stake in the legislation at hand. That is why only property owners were originally allowed to vote. But once again the liberal concept of compassion has provided an unintended avenue of weakness and has lead to all manner of idiotic decisions in the name of compassion.

"I place economy among the first and important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our choice between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labors and in our amusements. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy."
-Thomas Jefferson

Another View (2, Interesting)

hyades1 (1149581) | about 5 years ago | (#29741697)

Perhaps I'm oversimplifying, but I've always had a slightly different view of corporate culture...especially at the very top. I is easily summed up thus: Whether the water is salty or fresh, shit floats to the top.

Re:Another View (1)

cjfs (1253208) | about 5 years ago | (#29741761)

Those who can, do. Those who can't, manage?

Reminds me of some type of engineer to politician spectrum, with everyone viewing their position as the pinnacle.

Re:Another View (1)

M8e (1008767) | about 5 years ago | (#29742387)

Hehehe floaters.

If you want to succeed being a kiss ass is a given (1)

clandonald (1652847) | about 5 years ago | (#29741711)

But this article is like using Startrek to explain scientific principles and a reference for first contact. And we could even call it the "Kirk principle".

The Kirk principle (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29741783)

IIRC, the Kirk principle was to kill it if it was male and f*ck it if it was female. At least in the early Trks.

Re:The Kirk principle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29741909)

We quite clearly haven't seen the same series, "f*ck it if it's sentient" would be more accurate - the gay subtext on the bridge wasn't exactly subtle.

Balance of interests (5, Interesting)

evilviper (135110) | about 5 years ago | (#29741749)

Sociopath's aren't necessarily a bad thing. They'll do whatever they have to for their benefit. If their benefit happens to benefit the company, SYNERGY! Symbiosis. Everyone's happy, capitalism works.

It works out, because even if some leeches find a way to benefit from what is disadvantageous to the company, there's someone higher-up who more directly benefits from the success of the company, and will either push the leeches in the right direction, or throw them out. The system works.

It only falls apart when the company is big enough that leeches go unnoticed higher up the chain.

I must admit that the corporate world is slowly turning me into a sociopath as well. I have lots of things that need to get done, diplomacy takes forever, and the brutally honest (naive) approach gets you in trouble. So, whatever simple tricks will get things going, in the direction they need to go, are fair game.

Yes, it takes a special balance of pathologies to make someone a manager, and when dealing with them, the only way to go is at least slightly dishonest manipulation. The standard forms of motivation that work with normal human beings just don't work with the collection of neuroses that coalesces into the form of a manager.

Re:Balance of interests (5, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 5 years ago | (#29741801)

These days, the leeches at the very top have learned to set things up so that they don't have any interest in the company's success: if the company does well, they get huge bonuses, and if it does poorly, they get "fired" with equally huge golden parachutes. The whole synergy idea is beloved of management theorists (i.e. people who have a special talent for stringing buzzwords together) but it bears a steadily decreasing relationship to how things happen in the real world.

Re:Balance of interests (1)

houghi (78078) | about 5 years ago | (#29741933)

These days? You must be at least several hundred years old. Not looking at some exceptions, that is how it works at the top since at least the middle ages and most likely before that as well.

The methods and legal terms have changed, but that is about it. Everybody looks after number one. The ones at the top just do it a bit better for various reasons. Whether you take your power and/or money by sword or by legal process is irrelevant if the result is the same.

I am not going to work for the greater good of the company, the group or my cow orkers and I doubt many of they or even you do. Those that do are either lying or very unlikely to ever get to the top.

I could imagine that it is human behavior to try to become the alpha (fe-)male and in 'these days' that is measured in wealth and/or power.

Re:Balance of interests (5, Interesting)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 5 years ago | (#29741955)

What I meant by "these days" is that for most of the 20th century, executives generally went down with the ship. Sure, the top executives of a failed company were still going to be much better off than the Joe Schmoes who worked for that company, but they were also going to be much worse off than the executives of successful companies. It's only in the last generation or so that the C*O class has learned to insulate itself almost completely from any consequences of failure. I agree with you that this is a return to form; executives are the new nobility, and it took them a while after the fall of the old nobility in the 18th and 19th centuries to figure out all the tricks.

Re:Balance of interests (1, Interesting)

VoidCrow (836595) | about 5 years ago | (#29742193)

What can I say other than 'I agree'?

Re:Balance of interests (1)

hany (3601) | about 5 years ago | (#29742021)

Reality will kick in sooner or later. If later, it usually takes form of a "global depression", "global warming" or something similar.

So I guess, the sooner it kicks in, the better. :)

Re:Balance of interests (5, Interesting)

gadget junkie (618542) | about 5 years ago | (#29741853)

I've been working in corporate environment, and the terminal stage for me is really perceived as the steady, apex-state for the organizations. I usually observe these developments:

1. inward looking bias: the company is NEVER, at any stage, actively looking at its business in relation to objective realities. This gives a sense of control over its own destiny, akin to throwing the outboard motor into the sea because map reading is difficult.

2. since reality intrudes sometimes, a well cohordinated system of committee sterilizes the possibility to learn from mistakes; a good committee, as you may know, is something that uses time and resources to say "We've done the best that could be done, and the failure was due to unforseeable circumstances; proceed as before";

3. to avoid the possibility that the frontier parts of the organizations do an internal takeover, a good feudal system is essential. you must be able to dangle promotion to sinecures in front of those that have to face reality day by day;

The promotion system is like a priesthood: the first requirement is an ability and willingness to believe. Ability gets only disbelief

Re:Balance of interests (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29741857)

either you don't know what a sociopath truly is, or you already were one. I don't think a person who isn't a sociopath would actually view sociopathic behavior so lightly.

Re:Balance of interests (3, Interesting)

DeadDecoy (877617) | about 5 years ago | (#29741885)

I'm kinda curious though, how well does his theory apply to a small team of skilled workers, like say a programming team or surgical department? Or for that matter, professional individuals who work solo either in consulting or producing their own products? It seems to me, that the type of insanity Rao describes, applies predominantly to people who have low mobility in the social-economic environment skill-wise (minus the sociopaths). These people then, through a special type of Darwinism, become sociopaths, the clueless, or losers because they have little to no bargaining power. If individuals had bargaining power/leadership but no motivation to completely drain their environment for personal gain, would this make them a different group or simply clueless?

Re:Balance of interests (1)

Edmund Blackadder (559735) | about 5 years ago | (#29741889)

Unfortunately, it does not work all the time. For example, there are ways to improve corporate stock prices and yet doom the company in the long term. They are very well known (but not always available). But if such an avenue is available, it is usually much easier to follow than genuinely improving the value of the corporation. This is essentially what happened to the US auto-makers.

Re:Balance of interests (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | about 5 years ago | (#29742085)

I sometimes suspect that our society is tailored around the few percent of sociopaths it contains. 95% of people will not open you door even if you don't lock it. Yet everyone uses locks.
A human organization can not be based on the goodwill and the assumption of total cooperation amongst its member because of a small minority. Because of this minority, the majority has to abide to stringent laws and regulations that are useless for 95% of the people.

So yes, of course, a company works well with sociopaths. It is made for them. It is the people who are not that are uncomfortable.

Re:Balance of interests (1)

VoidCrow (836595) | about 5 years ago | (#29742209)

I'd agree up to 'a company works well with sociopaths'.

Re:Balance of interests (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | about 5 years ago | (#29742243)

If you define "works well" by "makes profits" then I stand by my point.

Re:Balance of interests (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742181)

The trickle-down effect of The Shit Festoon Model? Sounds strangely familiar.

Re:Balance of interests (0)

jellomizer (103300) | about 5 years ago | (#29743409)

By year two in my MBA I finally learned what Synergy means.
Your example is not it.

Synergy is when working in teams (not groups) where working with multiple people creates an additive effect to the idea process. Real Synergy is difficult to obtain.

That said most Offices do not have MBA's running them. The Middle Manager Sociopath is usually running it usually have Undergrad degrees in business or less. They may pick up these words that the MBA's use and buzzword them and make them stupid. So they will look that much better.
The Office actually shows a lot of that. The people from Corporate are usually more intelligent, and barely tolerate the Middle Managers Sociopaths nature.

Originally by Douglas Adams (1)

StupiderThanYou (896020) | about 5 years ago | (#29741841)

The three categories are pretty much the occupants of the A, B and C arks. Cue the mutant space goat.

Sounds suspicious to me. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 5 years ago | (#29741849)

Sounds suspicious to me - more like the same "this can't be my fault, its [my parent|my spouse|society]'s fault" bullshit.

Re:Sounds suspicious to me. (2, Funny)

linguizic (806996) | about 5 years ago | (#29741875)

I agree completely. It MUST be your fault my boss is Zap Brannigan in a Hawaiian shirt.

Re:Sounds suspicious to me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29743323)

Oh, so nothing is your fault, but the fault of people who failed to blame themselves.

Right... (4, Insightful)

muecksteiner (102093) | about 5 years ago | (#29741863)

So what makes anyone think that this sort of behaviour is confined to the corporate world? Just consider academia. I mean, if there wasn't exactly the same kind of thing going on there, there would be no PhD Comics (a.k.a. "Dilbert for Academics"), right?


Re:Right... (3, Interesting)

arethuza (737069) | about 5 years ago | (#29742089)

I'd rather not consider academia, thank you very much. I'm amazed I managed to stick it for so long - I've never, even in rather ruthless commercial environments, encountered an area where everyone was so blatantly out for themselves and didn't give a sh*t about anyone else. All the horse trading over whether someone would help you only if they got their name on your paper etc. Towards the end of my time there I was even playing the game myself - asking (and getting) my name on papers that I contributed very little to. At least these days I occasionally do something that is actually of benefit to others, not something I think I ever achieved in academia. Yes, I know I'm quite bitter about it. Probably because I'm now appreciating how good their pension plan is.

Re:Right... (5, Insightful)

muecksteiner (102093) | about 5 years ago | (#29742419)

Actually, academia is experiencing the same kind of socio-dynamical problem that is plaguing the business world - only with slightly different constraints, and one aspect that actually makes it much worse (more on that further on). Common to both environments is that there appears to be a tendency inherent in the system to select exactly the wrong kind of persons for leading positions.

In academia, you *do* have honest researchers who do not put their name on the publications of everyone else in the lab, regardless of whether they contributed to these. They are just at a significant disadvantage against paper-grabbers, and practically the only thing that can allow honest scientists to proceed along the career ladder are honest *senior* scientists, and professors. But once a particular university has become infected by paper-grabbers, it is very hard to get rid of them again - actually, they will tend to take over the system, once they have gained a foothold (a bit like academic kudzu, if you will).

One defining feature of such individuals is that they do not have much of a scientific vision in their field, but they do know how to game the system. Which means that their only vulnerability is a lack of precisely the qualifications one would expect in an academic - a truly deep understanding of some area in their field of research. This is the reason that the one sort of person those paper-grabbing fast-track "scientists" abhor most within a department are actually precisely the persons who ought to be there - thorough, methodical workers who do *not* brag about their achievements all the time. These guys are the only ones who can actually say "look, the emperor has no clothes!", and as a consequence, are dangerous to them. So the career-minded paper grabber will often try everything he can to get rid of the genuine scientists around him.

For these reasons, the two types of academic usually get on like cats and dogs, but usually, only one of them will advance along the career ladder - no karma points for guessing which of the two this is going to be. Fast forward after a couple of decades of such social dynamics taking place, and presto!, you end up with precisely the sort of universities we have now.

And the peculiar personnel structure of universities means that these effects have a much worse effect on the overall organization than they have in the corporate world.

In practically all cases, corporations have a dedicated career track for management, so there is at least a small chance that the lurid social dynamics of leadership promotion will only damage the ethos and effectivity of management. At least in theory, the actual productive part of a company can go on doing its thing, even if management are at each other's throats.

In academia, you do not have a second career track for the weasels. Once academic kudzu has spread to the top of the hierarchy, there very often is nobody senior left to do actual high-level work that is genuinely useful - so all sorts of improper things start to happen as part of everyday routine. PhD Comics, here we come...

Re:Right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742601)

And the peculiar personnel structure of universities means that these effects have a much worse effect on the overall organization than they have in the corporate world.

[citation needed]

Re:Right... (3, Interesting)

arethuza (737069) | about 5 years ago | (#29742753)

One thing that cheers me up is that I wrote a single author paper once in my own time about a subject that was not directly related to my "day job". I got to present at a conference and it was selected for journal publication.

You would not believe the amount of grief I got for doing this and the department effectively ignored this publication and I was told not to do that kind of thing again.

The interesting thing is that looking back the contents of that paper were almost certainly patentable and could have (in a Eolas like manner) probably have been a way of screwing a lot of money out of Sun/Microsoft etc. Given that I don't approve of software patents I was rather glad it wasn't patented and, in my own bitter way, rather glad that they probably missed out on a pile of money.

the ark fleet (2, Funny)

oever (233119) | about 5 years ago | (#29741871)

A very similar theory was outlined in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There, a planet was in apparent danger. The population was to be evacuated to a new planet in three ships. The first ship would contain the leaders, the third ship would contain the workers and artists. The second ship, the B ark containing amongst others hairdressers, tired T.V. producers, and insurance salesmen, personnel officers, was encountered by Arthur and Ford en route to a new planet.

The B ark left first to make sure the population would be comfortably received on the new planet. The other two arks never followed.

transcript []

Re:the ark fleet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29741923)

IIRC, the indigo people (I kid) were extinct by this time, wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.

Really, without that part of the story, it's a defense of genocide.

I never realized this before. It's a similar feeling to noticing that everyone in Star Trek is wearing a uniform.

Re:the ark fleet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742123)

Firstly, the intelligent people made a mistake in that sanitization is an important thing to have, and I disagreed with removing the phone sanatizers from day 1.

Regarding star trek, I have never been on a navy vessel, nor a nuclear wessle, but I strongly suspect that if I were everyone I met would be in a uniform. I further expect that everyone I interact with at military bases on other shores(planets/ships) would also be in uniform. Notice that there arent' really any ;memorable non-military scenes, and there isn'treally a uniform for "dirty pesents" If they ever went to farpoint station, notice the civilian population isn't wearing a uniform.

Re:the ark fleet (1)

VoidCrow (836595) | about 5 years ago | (#29742217)

I'd have kept the hairdressers,

I'm sorry.... (1)

Agamous Child (538344) | about 5 years ago | (#29741897)


hierarchy is the problem (3, Interesting)

azgard (461476) | about 5 years ago | (#29741915)

Any hierarchical form of government has these problems. What we need is democracy, not more management buzzwords. The problem is that in hierarchy, people have power over each other, thus don't trust each other, and this inhibits free flow of information and makes all sorts of games possible.

I recommend a good book [] which explains this by nice example.

The SNAFU principle (3, Interesting)

dido (9125) | about 5 years ago | (#29742381)

Exactly right. As the SNAFU principle states, true communication is possible only between equals. If someone has power over another in an organization, the subordinate would rather tell his/her superior pleasant lies rather than the truth, for fear of being shot as the messenger of bad news. There's a famous story that illustrates this quite well:

In the beginning was the plan, and then the specification; And the plan was without form, and the specification was void.

And darkness was on the faces of the implementors thereof; And they spake unto their leader, saying: "It is a crock of shit, and smells as of a sewer."

And the leader took pity on them, and spoke to the project leader: "It is a crock of excrement, and none may abide the odor thereof."

And the project leader spake unto his section head, saying: "It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide it."

The section head then hurried to his department manager and informed him thus: "It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength."

The department manager carried these words to his general manager, and spoke unto him saying: "It containeth that which aideth the growth of plants, and it is very strong."

And so it was that the general manager rejoiced and delivered the good news unto the Vice President. "It promoteth growth, and it is very powerful."

The Vice President rushed to the President's side, and joyously exclaimed: "This powerful new software product will promote the growth of the company!"

And the President looked upon the product, and saw that it was very good.

what a load of bollocks (2, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 5 years ago | (#29741927)

I'm going to invent a theory about soldiers and armies and stuff. I'll do it by watching "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan".

I'm glad I'm not a part of this (3, Insightful)

dingen (958134) | about 5 years ago | (#29741931)

Every time I read this sort of stuff, or watch The Office, or read Dilbert, I'm glad I've never worked for a company with over 20 employees.

Re:I'm glad I'm not a part of this (1)

woolio (927141) | about 5 years ago | (#29742943)

I've worked for one tiny company (200 employees) and a few big ones (10000s of employees).

Although there were fewer levels of management, there was proportionately much more crap going on in the small company.

Re:I'm glad I'm not a part of this (1)

dingen (958134) | about 5 years ago | (#29743035)

I don't think 200 employees is tiny. I've worked at a company with 1 colleague, a boss and the boss' wife. That's tiny. And works fine by the way.

Worth the coffee! (2, Interesting)

gwappo (612511) | about 5 years ago | (#29742067)

Gave me some new insights, so I bought Venkatesh Rao a coffee (link at the bottom of the article.)

Interesting how easy it is to classify (former) colleagues as sociopath, clueless or loser, yet how this gets harder to do on ourselves.

Late show (1)

ptolemaeus (1656353) | about 5 years ago | (#29742261)

Late show corporate governance pyramid.

- Socio-sexualo-path alpha leader
--- Sexually committed middle management
----- Sexually aspiring upper staffers
------- Non-yet-sexually acquainted lower staff

Ockham's razor (2, Insightful)

dugeen (1224138) | about 5 years ago | (#29742291)

Don't attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.

Re:Hanlon's razor (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742337)

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity" -Hanlon's razor []

"When you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better." -Occam's razor []

Creator and Actor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742429)

Gervais was not just the creator of The Office but also played the role of David Brent.

Am I the only one (2, Funny)

broknstrngz (1616893) | about 5 years ago | (#29742525)

who thinks "corporate culture" is an oxymoron?

I can't make myself watch "The Office" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29742807)

It's too much like being back at work. No thanks.

Be you own Boss... (1)

herojig (1625143) | about 5 years ago | (#29742863)

It's all whinging that passes off as entertainment in the "Office." Quit whining and be your own boss.

The effect is the opposite of apparent intensions (5, Interesting)

viking80 (697716) | about 5 years ago | (#29742931)

Series like the Office and books like the Peter Principle makes "the sour pill go down". By that I mean that it gives the average guy a safety vent for frustration and irritation created by random acts of management as well as corporate cruel and unusual operations. It basically lubricates the workforce, and while they think they are part of a large group ridiculing management and the corporate culture, the end effect of this effort is not change or revolution, but, au contraire, submission, acceptance and cooperation.

Wow just wow. (0)

definate (876684) | about 5 years ago | (#29743169)

Wow, I was ready to write this off as retarded, but it has an absurd amount of merit and I am thoroughly impressed.

I definitely see a lot of this happening in the work place, and it makes a lot of fucking sense. This definitely requires more research and thought, I know it will take a while for these ideas to sink in, before I have a better grasp of it. I am not sure yet exactly how this understanding can be exploited, as it seems to be more of a free market (or as it says Darwainism) approach to the organizational environment. I would be interested to see an analysis using this framework on how organizations with aggressive cultures with high burn out rates, are instinctively using this principle to cut out the clueless and possibly the over performing losers. Not that I am abdicating that such aggressive cultures are right for all organizations.

Under this classification, I'd be an under performing loser cum sociopath.

My background:
Dip. Programming
BEcon & BFin

Yay more labels (1)

happy_place (632005) | about 5 years ago | (#29743191)

Honestly, what good does labeling folks do? If you want to help matters, identify the behaviors that don't work, but name-calling, while perhaps cathartic to some, doesn't engender any sort of helpful solutions to the problems that management has with communication and leadership. Of course that's probably not the intent. The truth is that most problems in management are equally shared by subordinants (at ALL LEVELS of a hierarchy) because no one knows how to effectively communicate problems without fear of how those problems will affect #1... Often because of ranking systems and fears of negative impacts on performance evaluations folks have nothing to say, and so it just gets passed along. And it turns out that management isn't trivial, especially the further removed one gets from the actual products a company delivers, so that's when they need more frank and open communication, but ironically they get less of it.
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