Quotes from Moral Mazes

Link post

Read­ing and ac­tu­ally pay­ing at­ten­tion to Mo­ral Mazes is hard. Writ­ing care­fully about it is even harder. I effec­tively spent sev­eral months forc­ing my way through the book, be­cause it seemed im­por­tant to do that. I then spent a month try­ing to write about the book, but that’s go­ing su­per slow as well. The rep­e­ti­tion, the say­ing the same thing from mul­ti­ple an­gles, the de­tailed ex­am­ples, seem nec­es­sary to get the points across, be­cause one has the very strong in­stinct to avoid un­der­stand­ing it, to read with­out see­ing, to hear with­out listen­ing. At least, I know I did, de­spite these things also not only not feel­ing new, but res­onat­ing with my di­rect ex­pe­riences.

So in the in­ter­est of get­ting some­thing out there, and hop­ing that I’ll be able to ad­dress things in more de­tail later, here are all the 168 (!) quotes I high­lighted from the book, roughly or­ga­nized into cat­e­gories. Lo­ca­tions listed are how to find the quote in the Kin­dle edi­tion, and the quotes are num­bered for ease of search and refer­ence.

A. Hier­ar­chy and Credit

1. As a former vice-pres­i­dent of a large firm says: “What is right in the cor­po­ra­tion is not what is right in a man’s home or in his church. What is right in the cor­po­ra­tion is what the guy above you wants from you. That’s what moral­ity is in the cor­po­ra­tion.” (Lo­ca­tion 148)

2. When man­agers de­scribe their work to an out­sider, they al­most always first say: “I work for [Bill James]” or “I re­port to [Harry Mills]” or “I’m in [Joe Bell’s] group,”* and only then pro­ceed to de­scribe their ac­tual work func­tions. (Lo­ca­tion 387)

3. The key in­ter­lock­ing mechanism of this struc­ture is its re­port­ing sys­tem. Each man­ager gath­ers up the profit tar­gets or other ob­jec­tives of his or her sub­or­di­nates and, with these, for­mu­lates his com­mit­ments to his boss; this boss takes these com­mit­ments and those of his other sub­or­di­nates, and in turn makes a com­mit­ment to his boss.* (Lo­ca­tion 441)

4. It is char­ac­ter­is­tic of this au­thor­ity sys­tem that de­tails are pushed down and credit is pul­led up. (Lo­ca­tion 446)

5. One gives credit, there­fore, not nec­es­sar­ily where it is due, al­though one always in­vokes this old saw, but where pru­dence dic­tates. Cus­tom­ar­ily, peo­ple who had noth­ing to do with the suc­cess of a pro­ject can be al­lo­cated credit for their ex­em­plary efforts. At the mid­dle lev­els, there­fore, credit for a par­tic­u­lar idea or suc­cess is always a type of re­fracted so­cial honor; one can­not claim credit even if it is earned. Credit has to be given, and ac­cep­tance of the gift im­plic­itly in­volves a reaf­fir­ma­tion and strength­en­ing of fealty. A su­pe­rior may share some credit with sub­or­di­nates in or­der to deepen fealty re­la­tion­ships and in­duce greater efforts on his be­half. Of course, a differ­ent sys­tem ob­tains in the al­lo­ca­tion of blame. (Lo­ca­tion 482)

6. If one has a mis­take-prone boss, there is, of course, always the temp­ta­tion to let him make a fool of him­self, but the wise sub­or­di­nate knows that this car­ries two dan­gers—he him­self may get done in by his boss’s er­rors, and, per­haps more im­por­tant, other man­agers will view with the gravest sus­pi­cion a sub­or­di­nate who with­holds cru­cial in­for­ma­tion from his boss even if they think the boss is a nin­com­poop. A sub­or­di­nate must also not cir­cum­vent his boss nor ever give the ap­pear­ance of do­ing so. He must never con­tra­dict his boss’s judg­ment in pub­lic. To vi­o­late the last ad­mo­ni­tion is thought to con­sti­tute a kind of death wish in busi­ness, and one who does so should prac­tice what one ex­ec­u­tive calls “flex­i­bil­ity drills,” an ex­er­cise “where you put your head be­tween your legs and kiss your ass good-bye.” (Lo­ca­tion 424)

7. The gen­eral rule is that bosses are ex­pected to pro­tect those in their bailiwicks. Not to do so, or to be un­able to do so, is taken as a sign of un­trust­wor­thi­ness or weak­ness. If, how­ever, sub­or­di­nates make mis­takes that are thought to be dumb, or es­pe­cially if they vi­o­late fealty obli­ga­tions—for ex­am­ple, go­ing around their boss—then aban­don­ment of them to the va­garies of or­ga­ni­za­tional forces is quite ac­cept­able. (Lo­ca­tion 438)

8. Man­agers of­ten note that one must stay at least three drinks be­hind one’s boss at so­cial func­tions; this meant that Brown’s sub­or­di­nates might never drink at all on such oc­ca­sions. (Lo­ca­tion 630)

9. How­ever, the be­lief of in­sid­ers in ab­stract goals is not a pre­req­ui­site for per­sonal suc­cess; be­lief in and sub­or­di­na­tion to in­di­vi­d­u­als who ar­tic­u­late or­ga­ni­za­tional goals is. One must, how­ever, to be suc­cess­ful in a bu­reau­cratic work situ­a­tion, be able to act, at a mo­ment’s no­tice, as if offi­cial re­al­ity is the only re­al­ity. (Lo­ca­tion 1194)

10. You can put the damper on any­one who works for you very eas­ily and that’s why there’s too much chem­istry in the cor­po­ra­tion. There’s not enough ob­jec­tive in­for­ma­tion about peo­ple. When you re­ally want to do some­body in, you just say, well, he can’t get along with peo­ple. That’s a big one. And we do that con­stantly. What that means, by the way, is that he pissed me off; he gave ev­i­dence of his frus­tra­tion with some situ­a­tion. Another big one is that he can’t man­age—he doesn’t del­e­gate or he doesn’t make his sub­or­di­nates keep his com­mit­ments. So in this sort of way, a con­sen­sus does build up about a per­son and a guy can be dead and not even know it. (Lo­ca­tion 1475)

11. Only at this point did Brady re­al­ize that it was the CEO him­self who was fid­dling with the num­bers. The en­tire dual re­port­ing sys­tem that the CEO had per­son­ally ini­ti­ated was in part an elab­o­rate spy net­work to guard against dis­cov­ery of the slush fund ma­nipu­la­tion, and per­haps other fi­nagling, rather than a sys­tem to en­sure fi­nan­cial hon­esty. (Lo­ca­tion 2404) [Leads into next quote]

12. [Note: Brady is an ac­coun­tant.] The cor­po­rate man­agers to whom I pre­sented this case see Brady’s dilemma as de­void of moral or eth­i­cal con­tent. In their view, the is­sues that Brady raises are, first of all, sim­ply prac­ti­cal mat­ters. His ba­sic failing was, first, that he vi­o­lated the fun­da­men­tal rules of bu­reau­cratic life. Th­ese are usu­ally stated briefly as a se­ries of ad­mo­ni­tions. (1) You never go around your boss. (2) You tell your boss what he wants to hear, even when your boss claims that he wants dis­sent­ing views. (3) If your boss wants some­thing dropped, you drop it. (4) You are sen­si­tive to your boss’s wishes so that you an­ti­ci­pate what he wants; you don’t force him, in other words, to act as boss. (5) Your job is not to re­port some­thing that your boss does not want re­ported, but rather to cover it up. You do what your job re­quires, and you keep your mouth shut. Se­cond, the man­agers that I in­ter­viewed feel that Brady had plenty of available le­gi­t­i­ma­tions to ex­cuse or jus­tify his not act­ing. Clearly, they feel, a great many other ex­ec­u­tives knew about the pen­sion fund scam and did noth­ing; ev­ery­body, es­pe­cially the top bosses, was play­ing the game. The prob­lem fell into other peo­ple’s ar­eas, was their re­spon­si­bil­ity, and there­fore their prob­lem. Why, then, worry about it? Be­sides, Brady had a num­ber of ways out of the situ­a­tion if he found it in­tol­er­able, in­clud­ing re­sign­ing. More­over, what­ever ac­tion he took would be in­signifi­cant any­way so why bother to act at all and jeop­ar­dize him­self? Even a fool should have known that the CEO was not likely to take what­ever blame re­sulted from the whole af­fair. (Lo­ca­tion 2429)

13. One’s best efforts at be­ing fair, equitable, and gen­er­ous with sub­or­di­nates clash both with a logic that de­mands choices be­tween peo­ple, in­evitably pro­duc­ing ha­tred, envy and an­i­mos­ity, and with the plain fact that, de­spite protes­ta­tions to the con­trary, many peo­ple do not want to be treated fairly. (Lo­ca­tion 4552)

14. Mas­ter­ing the sub­tle but nec­es­sary arts of defer­ence with­out seem­ing to be defer­en­tial, of “brown nos­ing” with­out fawn­ing, of si­mul­ta­neous self-pro­mo­tion and self-ef­face­ment, and oc­ca­sion­ally of the out­right self-abase­ment that such re­la­tion­ships re­quire is a tax­ing en­deavor that de­mands con­tinual com­pro­mises with con­ven­tional and pop­u­lar no­tions of in­tegrity. Only those with an in­ex­haustible ca­pac­ity for self-ra­tio­nal­iza­tion, fueled by bound­less am­bi­tion, can es­cape the dis­com­fort such com­pro­mises pro­duce. (Lo­ca­tion 4572)

B. Feel­ing Comfortable

15. Essen­tially, man­agers try to gauge whether they feel “com­fortable” with pro­posed re­s­olu­tions to spe­cific prob­lems, a task that always in­volves an as­sess­ment of oth­ers’ or­ga­ni­za­tional moral­ity and a reck­on­ing of the prac­ti­cal or­ga­ni­za­tional and mar­ket ex­i­gen­cies at hand. The no­tion of com­fort has many mean­ings. When ap­plied to other per­sons, the idea of com­fort is an in­tu­itive mea­sure of trust­wor­thi­ness, re­li­a­bil­ity, and pre­dictabil­ity in a poly­cen­tric world that man­agers of­ten find trou­bling, am­bigu­ous, and anx­iety-laden. Such as­sess­ment of oth­ers’ or­ga­ni­za­tional moral­ity is a cru­cial as­pect of a more gen­eral set of pro­ba­tions that are in­trin­sic to man­age­rial work. (Lo­ca­tion 302)

16. They ob­jected in par­tic­u­lar to those as­pects of my brief writ­ten pro­posal that dis­cussed the eth­i­cal dilem­mas of man­age­rial work. They urged me to avoid any men­tion of ethics or val­ues al­to­gether and con­cen­trate in­stead on the “de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cess” where I could talk about “trade-offs” and fo­cus on the “hard de­ci­sions be­tween com­pet­ing in­ter­ests” that mark man­age­rial work. Tak­ing these cues, I rewrote and rewrote the pro­posal couch­ing my prob­lem in the bland, eu­phemistic lan­guage that I was rapidly learn­ing is the lin­gua franca of the cor­po­rate world. But such re­cast­ing eroded what­ever was dis­tinc­tive about the pro­ject and some man­agers dis­missed the study as a rein­ven­tion of the wheel. (Lo­ca­tion 324)

17. In effect, I could not get ac­cess to study man­agers’ moral rules-in-use be­cause I seemed un­able to ar­tic­u­late the ap­pro­pri­ate stance that would con­vince key man­agers that I already un­der­stood those rules and was thus a per­son with whom they could “feel com­fortable” enough to trust. (Lo­ca­tion 334)

18. The pro­cess cen­tered on the writ­ten pro­posal that I had been cir­cu­lat­ing and con­sisted es­sen­tially of a fur­ther­ing of my lin­guis­tic ed­u­ca­tion in the art of in­di­rect rather than pointed state­ment and, more par­tic­u­larly, a re­for­mu­la­tion of my in­quiry that re­cast the moral is­sues of man­age­rial work as is­sues of pub­lic re­la­tions. When, af­ter sev­eral rewrit­ings, the pro­posal satis­fied him, he ap­proached a well-placed ex­ec­u­tive in a large tex­tile firm that I have given the pseudonym of Weft Cor­po­ra­tion and vouched for me. At that point, the pro­posal it­self be­came mean­ingless since, to my knowl­edge, no one ex­cept the two ex­ec­u­tives who ar­ranged ac­cess ever saw it. The per­sonal vouch­ing, how­ever, was cru­cial. This was based on what both men took to be a demon­strated will­ing­ness and abil­ity to be “flex­ible” and es­pe­cially on their per­cep­tion that I already grasped the most salient as­pect of man­age­rial moral­ity as man­agers them­selves see it—that is, how their val­ues and ethics ap­pear in the pub­lic eye. (Lo­ca­tion 347)

19. At bot­tom, all of the so­cial con­texts of the man­age­rial world seek to dis­cover if one “can feel com­fortable” with an­other man­ager, if he is some­one who “can be trusted,” if he is “our kind of guy,” or, in short, if he is “one of the gang.” (Lo­ca­tion 905)

20. My search for ac­cess in­volved me in some of the cru­cial bu­reau­cratic in­tri­ca­cies that shape man­agers’ ex­pe­riences. Th­ese in­clude or­ga­ni­za­tional up­heavals, poli­ti­cal ri­valries, lin­guis­tic am­bi­guity, the supremacy of chance and tan­gled per­sonal con­nec­tions over any no­tion of in­trin­sic merit, the cen­tral sig­nifi­cance of pub­lic re­la­tions, and, per­haps es­pe­cially, the cease­less moral pro­ba­tions for in­clu­sion in a man­age­rial cir­cle. Man­agers keep their eyes on the or­ga­ni­za­tional pre­miums that shape be­hav­ior, val­ues, ethics, and wor­ld­views in cor­po­rate bu­reau­cra­cies. I fo­cus on those pre­miums… (Lo­ca­tion 387)

21. One be­comes known, for in­stance, as a trusted friend of a friend; thought of as a per­son to whom one can safely re­fer a thorny prob­lem; con­sid­ered a “sen­si­ble” or “rea­son­able” or, es­pe­cially, a “flex­ible” per­son, not a “rene­gade” or a “loose can­non rol­ling around the lawn”; known to be a dis­creet per­son at­tuned to the nu­ances of cor­po­rate eti­quette, one who can keep one’s mouth shut or who can look away and pre­tend to no­tice noth­ing; or con­sid­ered a per­son with sharp ideas that break dead­locks but who does not ob­ject to the ideas be­ing ap­pro­pri­ated by su­pe­ri­ors. (Lo­ca­tion 870)

22. Similarly, Covenant’s CEO sold large tracts of land with valuable min­er­als at dumb­found­ingly low prices. The CEO and his aides said that Covenant sim­ply did not have the ex­pe­rience to mine these min­er­als effi­ciently, a self-ev­i­dent fact from the low profit rate of the busi­ness. In all like­li­hood, ac­cord­ing to a man­ager close to the situ­a­tion, the CEO, a man with a fi­nan­cial bent and a ready eye for the quick pa­per deal, felt so un­com­fortable with the ex­i­gen­cies of min­ing these min­er­als that he ig­nored the fact that the prices the cor­po­ra­tion was get­ting for the min­er­als had been ne­go­ti­ated forty years ear­lier. Such im­pul­sive­ness and in­deed, one might say from a cer­tain per­spec­tive, ir­ra­tional­ity, is, of course, always jus­tified in ra­tio­nal and rea­son­able terms. It is so com­mon­place in the cor­po­rate world that many man­agers ex­pect what­ever or­dered pro­cesses they do erect to be sub­verted or over­turned by ex­ec­u­tive fiat, mas­querad­ing as an es­tab­lished bu­reau­cratic pro­ce­dure or con­sid­ered judg­ment. (Lo­ca­tion 1700)

23. think that I’ve got to where I am to­day be­cause of this. [His boss’s boss] knows that I saved the com­pany a lot of money and a lot of asses to boot. And he and oth­ers know that I am some­one who can be trusted. I can keep my mouth shut…. And that’s the biggest thing that I have go­ing for me—that peo­ple feel that I can be trusted. I can’t overem­pha­size that enough. (Lo­ca­tion 2917)

24. Only those men and women who al­low peers and su­pe­ri­ors to feel morally com­fortable in the am­bigu­ous mud­dles of the world of af­fairs have a chance to sur­vive and flour­ish in big or­ga­ni­za­tions when power and au­thor­ity shift due to changes in mar­kets, in­ter­nal power strug­gles, or the need to re­spond to ex­ter­nal ex­i­gen­cies. (Lo­ca­tion 4943)

C. Strug­gle for Success

25. The log­i­cal re­sult of alert­ness to ex­pe­di­ency is the elimi­na­tion of any eth­i­cal lines at all. (Lo­ca­tion 2985)

26. The two ar­eas are, of course, re­lated since one’s chances in an or­ga­ni­za­tion de­pend largely on one’s “cred­i­bil­ity,” that is, on the wide­spread be­lief that one can act effec­tively. One must there­fore pre­vail reg­u­larly, though not always, in small things to have any hope of po­si­tion­ing one­self for big is­sues. The hid­den agenda of seem­ingly petty dis­putes may be a strug­gle over long-term or­ga­ni­za­tional fates. (Lo­ca­tion 812)

27. A fun­da­men­tal rule of cor­po­rate poli­tics is that one never cedes con­trol over as­sets, even if the as­sets are ad­minis­tra­tive headaches. (Lo­ca­tion 643)

28. Bureau­cratic hi­er­ar­chies, sim­ply by offer­ing as­cer­tain­able re­wards for cer­tain be­hav­ior, fuel the am­bi­tion of those men and women ready to sub­ject them­selves to the dis­ci­pline of ex­ter­nal ex­i­gen­cies and of their or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­sti­tu­tional logic, the so­cially con­structed, shared un­der­stand­ing of how their world works. How­ever, since re­wards are always scarce, bu­reau­cra­cies nec­es­sar­ily pit peo­ple against each other and in­evitably thwart the am­bi­tions of some. (Lo­ca­tion 806)

29. When asked who gets ahead, an ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent at Weft Cor­po­ra­tion says: The guys who want it [get ahead]. The guys who work. You can spot it in the first six months. They work hard, they come to work ear­lier, they leave later. They have sug­ges­tions at meet­ings. They come into a busi­ness and the busi­ness picks right up. They don’t go on coffee breaks down here [in the base­ment]. You see the pa­rade of peo­ple go­ing back and forth down here? There’s no rea­son for that. I never did that. If you need coffee, you can have it at your desk. Some peo­ple put in time and some peo­ple work. (Lo­ca­tion 992)

30. Proper man­age­ment of one’s ex­ter­nal ap­pear­ances sim­ply sig­nals to one’s peers and to one’s su­pe­ri­ors that one is pre­pared to un­der­take other kinds of self-adap­ta­tion. Man­agers also stress the need to ex­er­cise iron self-con­trol and to have the abil­ity to mask all emo­tion and in­ten­tion be­hind bland, smil­ing, and agree­able pub­lic faces. (Lo­ca­tion 1059)

31. The price of bu­reau­cratic power is a re­lentlessly me­thod­i­cal sub­jec­tion of one’s im­pulses, at least in pub­lic. (Lo­ca­tion 1100)

32. [Style] is be­ing able to talk eas­ily and make pre­sen­ta­tions. To be­come cred­ible eas­ily and quickly. You can ad­vance quickly even with­out tech­ni­cal ex­pe­rience if you have style. You get a lot of points for style. You’ve got to be able to ar­tic­u­late prob­lems, plans, and strate­gies with­out seem­ing to have to re­fer to all sorts of memos and so on. The key in pub­lic perfor­mances and pre­sen­ta­tions is in know­ing how to talk force­fully with­out refer­ring to notes and mem­o­randa. To be able to map out plans quickly and surely. (Lo­ca­tion 1298)

33. As one man­ager says: “Per­son­al­ity spells suc­cess or failure, not what you do on the field.” (Lo­ca­tion 1383)

34. More gen­er­ally, there are sev­eral rules that ap­ply here. First, no one in a line po­si­tion—that is, with re­spon­si­bil­ity for profit and loss—who reg­u­larly “misses his num­bers” will sur­vive, let alone rise. Se­cond, a per­son who always hits his num­bers but who lacks some or all of the re­quired so­cial skills will not rise. Third, a per­son who some­times misses his num­bers but who has all the de­sir­able so­cial traits will rise. (Lo­ca­tion 1412)

35. A man­age­rial com­mon­place says: “In the cor­po­rate world, 1,000 ‘At­taboys’ are wiped away with one ‘Oh, shit!’” (Lo­ca­tion 1619)

36. There’s a lot of it [fear and anx­iety]. To a large de­gree it’s be­cause peo­ple are more hon­est with them­selves than you might be­lieve. Peo­ple know their own short­com­ings. They know when they’re over their heads. A lot of peo­ple are sit­ting in jobs that they know are big­ger than they should be in. But they can’t ad­mit that in pub­lic and, at still an­other level, to them­selves. The or­ga­ni­za­tional push for ad­vance­ment pro­duces many peo­ple who get in over their heads and don’t know what they are do­ing. And they are very fear­ful of mak­ing a mis­take and this leads to all sorts of per­sonal dis­loy­alty. But peo­ple know their ca­pa­bil­ities and know that they are on thin ice. And they know that if they make mis­takes, it will cost them dearly. So there’s no hon­esty in our daily in­ter­ac­tion and there’s doubt about our abil­ities. The two go to­gether. (Lo­ca­tion 1767)

37. One comes to gauge that hard-won ac­cess to man­age­rial cir­cles takes prece­dence over fuss­ing with ab­stract prin­ci­ples. (Lo­ca­tion 2923)

38. Per­cep­tions of per­va­sive medi­ocrity breed an end­less quest for so­cial dis­tinc­tions even of a minor sort that might give one an “edge,” en­able one to “step out of the crowd,” or at least serve as a ba­sis for in­di­vi­d­ual claims to priv­ilege. More speci­fi­cally, an at­mo­sphere of medi­ocrity erodes the hope of mean­ingful col­lec­tive achieve­ment and en­courages, at least among more ag­gres­sive man­agers, a preda­tory stance to­ward their or­ga­ni­za­tions, that is, a search for pri­vate deals, a work­ing of the sys­tem for one’s own per­sonal ad­van­tage. (Lo­ca­tion 4436)

39. One leaves be­hind as well the tech­ni­cal knowl­edge or sci­en­tific ex­per­tise of one’s younger years, lore now more suited for the nar­rower roles of tech­ni­ci­ans or ju­nior man­agers. One must, in fact, put dis­tance be­tween one­self and tech­ni­cal de­tails of ev­ery sort or risk the in­evitable en­trap­ment of the par­tic­u­lar. Sales­men, too, must leave their bags and reg­u­lar cus­tomers and long bois­ter­ous evenings that seal mea­surable deals be­hind them and turn to mar­ket­ing strate­gies. Work be­comes more am­bigu­ous, di­rected as it is to­ward ma­neu­ver­ing money, sym­bols, or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­tures, and es­pe­cially peo­ple. The CEO at Weft Cor­po­ra­tion, it is said, “doesn’t know a loom from a car.” And the higher one goes, the more man­agers find that “the essence of man­age­rial work is crony­ism, cov­er­ing your ass, [and] pyra­mid­ing to pro­tect your bud­dies.” (Lo­ca­tion 4539)

40. the re­wards of cor­po­rate suc­cess can be very great. And those who do suc­ceed, those who find their way out of the crowded, twist­ing cor­ri­dors and into the back rooms where the real ac­tion is, where the big games take place, and where ev­ery­one pre­sent is a player, shape, in a de­ci­sive way, the moral rules-in-use that filter down through their or­ga­ni­za­tions. The ethos that they fash­ion turns prin­ci­ples into guidelines, ethics into eti­quette, val­ues into tastes, per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity into an adroit­ness at pub­lic re­la­tions, and no­tions of truth into cred­i­bil­ity. (Lo­ca­tion 4603)

41. In­stead, suc­cess be­comes con­tin­gent on oth­ers’ in­ter­pre­ta­tions of one’s perfor­mance, lead­ing to a break in the ac­cepted moral econ­omy be­tween tal­ent com­bined with effort and re­ward. This makes com­pul­sive so­cia­bil­ity an oc­cu­pa­tional virtue, as one at­tempts to dis­cern and shape peers’ and su­pe­ri­ors’ in­ter­pre­ta­tions. (Lo­ca­tion 4950)

D. Noth­ing Mat­ters, But Hit Your Numbers

42. Man­agers rarely speak of ob­jec­tive crite­ria for achiev­ing suc­cess be­cause once cer­tain cru­cial points in one’s ca­reer are passed, suc­cess and failure seem to have lit­tle to do with one’s ac­com­plish­ments. (Lo­ca­tion 917)

43. Cor­po­ra­tions rely on other in­sti­tu­tions—prin­ci­pally the schools—to es­tab­lish what might be called com­pe­tence hur­dles. The demon­strated abil­ity of a stu­dent to leap over suc­ces­sively higher hur­dles in school is taken as ev­i­dence of the abil­ity to weather well the pro­ba­tion­ary tri­als of cor­po­rate life. (Lo­ca­tion 920)

44. In Alchemy Inc., whether in sales, mar­ket­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing, or fi­nance, the “break­ing point” in the hi­er­ar­chy is gen­er­ally thought to be grade 13 out of 25 or the top 8.5 per­cent of man­age­ment. By the time man­agers reach such a num­bered grade in an or­dered hi­er­ar­chy—and the grade is so­cially defined and varies from com­pany to com­pany—man­age­rial com­pe­tence as such is taken for granted and as­sumed not to differ greatly from one man­ager to the next. (Lo­ca­tion 943)

45. A product man­ager in the chem­i­cal com­pany talks about the lack of con­nec­tion be­tween work and re­sults: I guess the most anx­iety pro­vok­ing thing about work­ing in busi­ness is that you are judged on re­sults whether those re­sults are your fault or not. So you can get a guy who has tried re­ally hard but dis­aster strikes; and you can get a guy who does noth­ing and his busi­ness makes a big suc­cess. And so you just never know which way things are go­ing to go and you’re never sure about the re­la­tion­ship of your work to the out­come. One of the top ex­ec­u­tives in Weft Cor­po­ra­tion echoes this sen­ti­ment: I always say that there is no such thing as a mar­ket­ing ge­nius; there are only great mar­kets. (Lo­ca­tion 1585)

46. As­sum­ing a ba­sic level of cor­po­rate re­sources and man­age­rial know-how, real eco­nomic out­come is seen to de­pend on fac­tors largely be­yond or­ga­ni­za­tional or per­sonal con­trol. (Lo­ca­tion 1592)

47. up­per-mid­dle level man­ager says: If I were just out of school and some­body told me that it doesn’t mat­ter what you do and how well you do it but that what mat­ters is be­ing in the right place at the right time, I’d have said that hard work is still the key. You know, the old virtues. But now as I have got­ten older, I think it’s pure hap­pen­stance—luck. Things hap­pen to peo­ple and be­ing in the right time and place and know­ing the right peo­ple is the key. (Lo­ca­tion 1621)

48. It is in­ter­est­ing to note in this con­text that a line man­ager’s long-run cred­i­bil­ity suffers just as much from miss­ing his num­bers on the up side (that is, achiev­ing prof­its higher than pre­dicted) as from miss­ing them on the down side al­though, as one might ex­pect, the im­me­di­ate con­se­quences of such differ­ent mis­calcu­la­tions vary. Both out­comes, how­ever, un­der­cut the ide­ol­ogy of man­age­rial plan­ning and con­trol. (Lo­ca­tion 1595)

49. A top staff offi­cial at Covenant Cor­po­ra­tion ex­plains: By putting the money in this busi­ness, you’re tak­ing the money away from oth­ers. In hu­man terms, that’s what you’re do­ing. It’s money that you could provide jobs with to oth­ers. So when you get a guy in the busi­ness who comes in un­der or over the plan, well, both are equally sus­pect. Be­cause you’re mak­ing ma­jor de­ci­sions based on your plan…. Like when we shut down [busi­ness A] and put the money into [busi­ness B], the whole le­gi­t­i­macy of the op­er­a­tion de­pends on the [busi­ness A] guys ac­cept­ing the ra­tio­nale that more money can be made in an­other op­er­a­tion. (Lo­ca­tion 1599)

50. of a plant man­ager who, when his ma­chin­ery had ground to a halt and his tech­ni­ci­ans were baf­fled and ev­ery­one turned to him to make a de­ci­sion, told his crew, with­out the fain­test idea of the right thing to do and with the great fear that all he had worked for was about to crum­ble be­fore him, to dump ten pounds of phos­phate into the ma­chine. The ma­chine sprang to life and he be­came a hero. (Lo­ca­tion 1656)

E. Implicitness

51. If I tell some­one what to do—like do A, B, or C—the in­fer­ence and im­pli­ca­tion is that he will suc­ceed in ac­com­plish­ing the ob­jec­tive. Now, if he doesn’t suc­ceed, that means that I have in­vested part of my­self in his work and I lose any right I have to chew his ass out if he doesn’t suc­ceed. If I tell you what to do, I can’t bawl you out if things don’t work. And this is why a lot of bosses don’t give ex­plicit di­rec­tions. They just give a state­ment of ob­jec­tives, and then they can crit­i­cize sub­or­di­nates who fail to make their goals. (Lo­ca­tion 454)

52. A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple oc­curred in Weft Cor­po­ra­tion a few years ago when the CEO, new at the time, ex­pressed mild con­cern about the ris­ing op­er­at­ing costs of the com­pany’s fleet of rented cars. The fol­low­ing day, a stringent sys­tem for mon­i­tor­ing mileage re­placed the pre­vi­ous ca­sual prac­tice. (Lo­ca­tion 490)

53. One must re­mem­ber, for in­stance, that in our liti­gious age the best rule in deal­ing with an­gry sub­or­di­nates is to say noth­ing or as lit­tle as pos­si­ble since what­ever one says may be used against one­self and one’s or­ga­ni­za­tion. (Lo­ca­tion 1066)

54. Well, usu­ally you don’t tell peo­ple the truth. I once knew a guy whom I knew was about to be fired and I asked if he had been told and he had never been told. I think you should tell peo­ple ex­plic­itly. Things like that shouldn’t have to be de­coded. But you can un­der­stand how it hap­pens. Sup­pose you have a guy and the con­sen­sus is that he isn’t pro­motable. You wouldn’t ever—or very sel­dom—tell him. He goes on to jus­tify his silence: There are peo­ple who go through life think­ing they can do a lot more than they re­ally can do. And the rea­son is that los­ing or chang­ing jobs is a very high stress situ­a­tion and most peo­ple pre­fer to hang on to what they’ve got—to their rou­tine. They’re not happy but they go through life like pris­on­ers of war not rec­og­niz­ing their true situ­a­tion. (Lo­ca­tion 1494)

55. You get the situ­a­tion where a lot of peo­ple don’t re­ally want to know…. Like one guy we have, he will re­tire on his job. He’s in my di­vi­sion. He knows it. I know it. And he doesn’t want me to tell him about that. Now don’t ask me how I know that but, be­lieve me, I do. (Lo­ca­tion 1502)

56. Why does it hap­pen? Be­cause peo­ple are afraid of con­fronta­tions. Peo­ple want to be thought of as kind, sen­si­tive, and com­pas­sion­ate. Be­ing com­pas­sion­ate has a good sig­nifi­cance in our so­ciety. The easy way out is not to do any­thing, don’t tell the guy. That hap­pens a lot. (Lo­ca­tion 1510)

57. As a mat­ter of fact, he wouldn’t even have to say “cut cap­i­tal.” He would just put pres­sure on him by say­ing: “Well, sales are down 50 per­cent; why aren’t your ex­penses down 50 per­cent?” My boss will come to me, by the time it reaches him, and say: “Cut costs.” It’s as sim­ple as that. (Lo­ca­tion 2078)

58. He put things into writ­ing in a world that, apart from rit­ual nods to the im­por­tance of doc­u­men­ta­tion, ac­tu­ally fosters am­bi­guity by its re­li­ance on talk as the ba­sic mode of ne­go­ti­a­tion and com­mand. Talk, of course, lends it­self more read­ily than doc­u­ments to back­track­ing, filling in, eva­sion, sub­ter­fuge, and se­crecy, all im­por­tant virtues if one is to do what has to be done while es­tab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing the kinds of re­la­tion­ships that alone can pro­tect one­self. (Lo­ca­tion 2636)

59. It is un­likely, how­ever, that any work­ers af­fected could ever piece things to­gether. First, there is noth­ing in writ­ing. Se­cond, Tucker feels sure that ev­ery­one in­volved would, if it be­came nec­es­sary, sim­ply deny knowl­edge and claim that the pro­cess was al­tered solely for pro­duc­tion rea­sons. 4. Fi­nally, he says: The ba­sic rule is that you hope that these kinds of things never oc­cur. No­body wants to hurt peo­ple. No­body would ever con­sciously plan to do some­thing that would en­dan­ger peo­ple. But when things hap­pen, well, you cover for your­self and your com­pany. (Lo­ca­tion 2948)

60. Discreet sug­ges­tions, hints, and coded mes­sages take the place of com­mand; this, of course, places a pre­mium on sub­or­di­nates’ abil­ities to read cor­rectly their bosses’ vaguely ar­tic­u­lated or com­pletely un­stated wishes. One can­not even crit­i­cize one’s sub­or­di­nates to one’s own su­pe­rior with­out risk­ing a nega­tive eval­u­a­tion of one’s own man­age­rial judg­ment. (Lo­ca­tion 3009)

61 (Chart). Phrase /​ Prob­a­ble In­tended Meaning

*Ex­cep­tion­ally well qual­ified /​ Has com­mit­ted no ma­jor blun­ders to date

Tact­ful in deal­ing with su­pe­ri­ors /​ Knows when to keep his mouth shut

Quick think­ing /​ Offers plau­si­ble excuses

Metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail /​ A nitpicker

Slightly be­low av­er­age /​ Stupid

Unusu­ally loyal /​ Wanted by no one else

In­differ­ent to in­struc­tion /​ Knows more than one’s superior

Strong ad­her­ence to prin­ci­ples /​ Stubborn

Re­quires work-value at­ti­tu­di­nal read­just­ment /​ Lazy and hard­headed (Lo­ca­tion 3018)

62. For the most part, eu­phemistic lan­guage is not used with the in­tent to de­ceive. Man­agers past a cer­tain point, as sug­gested ear­lier, are as­sumed to be “maze-bright” and able to “read be­tween the lines” of a con­ver­sa­tion or a mem­o­ran­dum and to dis­t­in­guish ac­cu­rately sug­ges­tions from di­rec­tives, in­quiries from in­ves­ti­ga­tions, and bluffs from threats. Man­agers who are “maze-dense,” like the man­ager at Weft Cor­po­ra­tion who, though told some­what in­di­rectly that he was fired, did not re­al­ize his fate un­til the fol­low­ing day, might con­sider the oblique, el­lip­ti­cal qual­ity of man­age­rial lan­guage to skirt de­ceit. How­ever, most of­ten when man­agers use eu­phemistic lan­guage with each other (and it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that in pri­vate among trusted oth­ers their lan­guage can be very di­rect, col­or­ful, and in­deed earthy), its prin­ci­pal pur­pose is to com­mu­ni­cate cer­tain mean­ings within spe­cific con­texts with the im­plicit un­der­stand­ing that should the con­text change, a new, more ap­pro­pri­ate mean­ing can be at­tached to the lan­guage already used. In this sense, the cor­po­ra­tion is a place where peo­ple are not held to what they say be­cause it is gen­er­ally un­der­stood that their word is always pro­vi­sional. (Lo­ca­tion 3034)

63. The rule of thumb here seems to be that the more trou­ble­some a prob­lem, the more des­ic­cated and vague the pub­lic lan­guage de­scribing it should be. Of course, when a trou­ble­some prob­lem bursts into pub­lic con­tro­versy, eu­phemism be­comes a cru­cial tool of those man­agers who have to face the pub­lic in some fo­rum. The task here is to de­fuse pub­lic crit­i­cism and some­times out­rage with ab­stract un­emo­tional char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of is­sues. (Lo­ca­tion 3044)

F. Short Term Thinking

64. The ideal situ­a­tion, of course, is to end up in a po­si­tion where one can fire one’s suc­ces­sors for one’s own pre­vi­ous mis­takes. (Lo­ca­tion 2102)

65. More­over, the only real threat to cor­po­ra­tions on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues was in the courts, which, how­ever, judge past ac­tions, not pre­sent prac­tices. By the time the courts get to cases gen­er­ated by con­tem­po­rary prac­tices, typ­i­cally in fif­teen years, those ex­ec­u­tives presently in charge will have moved on, leav­ing any prob­lems their poli­cies might cre­ate to oth­ers. (Lo­ca­tion 707)

66. Th­ese choices also re­flect judg­ments about whether a cor­po­ra­tion can offer the hard-charg­ing MBAs from the top-ranked schools enough quick va­ri­ety to re­tain them long enough to jus­tify their in­flated salaries. (Lo­ca­tion 926)

67. Similarly, ac­count­ing sys­tems that place a pre­mium on bare-bones in­ven­tory re­flect the same pres­sure for short-run profit max­i­miza­tion. For in­stance, at Covenant Cor­po­ra­tion the story is told about a plant that pro­duced a use­ful by-product at no ex­tra cost. One sim­ply had to store it un­til it was needed for other in­ter­nal op­er­a­tions. Covenant, how­ever, works with an ac­count­ing sys­tem that con­sid­ers by-prod­ucts as in­ven­tory; more­over, in­ven­tory counts against one at the end of a fis­cal year. In or­der to cut costs, man­agers de­cided to throw out the by-product at the end of a fi­nan­cial cy­cle. But a sud­den short­age of the ma­te­rial tre­bled its cost two months later. To ser­vice their own op­er­a­tions, man­agers had to go hat in hand to their com­peti­tors to buy the ma­te­rial at the pre­mium prices. (Lo­ca­tion 1837)

68. This sets the stage for fi­nan­cial sharp­shoot­ers who, in takeover strate­gies, buy large chunks of a com­pany’s stock at de­val­ued prices only to be “green­mailed” (per­suaded with fi­nan­cial in­duce­ments) by the tar­get com­pany’s man­age­ment into sur­ren­der­ing these blocks of hold­ings at pre­mium prices. In such un­set­tled times, where vir­tu­ally any large cor­po­ra­tion could be­come a takeover tar­get, man­agers feel that they have to keep their com­pa­nies’ stock prop­erly val­ued. As it hap­pens, the mar­kets honor only short-term gains. (Lo­ca­tion 1854)

69. In­stead, one fo­cuses at­ten­tion on im­por­tant prob­lems of the mo­ment that must be solved. Since these are always plen­tiful, they jus­tify post­pon­ing less press­ing con­cerns. Of course, man­agers know at one level of their con­scious­ness that to­day’s minor is­sues can quickly be­come to­mor­row’s ma­jor crises, but the pres­sure for an­nual, quar­terly, monthly, daily, and even hourly “re­sults,” that is, mea­surable progress plau­si­bly at­tributed to one’s own efforts, crowds out re­flec­tion about the fu­ture. An up­per-mid­dle man­ager at Alchemy Inc. re­calls, for in­stance, his days as a plant man­ager when his boss at com­pany head­quar­ters phoned him ev­ery three hours to see how many tons of soda ash had been pro­duced in the in­ter­val. (Lo­ca­tion 1869)

70. This goes to the heart of the prob­lem. Man­agers think in the short run be­cause they are eval­u­ated by both their su­pe­ri­ors and peers on their short-term re­sults. Those who are not seen to be pro­duc­ing req­ui­site short-run gains come to be thought of as em­bar­rass­ing li­a­bil­ities. Of course, past work gets down­graded in such a pro­cess. The old saw, still heard fre­quently to­day, “I know what you did for me yes­ter­day, but what have you done for me lately?” is more than a tired gar­ment dis­trict sales­man’s joke. It ac­cu­rately re­flects the wide­spread am­ne­sia among man­agers about oth­ers’ past ac­com­plish­ments, how­ever no­table, and points to the pro­ba­tion­ary cru­cibles at the core of man­age­rial life. Man­agers feel that if they do not sur­vive the short run, the long run hardly mat­ters, and one can only buy time for the fu­ture by at­tend­ing to short-term goals. As one man­ager says: “Our hori­zon is to­day’s lunch.” (Lo­ca­tion 1875)

71. Now you see this at work with mis­takes. You can make mis­takes in the work you do and not suffer any con­se­quences. For in­stance, I could ne­go­ti­ate a con­tract that might have a phrase that would trig­ger con­sid­er­able harm to the com­pany in the event of the oc­cur­rence of some set of cir­cum­stances. The chances are that no one would ever know. But if some­thing did hap­pen and the com­pany got into trou­ble, and I had moved on from that job to an­other, it would never be traced to me. The prob­lem would be that of the guy who presently has re­spon­si­bil­ity. And it would be his headache. There’s no track­ing sys­tem in the cor­po­ra­tion. Some man­agers ar­gue that out­run­ning mis­takes is the real mean­ing of “be­ing on the fast track,” the real key to man­age­rial suc­cess. The same lawyer con­tinues: In fact, one way of look­ing at suc­cess pat­terns in the cor­po­ra­tion is that the peo­ple who are in high po­si­tions have never been in one place long enough for their prob­lems to catch up with them. They out­run their mis­takes. That’s why to be suc­cess­ful in a busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tion, you have to move quickly. (Lo­ca­tion 2013)

72. Both Covenant Cor­po­ra­tion and Weft Cor­po­ra­tion, for in­stance, place a great pre­mium on a di­vi­sion’s or a sub­sidi­ary’s re­turn on as­sets (ROA); man­agers who can suc­cess­fully squeeze as­sets are first in line, for in­stance, for the hand­some re­wards al­lot­ted through bonus pro­grams. One good way for busi­ness man­agers to in­crease their ROA is to re­duce as­sets while main­tain­ing sales. Usu­ally, man­agers will do ev­ery­thing they can to hold down ex­pen­di­tures in or­der to de­crease the as­set base at the end of a quar­ter or es­pe­cially at the end of the fis­cal year. The most com­mon way of do­ing this is by defer­ring cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­tures, ev­ery­thing from main­te­nance to in­no­va­tive in­vest­ments, as long as pos­si­ble. Done over a short pe­riod, this is called “starv­ing a plant”; done over a longer pe­riod, it is called “milk­ing a plant.” (Lo­ca­tion 2034)

73. A plant that is not well main­tained will fail in the short term, so you have to spend money there; a plant that has poorly trained peo­ple will fail to­day, so you have to spend money there. But you can still milk (Lo­ca­tion 2045)

74. We’re judged on the short-term be­cause ev­ery­body changes their jobs so fre­quently. (Lo­ca­tion 2042)

75. My fa­vorite things are not to re­place my stores in­ven­tory and that shows up as di­rect profit on your bal­ance sheet; not re­place peo­ple who re­tire, and stretch ev­ery­body else out; cut down on over­time; cut work­ing in­ven­to­ries to the bone. [You can also] lower the qual­ity stan­dards; you can get away with this in the short term be­cause peo­ple will ac­cept that for awhile, though in the long term peo­ple will stop buy­ing from you. (Lo­ca­tion 2050)

76. At the very top of or­ga­ni­za­tions, one does not so much con­tinue to out­run mis­takes as tough them out with sheer brazen­ness. In such ways, bu­reau­cra­cies may be thought of, in C. Wright Mills’s phrase, as vast sys­tems of or­ga­nized ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity. (Lo­ca­tion 2123)

77. When a weaver is un­able to re­pair a stop, she shuts down the loom and flags a “fixer,” the most skil­led and high­est-rank­ing worker on the shop floor, who does the re­pair or ba­sic main­te­nance nec­es­sary to get the loom work­ing again. How­ever, since weavers are paid by the piece and can make no gain from a loom out of ser­vice for re­pair or main­te­nance dur­ing their own shifts, weavers will tend to rem­edy stops in any way they can in or­der to keep their cloth pro­duc­tion high, leav­ing the main­te­nance and re­pair of the ma­chin­ery and the eco­nomic cost in­volved to an­other weaver on an­other shift. Su­per­vi­sors and man­agers who are eval­u­ated by a plant’s over­all weav­ing effi­ciency are thus forced to mon­i­tor the num­ber of loom stops con­stantly in or­der to make sure that looms badly in need of re­pair or main­te­nance get proper at­ten­tion. When­ever struc­tural in­duce­ments place pre­miums on im­me­di­ate per­sonal gains, es­pe­cially when mis­takes are not pe­nal­ized, there seems to be a sharp de­cline in the like­li­hood of men and women sac­ri­fic­ing their own in­ter­ests for oth­ers, for their or­ga­ni­za­tions, or least of all for the com­mon weal.2 (Lo­ca­tion 2135)

78. It was said that Noll had milked and milked thor­oughly ev­ery plant he ever su­per­vised. One day, a story goes, he was ac­cused of this in a pub­lic meet­ing by a vice-pres­i­dent who was then his su­pe­rior. Noll is said to have re­sponded with great bold­ness: “[Joe], how can you sit there and say that to me? How in the hell do you think you got to where you are and how do you think you stay there?” (Lo­ca­tion 2153)

79. If a guy keeps mov­ing, he can say, “Look, I ran this plant bet­ter than my pre­de­ces­sors.” And peo­ple have to con­cede that. A lot of peo­ple do that. Then you get the guy who takes his place and tries to run things right and he has to spend a lot of money. And peo­ple look at the guy who was there be­fore and they say: “Well, old [Noll] ran the plant well and he didn’t have to spend any money like you’re claiming you do.” I don’t think there is any­thing wrong with milk­ing a plant. As long as you know you’re milk­ing (Lo­ca­tion 2223)

80. No, definitely not. Would any sane, ra­tio­nal man spend $15 mil­lion for a 2 per­cent re­turn? … Now it does im­prove the dust lev­els, but it was that if we don’t in­vest the money now, we would be in a des­per­ate [com­pet­i­tive] po­si­tion fif­teen years from now. Our demon­strated cash flow situ­a­tion was such that even­tu­ally we would have had even tougher de­ci­sions to make. (Lo­ca­tion 3579)

81. Ex­ec­u­tives also ad­mit, some­what rue­fully and only when their office doors are closed, that OSHA’s reg­u­la­tion on cot­ton dust has been the main fac­tor in forc­ing the pace of tech­nolog­i­cal in­no­va­tion in a cen­turies-old, hide­bound, and some­what stag­nant in­dus­try. It has also been a ma­jor fac­tor in forc­ing ex­ec­u­tives to think in the long run rather than con­tinu­ally suc­cumb­ing to short-term pres­sures. This is one of the rea­sons why the shrewdest among them only feigned ela­tion at the at­tempts by Rea­gan’s OSHA ap­poin­tees to re­move the cot­ton dust reg­u­la­tion from the purview of the Supreme Court. If such a move were suc­cess­ful, it could only en­courage the tra­di­tion­ally re­ac­tionary el­e­ments of the tex­tile in­dus­try who re­fuse to rec­og­nize on prin­ci­ple that gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion, within rea­son, can be the busi­ness­man’s best friend. (Lo­ca­tion 3593)

82. S&Ls could now open trans­ac­tion ac­counts and make com­mer­cial real es­tate loans, re­gard­less of ge­og­ra­phy, up to 40 per­cent of their as­sets. This prompted many S&L ex­ec­u­tives to sell their long-term, fixed-rate, low- or no-profit mort­gages to Wall Street firms for as lit­tle as 60 per­cent of their value in or­der to ob­tain ready funds for much more lu­cra­tive, though much riskier, in­vest­ments. (Lo­ca­tion 4649)

83. Or­ga­nized ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity has mi­grated to the nooks and cran­nies of our so­ciety. One sees pres­i­dents of uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges who preside over the de­struc­tion of their in­sti­tu­tions’ en­dow­ments, not to men­tion the in­tel­lec­tual in­tegrity of cur­ricula, and then out­run their mis­takes and move on to higher aca­demic and even top poli­ti­cal posts. One sees in­tel­lec­tu­als who are com­pletely com­mit­ted to the de­struc­tion of the Western tra­di­tion that nur­tures them and who help cre­ate the profound so­cial and cul­tural cen­trifu­gal­ity that marks Amer­i­can so­ciety. One sees big-city may­ors who cede con­trol of the streets to drug deal­ers and other thugs for fear of be­ing la­beled non­pro­gres­sive by var­i­ous ad­vo­cacy groups and the press. One sees long-time poli­ti­cal in­sid­ers in Wash­ing­ton who “screw up and move up,” an apho­rism that aptly cap­tures the ethos of gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cra­cies. And dou­ble­think and dou­ble­s­peak now per­me­ate pub­lic dis­course, be­wil­der­ing even in­tel­li­gent, thought­ful cit­i­zens. (Lo­ca­tion 4990)

G. So­cial Politics

84. Man­agers’ cryp­tic apho­rism, “Well, you never know…,” re­peated of­ten and reg­u­larly, cap­tures the sense of un­cer­tainty cre­ated by the con­stant po­ten­tial for so­cial re­ver­sal. Man­agers know too, and take for granted, that the per­son­nel changes brought about by up­heavals are to a great ex­tent ar­bi­trary and de­pend more than any­thing else on one’s so­cial re­la­tion­ships with key in­di­vi­d­u­als and with groups of man­agers. (Lo­ca­tion 761)

85. “Every big or­ga­ni­za­tion is set up for the benefit of those who con­trol it; the boss gets what he wants.” (Lo­ca­tion 827)

86. In any event, just as man­agers must con­tinu­ally please their boss, their boss’s boss, their pa­trons, their pres­i­dent, and their CEO, so must they prove them­selves again and again to each other. Work be­comes an end­less round of what might be called pro­ba­tion­ary cru­cibles. To­gether with the un­cer­tainty and sense of con­tin­gency that mark man­age­rial work, this con­stant state of pro­ba­tion pro­duces a profound anx­iety in man­agers, per­haps the key ex­pe­rience of man­age­rial work. (Lo­ca­tion 910)

87. See, once you are at a cer­tain level of ex­pe­rience, the differ­ence be­tween a vice-pres­i­dent, an ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent, and a gen­eral man­ager is neg­ligible. It has rel­a­tively lit­tle to do with abil­ity as such. Peo­ple are all good at that level. They wouldn’t be there with­out that abil­ity. So it has lit­tle to do with abil­ity or with busi­ness ex­pe­rience and so on. All have similar lev­els of abil­ity, drive, com­pe­tence, and so on. What hap­pens is that peo­ple per­ceive in oth­ers what they like—op­er­at­ing styles, lifestyles, per­son­al­ities, abil­ity to get along. Now these are all very sub­jec­tive judg­ments. And what hap­pens is that if a per­son in au­thor­ity sees some­one else’s guy as less com­pe­tent than his own guy, well, he’ll always per­ceive him that way. And he’ll always pick—as a re­sult—his own guy when the chance to do so comes up. (Lo­ca­tion 1013) [Also see Noth­ing Mat­ters]

88. Strik­ing, dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of any sort, in fact, are dan­ger­ous in the cor­po­rate world. One of the most dam­ag­ing things, for in­stance, that can be said about a man­ager is that he is brilli­ant. This al­most in­vari­ably sig­nals a judg­ment that the per­son has pub­li­cly as­serted his in­tel­li­gence and is per­ceived as a threat to oth­ers. What good is a wiz­ard who makes his col­leagues and his cus­tomers un­com­fortable? (Lo­ca­tion 1173)

89. Equally dam­ag­ing is the judg­ment that a per­son can­not get along with oth­ers—he is “too pushy,” that is, he ex­hibits too much “per­sis­tence in get­ting to the right an­swers,” is “always ask­ing why,” and does not know “when to back off.” Or he is “too abra­sive,” or “too opinionated,” un­able “to bend with the group.” Or he is a “wild­man” or a “mav­er­ick,” that is, some­one who is “out­spo­ken.” Or he may be too aloof, too dis­tant, “too pro­fes­sional.” (Lo­ca­tion 1176)

90. The knowl­edge­able prac­ti­tion­ers of cor­po­rate poli­tics, whether pa­trons or lead­ers of cliques and net­works, value noth­ing more highly than at least the ap­pear­ance of una­n­im­ity of opinion among their clients and al­lies, es­pe­cially dur­ing times of tur­moil. (Lo­ca­tion 1197)

91. Man­agers know that pa­trons and pow­er­ful al­lies pro­tect those already se­lected as ris­ing stars from the nega­tive judg­ments of oth­ers; and only the foolhardy point out even egre­gious er­rors of those in power or those des­tined for it. (Lo­ca­tion 1463)

92. Man­agers know that to be weak in a world that ex­tols strength and power is to in­vite abuse. (Lo­ca­tion 1536)

93. Such so­cial dis­tanc­ing has two pur­poses: it un­der­mines in ad­vance or lays the ground­work for re­fusal of any claims that a per­son con­sid­ered a failure might make on an­other, and it fore­stalls the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing linked with that per­son in oth­ers’ cog­ni­tive maps. This be­comes par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when there has been a known past as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween one­self and one thought to have failed in some way. (Lo­ca­tion 1542)

94. In fact, when it is even sus­pected that a per­son might be headed for trou­ble, an­ti­ci­pa­tory avoidance is the rule. (Lo­ca­tion 1550)

95. Be­ing a “fall guy,” that is, “tak­ing the rap” or “tak­ing the heat” for oth­ers’ de­ci­sions or mis­takes is prob­a­bly the most com­mon kind of blame in big or­ga­ni­za­tions. (Lo­ca­tion 1904)

96. You have to re­mem­ber that you only get to ex­plain things away once. When things get screwed up, you get one chance. That’s why it’s im­por­tant for ev­ery­body to be in bed with ev­ery­body else. And if they don’t like you from the start, you don’t have a chance. Be­cause when things go wrong, what peo­ple do is sit down and say—with­out say­ing it in so many words—look, our jobs are on the line. Let’s make sure that it’s not us who gets nailed. (Lo­ca­tion 1999)

97. Wil­son and his Site Oper­a­tions staff were par­tic­u­larly con­cerned be­cause when the po­lar crane was fi­nally used, it would be Site Oper­a­tions who used it. They knew that, if they were in charge when the but­ton was pushed, they could be blamed for what­ever might go wrong. If the po­lar crane failed, it would be seen as the fault of Site Oper­a­tions. (Lo­ca­tion 2557)

98. high-rank­ing staff offi­cial at Covenant ex­plains: Anx­iety is en­demic to any­one who works in a cor­po­ra­tion. By the time you get to be mid­dle man­age­ment, it’s difficult to make friends be­cause the nor­mal re­quire­ment for friend­ship—that is, loy­alty—doesn’t fit in this con­text. You have to look out for num­ber one more than any­thing else. More­over, the pre­vailing view is that man­agers are big boys and girls, well-paid, and should be able to take care of them­selves. Be­sides, one per­son’s failure rep­re­sents an­other per­son’s op­por­tu­nity. (Lo­ca­tion 1554)

99. of a young man­ager who, while at a com­pany con­fer­ence, went out for his weight-con­trol­ling 5:30 A.M. jog only to meet a vice-pres­i­dent similarly en­gaged, a pow­er­ful ex­ec­u­tive who now cheers the younger man’s work and pre­sen­ta­tions and in­tro­duces him to other in­fluen­tial se­nior man­agers; (Lo­ca­tion 1654)

100. scat­ter­ing ducks already set in a row. Be­sides, one can only crit­i­cize some­thing when one has the re­sources to solve it in a clear and de­ci­sive way. Other­wise, one should keep one’s skep­ti­cism to one­self and get “on board.” (Lo­ca­tion 2629)

101. Other man­agers and man­age­rial cliques are always on the look­out for oth­ers’ mis­takes or for ac­tions that can be con­strued as mis­takes and will pounce on any­one fool­ish enough to ad­mit them. Even if oth­ers re­strain an im­me­di­ate at­tack, the knowl­edge of some­one’s mis­takes is am­mu­ni­tion for the fu­ture. Many man­agers “lay in the weeds, with rocks, and wait.” One who ex­poses a col­league’s er­rors in such a con­text and makes him vuln­er­a­ble to oth­ers evinces, of course, only a fun­da­men­tal un­trust­wor­thi­ness, un­less one’s col­league has first be­trayed one­self or oth­ers in some way— (Lo­ca­tion 2858)

102. There is a pre­mium in the higher cir­cles of man­age­ment on seem­ing fresh, dy­namic, in­no­va­tive, and up-to-date. In their so­cial min­glings and shoptalk with one an­other, par­tic­u­larly with their op­po­site num­bers in other large com­pa­nies, say, at the Busi­ness Roundtable, at high-level con­fer­ences at pres­ti­gious busi­ness schools, at sum­mer galas in the Hamp­tons, or at the Su­per Bowl, the biggest busi­ness ex­trav­a­ganza of all, ex­ec­u­tives need to seem abreast of the lat­est trends in man­age­rial know-how. No one wants to ap­pear stodgy be­fore one’s peers nor to have one’s firm defined in man­age­rial net­works, and per­haps thence to Wall Street, as “slow on the up­take.” Ex­ec­u­tives trade ideas and schemes and judge the effi­cacy of con­sul­tant pro­grams not by any de­tached crit­i­cal stan­dards but by what is so­cially ac­cept­able, de­sir­able, and, per­haps most im­por­tant, cur­rent in their cir­cles. (Lo­ca­tion 3155)

103. So they at­tend the ses­sions and with a seem­ingly du­tiful ea­ger­ness learn liter­ally to re­peat the req­ui­site for­mu­las un­der the watch­ful eyes of se­nior man­agers. Se­nior man­agers do not them­selves nec­es­sar­ily be­lieve in such pro­grams. In one sem­i­nar that I at­tended, the se­nior man­ager in charge star­tled a room of ju­niors by say­ing: Fel­lows, why aren’t any of you ask­ing about the to­tal lack of cor­re­spon­dence be­tween what we’re preach­ing here and the way we run our com­pany? But such out­spo­ken­ness is rare. (Lo­ca­tion 3209)

104. They ad­mit, how­ever, that the mar­velously high fees that con­sul­tants com­mand (in 1986 as high as $2,000 a day in New York City) en­hance their le­gi­t­i­macy and en­courage man­agers to lend cre­dence to their schemes. (Lo­ca­tion 3216)

105. A choice be­tween se­cur­ing one’s own suc­cess by jump­ing on and off the band­wagon of the mo­ment, or sac­ri­fic­ing one­self for the long-run good of a cor­po­ra­tion by di­vert­ing re­sources and re­ally see­ing a pro­gram through is, for most man­agers, no choice at all. Am­bi­tious man­agers see self-sac­ri­fic­ing loy­alty to a com­pany as foolhardy. More­over, mid­dle and up­per-mid­dle level man­agers upon whom re­quests for self-sac­ri­fice for the good of the or­ga­ni­za­tion are most likely to fall do not see top ex­ec­u­tives sac­ri­fic­ing them­selves for the com­mon good. For ex­am­ple, just af­ter the CEO of Covenant Cor­po­ra­tion an­nounced one of his many purges, le­gi­t­i­mated by a “com­pre­hen­sive as­sess­ment of the hard choices fac­ing us” by a ma­jor con­sult­ing firm, he pur­chased a new Sabre jet for ex­ec­u­tives and a new 31-foot com­pany li­mou­sine for his own use at $1,000 a foot. He then flew the en­tire board of di­rec­tors to Europe on the Con­corde for a reg­u­lar meet­ing to re­view, it was said, his most re­cent cost-cut­ting strate­gies. As other man­agers see it, bu­reau­cratic hi­er­ar­chy gives top bosses the li­cense to act in their own in­ter­ests and to pur­sue with im­punity the arts of con­tra­dic­tion. (Lo­ca­tion 3220)

H. The I in Team

106. The main di­men­sions of team play are as fol­lows. 1. One must ap­pear to be in­ter­change­able with other man­agers near one’s level. Cor­po­ra­tions dis­cour­age nar­row spe­cial­iza­tion more strongly as one goes higher. They also dis­cour­age the ex­pres­sion of moral or poli­ti­cal qualms. One might ob­ject, for ex­am­ple, to work­ing with chem­i­cals used in nu­clear power, or work­ing on weapons sys­tems, and most cor­po­ra­tions to­day would honor such ob­jec­tions. Publi­cly stat­ing them, how­ever, would end any re­al­is­tic as­pira­tions for higher posts be­cause one’s use­ful­ness to the or­ga­ni­za­tion de­pends on ver­sa­tility. As one man­ager in Alchemy Inc. com­ments: “Well, we’d go along with his re­quest but we’d always won­der about the guy. And in the back of our minds, we’d be think­ing that he’ll soon ob­ject to work­ing in the soda ash di­vi­sion be­cause he doesn’t like glass.” Strong con­vic­tions of any sort are sus­pect. One man­ager says: If you meet a guy who hates red-haired per­sons, well, you’re go­ing to won­der about whether that per­son has other weird per­cep­tions as well. You’ve got to have a de­gree of in­ter­change­abil­ity in busi­ness. To me, a per­son can have any be­liefs they want, as long as they leave them at home. Similarly, one’s spouse’s pub­lic view­points or ac­tivi­ties could re­duce oth­ers’ per­cep­tions of a man­ager’s ver­sa­tility or in­deed abil­ity. In refer­ence to an­other man­ager whose wife was known to be ac­tive in en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion groups, lob­by­ing in fact for leg­is­la­tion on chem­i­cal waste dis­posal, one Alchemy man­ager says: “If a guy can’t even man­age his own wife, how can he be ex­pected to man­age other peo­ple?” (Lo­ca­tion 1137)

107. Team play also means, as one man­ager in the chem­i­cal com­pany puts it, “al­ign­ing one­self with the dom­i­nant ide­ol­ogy of the mo­ment” or, as an­other says, “bow­ing to whichever god cur­rently holds sway.” Such ide­olo­gies or gods may be thought of as offi­cial defi­ni­tions of re­al­ity. (Lo­ca­tion 1188)

108. You can in­dict a per­son by say­ing that he’s not a team player. That doesn’t mean he won’t fol­low di­rec­tions. It’s be­cause he voices an ob­jec­tion, be­cause he ar­gues with you be­fore do­ing some­thing, es­pe­cially if he’s right. That’s when we re­ally get mad—when the other guy is right. If he’s wrong, we can be con­de­scend­ing and adopt the “you poor stupid bas­tard” tone…. (Lo­ca­tion 1220)

109. A team player is a man­ager who does not “force his boss to go to the whip,” but, rather, ami­ably chooses the di­rec­tion his boss points out. Man­agers who choose oth­er­wise or who evince stub­born­ness are said to “have made a de­ci­sion,” a phrase al­most always used to de­scribe a choice that will shorten a ca­reer. (Lo­ca­tion 1229)

110. Team play­ers dis­play a happy, up­beat, can-do ap­proach to their work and to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. (Lo­ca­tion 1252)

I. Avoid­ing De­ci­sion Making

111. You know that old say­ing: “Suc­cess has many par­ents; failure is an or­phan”? Well, that de­scribes de­ci­sion mak­ing. A lot of peo­ple don’t want to make a com­mit­ment, at least pub­li­cly. This is a wide­spread prob­lem. They can’t make judg­ments. They stand around and wait for ev­ery­body else’s re­ac­tion. Let me tell you a story which perfectly illus­trates this. There was a [mu­seum] col­lec­tion com­ing, the [Arc­tic] col­lec­tion, and there was a great deal of in­ter­est among de­sign­ers in [Arc­tic] things. My own feel­ing was that it wouldn’t sell but I also rec­og­nized that ev­ery­body wanted to do it. But in this case, [our] de­sign de­part­ment was spared the trou­ble. There was an in­de­pen­dent de­signer who had ac­cess to our pres­i­dent and he showed him a col­lec­tion of [Arc­tic] de­signs. There were two things wrong: (1) it was too early be­cause the col­lec­tion hadn’t hit town yet; (2) more im­por­tant, the de­signs them­selves were hor­rible. Any­way, [the col­lec­tion] was shown in a room with ev­ery­thing spread out on a large table. I was called down to this room which was crowded with about nine peo­ple from the com­pany who had seen the de­signs. I looked at this dis­play and in­stantly hated them. I was asked what I thought but be­fore I could open my mouth, peo­ple were jump­ing up and down clap­ping the de­signer on the back and so on. They had already de­cided to do it be­cause the pres­i­dent had loved it. Of course, the whole af­fair was a to­tal failure. The point is that in mak­ing de­ci­sions, peo­ple look up and look around. They rely on oth­ers, not be­cause of in­ex­pe­rience, but be­cause of fear of failure. They look up and look to oth­ers be­fore they take any plunges. (Lo­ca­tion 1713)

112. But all these things have no re­la­tion­ship to the way they ac­tu­ally man­age or make de­ci­sions. The ba­sic prin­ci­ples of de­ci­sion mak­ing in this or­ga­ni­za­tion and prob­a­bly any or­ga­ni­za­tion are: (1) avoid mak­ing any de­ci­sion if at all pos­si­ble; (2) if a de­ci­sion has to be made, in­volve as many peo­ple as you can so that, if things go south, you’re able to point in as many di­rec­tions as pos­si­ble. (Lo­ca­tion 1731)

113. A mid­dle-aged, up­per-mid­dle level man­ager at Alchemy Inc. says: You know, there is this huge com­put­er­ized in­ven­tory of skills which peo­ple up­date each year; it’s called a skills in­ven­tory. … But all the com­put­er­ized lists in the world don’t amount to much in the cor­po­ra­tion. What mat­ters is a bunch of guys sit­ting in­for­mally in a room and de­cid­ing who should get jobs and who shouldn’t. The real job de­ci­sions are made on that ba­sis. And cir­cum­stances de­ter­mine your fate. (Lo­ca­tion 1634)

114. Mak­ing a de­ci­sion, or stand­ing by a de­ci­sion once made, ex­poses care­fully nur­tured images of com­pe­tence and know-how to the judg­ments of oth­ers, par­tic­u­larly of one’s su­pe­ri­ors. As a re­sult, many man­agers be­come ex­tremely adept at sidestep­ping de­ci­sions al­to­gether and shrug­ging off re­spon­si­bil­ity, all the while pro­ject­ing an air of com­mand, au­thor­ity, and de­ci­sive­ness, leav­ing those who ac­tu­ally do de­cide to carry the ball alone in the open field. (Lo­ca­tion 1774)

115. This ex­plains why the chem­i­cal com­pany man­agers kept putting off a de­ci­sion about ma­jor rein­vest­ment. After the bat­tery col­lapsed in 1979, how­ever, the de­ci­sion fac­ing them was sim­ple and posed lit­tle risk. The cor­po­ra­tion had to meet its le­gal obli­ga­tions; also, it had ei­ther to re­pair the bat­tery the way the EPA de­manded or shut down the plant and lose sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars. Since there were no real choices, ev­ery­one could agree on a course of ac­tion be­cause ev­ery­one could ap­peal to in­evita­bil­ity. This is the nub of man­age­rial de­ci­sion mak­ing. As one man­ager says: De­ci­sions are made only when they are in­evitable. To make a de­ci­sion ahead of the time it has to be made risks poli­ti­cal catas­tro­phe. Peo­ple can always in­ter­pret the de­ci­sion as an un­wise one even if it seems to be cor­rect on other grounds. (Lo­ca­tion 1886)

116. De­spite their fresh ap­pear­ances, cer­tain themes re­cur con­stantly in the pro­grams offered by con­sul­tants. Per­haps the most com­mon are how to sharpen de­ci­sion mak­ing, how to re­struc­ture or­ga­ni­za­tions for greater effi­ciency, how to im­prove pro­duc­tivity, how to rec­og­nize trou­ble spots in an or­ga­ni­za­tion, how to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively, how to hu­man­ize the work­place, and how to raise morale. (Lo­ca­tion 3164)

J. This is Your Life

117. At the man­age­rial and pro­fes­sional lev­els, the road be­tween work and life is usu­ally open be­cause it is difficult to re­fuse to use one’s in­fluence, pa­tron­age, or power on be­half of an­other reg­u­lar mem­ber of one’s so­cial co­terie. It there­fore be­comes im­por­tant to choose one’s so­cial col­leagues with some care and, of course, know how to drop them should they fall out of or­ga­ni­za­tional fa­vor. (Lo­ca­tion 884)

118. For some man­agers, the drive for suc­cess is a quest for the gen­er­ous fi­nan­cial re­wards that high cor­po­rate po­si­tion brings. For oth­ers, suc­cess means the free­dom to define one’s work role with some lat­i­tude, to “get out from un­der the thumb of oth­ers.” For still oth­ers, it means the chance to gain power and to ex­ert one’s will, to “call the shots,” to “do it my way,” or to know the cu­ri­ously ex­hil­arat­ing plea­sure of con­trol­ling other peo­ple’s fates. For still oth­ers, the quest for suc­cess ex­presses a deep hunger for the recog­ni­tion and ac­co­lades of one’s peers. (Lo­ca­tion 955)

119. More gen­er­ally, those who ac­cept im­mo­bil­ity are un­will­ing to sac­ri­fice fam­ily life or free-time ac­tivi­ties to put in the ex­traor­di­nar­ily long hours at the office re­quired in the up­per cir­cles of their cor­po­ra­tions. Or they have made a re­al­is­tic as­sess­ment of the age struc­ture, ca­reer paths, and power re­la­tion­ships above them and con­clude that there is no longer real op­por­tu­nity for them. They may see that there is an ir­reparable mis­match be­tween their own per­sonal styles and the kinds of so­cial skills be­ing cul­ti­vated in well-en­trenched higher cir­cles. In many cases, they de­cide that they do not wish to put up with the great stress of higher man­age­ment work that they have wit­nessed. (Lo­ca­tion 962)

120. Higher-level man­agers in all the cor­po­ra­tions I stud­ied com­monly spend twelve to four­teen hours a day at the office. (Lo­ca­tion 1156)

121. In a world where ap­pear­ances—in the broad­est sense—mean ev­ery­thing, the wise and am­bi­tious man­ager learns to cul­ti­vate as­si­du­ously the proper, pre­scribed modes of ap­pear­ing. He dis­pas­sion­ately takes stock of him­self, treat­ing him­self as an ob­ject, as a com­mod­ity. He an­a­lyzes his strengths and weak­nesses and de­cides what he needs to change in or­der to sur­vive and flour­ish in his or­ga­ni­za­tion. And then he sys­tem­at­i­cally un­der­takes a pro­gram to re­con­struct his image, his pub­li­cly avowed at­ti­tudes or ideas, or what­ever else in his self-pre­sen­ta­tion that might need ad­just­ment. (Lo­ca­tion 1339)

122. This [lack of con­trol] doesn’t mean you don’t work hard; at least in my case, that’s my an­swer. I have to be­lieve I can in­fluence events. That way, I feel good about my­self even if my boss doesn’t. (Lo­ca­tion 1606)

123. Some­times I’ll wake up in the mid­dle of the night think­ing about the plant. And if I can’t get back to sleep, I’ll slip out of bed and walk over to the plant and just walk around the ma­chin­ery and talk to the guys. I love the smell of the oil and the grease and the sound of the ma­chines. For me, that’s what life is all about. (Lo­ca­tion 4535)

K. Im­moral Mazes

124. In an­a­lyz­ing in­ci­dence data from a rep­re­sen­ta­tive plant, and by ex­trap­o­lat­ing to the rest of the firm’s mills, White dis­cov­ered that 12 per­cent of all greige mill work­ers had already suffered hear­ing loss se­vere enough to be im­me­di­ately com­pens­able un­der state law for as much as $3.5 to $5.7 mil­lion. This, how­ever, was only the thun­der be­fore a sum­mer storm. Another 63 per­cent of greige mill work­ers had already suffered sub­stan­tial, though not yet com­pens­able, dam­age that could only worsen the longer they stayed in the in­dus­try. (Lo­ca­tion 2265)

125. More­over, by in­sist­ing on his own per­sonal moral pu­rity, his feel­ing that if he did not ex­pose things he him­self would be drawn into a web of cor­rup­tion, he was, they feel, be­ing dis­in­gen­u­ous; no one reaches his level of a hi­er­ar­chy with­out be­ing tainted. (Lo­ca­tion 2450)

126. A moral judg­ment based on a pro­fes­sional ethic makes lit­tle sense in a world where the eti­quette of au­thor­ity re­la­tion­ships and the ne­ces­sity for pro­tect­ing and cov­er­ing for one’s boss, one’s net­work, and one­self su­percede all other con­sid­er­a­tions and where nonac­countabil­ity for ac­tion is the norm. (Lo­ca­tion 2474)

127. On the po­lar crane is­sue, the top offi­cial of the NRC later char­ac­ter­ized Wil­son’s and his en­g­ineers’ con­cerns as stem­ming from a philos­o­phy that em­pha­sized pro­ce­du­ral mat­ters rather than a fo­cus on fi­nal goals. This char­ac­ter­i­za­tion was echoed by GPUN man­age­ment who stressed that what was at is­sue in the po­lar crane dis­pute was not pro­ce­dures but re­sults; at a cer­tain point, they said, de­ci­sions had to be made to re­solve tech­ni­cal dis­putes and work had to pro­ceed to­ward what ev­ery­one ac­knowl­edged to be a worth­while goal, that is, the cleanup of TMI-2. (Lo­ca­tion 2566)

128. Once, when he wrote a memo to the GPUN deputy di­rec­tor about ra­dioac­tively con­tam­i­nated sewage be­ing trucked out of the plant and dis­posed of ille­gally, his boss replied that he did not need such a memo from Wil­son. It was, his boss said, not con­struc­tive and wasted his own and Wil­son’s time. (Lo­ca­tion 2575)

129. my view, this is the nub of the moral ethos of bu­reau­cracy. Man­agers see this is­sue as a “trade-off” be­tween prin­ci­ple and ex­pe­di­ency. They usu­ally pose the trade-off as a ques­tion: Where do you draw the line? (Lo­ca­tion 2652)

130. It is said, in fact, that one Weft man­ager who was on the take for years from cus­tomers was fired within a half hour of the dis­cov­ery of his “in­ex­pli­ca­bly stupid” ac­cep­tance and de­posit of a check from his bene­fac­tors in­stead of his nor­mal cash rake-offs. With such au­thor­i­ta­tive en­courage­ment, man­agers in­ter­nal­ize these norms into their own per­sonal codes of honor; they speak pri­vately of the im­por­tance of not be­ing known as men or women “who can be had.” (Lo­ca­tion 2658)

131. It gets hard. Now, sup­pose that the ozone de­ple­tion the­ory were cor­rect and you knew that these spe­cific fifty peo­ple were go­ing to get skin can­cer be­cause you pro­duced chlo­rofluoro­car­bons [CFCs]. Well, there would be no ques­tion. You would just stop pro­duc­tion. But sup­pose that you didn’t know the fifty peo­ple and it wasn’t at all clear that CFCs were at fault, or en­tirely at fault. What do you do then? (Lo­ca­tion 2831)

132. Sup­pose that you had a candy bar fac­tory and you were tour­ing the plant and you saw with your own eyes a worker slip a ra­zor blade into a bar. And be­fore you could stop the ma­chine, there were a thou­sand bars more made and the one with the ra­zor blade was mixed up. Well, there’s no ques­tion that you would get rid of the thou­sand candy bars. But what if it were a mil­lion bars? Well, I don’t know what I’d do. (Lo­ca­tion 2843)

133. More­over, he tries to treat his sub­or­di­nates forthrightly, firmly be­liev­ing that one’s word is an im­por­tant mea­sure of a per­son. In a world, how­ever, where ac­tions are sep­a­rated from con­se­quences, where knowl­edge is frag­mented and se­creted, where pri­vate agree­ments are the only real way to fash­ion trust in the midst of on­go­ing com­pe­ti­tion and con­flict, where re­la­tion­ships with trusted col­leagues con­sti­tute one’s only real means both of defense and op­por­tu­nity, and where, one knows, even co­in­ci­den­tal as­so­ci­a­tion with a dis­aster can haunt one’s ca­reer years later, keep­ing silent and cov­er­ing for one­self and for one’s fel­lows be­come not only pos­si­ble but pru­dent, in­deed vir­tu­ous, courses of ac­tion. (Lo­ca­tion 2969)

134. More­over, it is a by­word in the chem­i­cal in­dus­try at least that it is pre­cisely in those tech­nolog­i­cal ar­eas where ac­ci­dents have sel­dom oc­curred that the largest po­ten­tial catas­tro­phes loom; the very lack of prac­tice in re­spond­ing quickly to un­to­ward in­ci­dents can pre­cip­i­tate un­con­trol­lable events. (Lo­ca­tion 3376)

135. Publi­cly, of course, Weft Cor­po­ra­tion, as do many other firms, claims that the money was spent en­tirely to elimi­nate dust, ev­i­dence of its cor­po­rate good cit­i­zen­ship. Pri­vately, ex­ec­u­tives ad­mit that with­out the pro­duc­tive re­turn, they would not have—in­deed, given the con­straints un­der which they op­er­ate—could not have spent the money. (Lo­ca­tion 3585)

136. The ethic that emerges in bu­reau­cratic con­texts con­trasts sharply in many re­spects with the origi­nal Protes­tant ethic. The Protes­tant ethic was a so­cial con­struc­tion of re­al­ity of a self-con­fi­dent and in­de­pen­dent prop­er­tied so­cial class. It was an ide­ol­ogy that ex­tol­led the virtues of ac­cu­mu­lat­ing and rein­vest­ing wealth in a so­ciety or­ga­nized around prop­erty and that ac­cepted the stew­ard­ship re­spon­si­bil­ities en­tailed by prop­erty. It was an ide­ol­ogy where a per­son’s word was his bond and where the in­tegrity of the hand­shake was cru­cial to the main­te­nance of good busi­ness re­la­tion­ships. (Lo­ca­tion 4295)

137. At the core of the mid­dle class’s righ­teous, some would say smug, faith in it­self, of its in­ex­haustible drive, of its un­remit­ting prag­ma­tism, was the con­vic­tion that hard work nec­es­sar­ily had its just re­wards here and now as a to­ken of di­v­ine fa­vor in the here­after. This con­vic­tion was also the bedrock of a profound guilt mechanism that im­pel­led one to fulfill per­sonal and so­cial obli­ga­tions; failure to do so, like a failure to work hard, was thought to be a sin against both God and self. (Lo­ca­tion 4304)

138. Bureau­cracy breaks apart the own­er­ship of prop­erty from its con­trol, so­cial in­de­pen­dence from oc­cu­pa­tion, sub­stance from ap­pear­ances, ac­tion from re­spon­si­bil­ity, obli­ga­tion from guilt, lan­guage from mean­ing, and no­tions of truth from re­al­ity. Most im­por­tant, and at the bot­tom of all of these frac­tures, it breaks apart the older con­nec­tion be­tween the mean­ing of work and sal­va­tion. In the bu­reau­cratic world, one’s suc­cess, one’s sign of elec­tion, no longer de­pends on an in­scrutable God, but on the capri­cious­ness of one’s su­pe­ri­ors and the mar­ket; and one achieves eco­nomic sal­va­tion to the ex­tent that one pleases and sub­mits to new gods, that is, one’s bosses and the ex­i­gen­cies of an im­per­sonal mar­ket. (Lo­ca­tion 4307)

L. Truth and Public Relations

139. Truth? What is truth? I don’t know any­one in this busi­ness who talks about “truth.” (Lo­ca­tion 4137)

140. After all, as one ex­ec­u­tive says, “We lie all the time, but if ev­ery­one knows that we’re ly­ing, is a lie re­ally a lie?” (Lo­ca­tion 2693)

141. If a re­tailer re­turns with goods and says, “Look, I can’t sell $50,000 of this stuff. You have to take it back or it’s go­ing to break me,” may one say, “What’s that? I didn’t hear you,” hop­ing for the sake of fu­ture busi­ness that the re­tailer will say, “Oh, look, you were late de­liv­er­ing and I can’t use it now.” (Lo­ca­tion 2700)

142. The con­sul­tant who per­ceives such dis­crep­an­cies has to de­vise his own strate­gies for han­dling them. Some of these in­clude: re­ject­ing the as­sign­ment al­to­gether; ac­cept­ing the prob­lem as defined and con­fin­ing one­self to it for the sake of fu­ture con­tracts even though one knows that any ac­tion will be in­effi­ca­cious; or ac­cept­ing the as­sign­ment but try­ing to per­suade the client to ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing so­cial and poli­ti­cal is­sues, that is, re­defin­ing the prob­lem. (Lo­ca­tion 3234)

143. For in­stance, a highly placed staff mem­ber whose work re­quires him to in­ter­act daily with the top figures of his com­pany, says: I get faked out all the time, and I’m part of the sys­tem. I come from a very differ­ent cul­ture. Where I come from, if you give some­one your word, no one ever ques­tions it. It’s the old hard-work-will-lead-to-suc­cess ide­ol­ogy. Small com­mu­nity, Protes­tant, agrar­ian, small busi­ness, mer­chant-type val­ues. I’m dis­ad­van­taged in a sys­tem like this. He goes on to char­ac­ter­ize the sys­tem more fully and what it takes to suc­ceed within it: It’s the abil­ity to play this sys­tem that de­ter­mines whether you will rise. … And part of the adept­ness [re­quired] is de­ter­mined by how much it both­ers peo­ple. One thing you have to be able to do is to play the game, but you can’t be dis­turbed by the game. What’s the game? It’s bring­ing troops home from Viet­nam and declar­ing peace with honor. It’s say­ing one thing and mean­ing an­other. It’s char­ac­ter­iz­ing the re­al­ity of a situ­a­tion with any de­scrip­tion that is nec­es­sary to make that situ­a­tion more palat­able to some group that mat­ters. It means that you have to come up with a cul­turally ac­cepted ver­bal­iza­tion to ex­plain why you are not do­ing what you are do­ing…. [Or] you say that we had to do what we did be­cause it was in­evitable; or be­cause the guys at the [reg­u­la­tory] agen­cies were dumb; [you] say we won when we re­ally lost; [you] say we saved money when we squan­dered it; [you] say some­thing’s safe when it’s po­ten­tially or ac­tu­ally dan­ger­ous…. Every­one knows that it’s bul­lshit, but it’s ac­cepted. This is the game. (Lo­ca­tion 3246)

144. Such adept­ness at in­con­sis­tency, with­out moral un­easi­ness, is es­sen­tial for ex­ec­u­tive suc­cess. Done over a pe­riod of time, in fact, it seems to be­come a taken for granted habit of mind. As one ex­ec­u­tive at Covenant Cor­po­ra­tion says: Now some peo­ple don’t un­der­stand this…. But as you move up the lad­der, you don’t have peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand. And the peo­ple up high don’t nec­es­sar­ily do it con­sciously. They are able to speak out of both sides of their mouth with­out miss­ing a step. It means be­ing able to say, as a very high-rank­ing offi­cial of Weft Cor­po­ra­tion said to me with­out bat­ting an eye, that the in­dus­try has never caused the slight­est prob­lem in any worker’s breath­ing ca­pac­ity. It means, in Covenant Cor­po­ra­tion, prop­a­gat­ing an elab­o­rate haz­ard/​benefit calcu­lus for ap­proval of dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals while in­ter­nally con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing “haz­ards” as busi­ness risks. It means pub­li­cly ex­tol­ling the care­ful­ness of test­ing pro­ce­dures on toxic chem­i­cals while pri­vately ridi­cul­ing an­i­mal tests as in­ap­pli­ca­ble to hu­mans. (Lo­ca­tion 3610)

145. Fi­nally, those truly adept at in­con­sis­tency can also in­ter­pret with some ac­cu­racy the in­con­sis­tent machi­na­tions of their col­leagues and ad­ver­saries. This is not a mean skill. At the very be­gin­ning of my field­work, the top lawyer of a large cor­po­ra­tion was dis­cussing an is­sue that I had raised when he said: Now, I’m go­ing to be com­pletely hon­est with you about this. He paused for a mo­ment and then said: By the way, in the cor­po­rate world, when­ever any­body says to you: “I’m go­ing to be com­pletely hon­est with you about this,” you should im­me­di­ately know that a curve­ball is on the way. But, of course, that doesn’t ap­ply to what I’m about to tell you. (Lo­ca­tion 3631)

146. Since the suc­cess of large com­mer­cial bu­reau­cra­cies de­pends to a great ex­tent on the good­will of the con­sum­ing pub­lic, am­bi­tious man­agers rec­og­nize that great or­ga­ni­za­tional pre­miums are placed on the abil­ity to ex­plain ex­pe­di­ent ac­tion con­vinc­ingly. Public opinion, of course, con­sti­tutes one of the only effec­tive checks on the bu­reau­cratic im­pulse to trans­late all moral is­sues into prac­ti­cal con­cerns. (Lo­ca­tion 3643)

147. 1925, Walter Lipp­mann crit­i­cally an­a­lyzed a pub­lic’s abil­ity to ap­pre­ci­ate the in­tri­ca­cies of any is­sue or in­deed to keep its at­ten­tion on any­thing but crises. He adds: [S]ince [a pub­lic] acts by al­ign­ing it­self, it per­son­al­izes what­ever it con­sid­ers, and is in­ter­ested only when events have been melo­dra­ma­tized as a con­flict. The pub­lic will ar­rive in the mid­dle of the third act and will leave be­fore the last cur­tain, hav­ing stayed just long enough per­haps to de­cide who is the hero and who is the villain of the piece. (Lo­ca­tion 3765)

148. read in The Wall Street Jour­nal or The New York Times ac­counts of spe­cific events or larger trends at­tributed to “in­formed sources,” the code name for pub­lic re­la­tions men and women; (Lo­ca­tion 3828)

149. There are, of course, good clients and bad clients. A good client keeps his pub­lic re­la­tions spe­cial­ists ad­e­quately in­formed, pro­vides “feed­back” and “con­struc­tive crit­i­cism,” and rec­og­nizes that pub­lic re­la­tions de­pends on time-billing rather than on product billing and pro­vides enough funds to do the job prop­erly. A good client “takes stock of him­self,” that is, dis­pas­sion­ately ob­jec­tifies his com­pany’s prod­ucts, his com­pany’s or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture and per­son­nel, and, say, in the case of a top cor­po­rate offi­cial, him­self, to make them all more read­ily ma­nipu­la­ble and there­fore mar­ketable com­modi­ties. Above all, a good client is flex­ible and there­fore able rapidly to shift ground and ac­tual poli­cies as well to meet new needs or new pres­sures. A bad client, by con­trast, ei­ther does not un­der­stand or chooses to ig­nore the pe­cu­liarly in­di­rect ap­proach of pub­lic re­la­tions and wants im­me­di­ately ob­serv­able re­sults in terms of press clip­pings or TV time; uses a pub­lic re­la­tions pro­gram as a ve­hi­cle for self-ag­gran­dize­ment within his own cor­po­ra­tion, plac­ing the pub­lic re­la­tions spe­cial­ist in dan­ger of “get­ting caught in a piss­ing con­test be­tween ex­ec­u­tives”; de­mands the re­lease of press state­ments that are only marginally “news­wor­thy” and then blames the pub­lic re­la­tions spe­cial­ist when noth­ing at all gets printed or aired; con­ceals cru­cial as­pects of his story from his pub­lic re­la­tions ad­visers and re­fuses them ad­e­quate ac­cess to his staff and fa­cil­ities to get the full story; comes to the pub­lic re­la­tions agency with trumped-up data and fake pho­tographs—as hap­pened, for in­stance, at Images Inc. when a client falsely claimed the effi­cacy of a product to re­move tar from de­spoiled beaches—and ends up declar­ing bankruptcy, leav­ing the pub­lic re­la­tions agency li­able for a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar law­suit; wants the pub­lic re­la­tions agency, as in the case of some sin­gle-party for­eign gov­ern­ments, to put a good pub­lic face on prac­tices like the “per­sua­sion” and “elimi­na­tion” of op­po­nents; ex­pects the pub­lic re­la­tions agency to be the “bag man” to pay off gov­ern­ment offi­cials or news­pa­per ed­i­tors; and, per­haps es­pe­cially, in­sists on an in­defen­si­ble or to­tally un­be­liev­able ver­sion of re­al­ity or ex­pects the pub­lic re­la­tions spe­cial­ist to tell out­right lies. (Lo­ca­tion 3843)

150. As it hap­pens, ac­counts in the pub­lic re­la­tions world cir­cu­late con­tinu­ally and only some­times be­cause of ac­tual or alleged dis­satis­fac­tion with pub­lic re­la­tions ser­vice. The pat­tern of con­tinual merg­ers, up­heavals, and power strug­gles in cor­po­ra­tions, that I have ar­gued ear­lier is at the core of Amer­i­can cor­po­rate life, di­rectly af­fects pub­lic re­la­tions agen­cies. When a new CEO or di­vi­sional pres­i­dent as­sumes power in a cor­po­ra­tion, he will quite of­ten change pub­lic re­la­tions and ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies as part of a larger strat­egy of shed­ding the past or to as­sert his own “new vi­sion” of the fu­ture. When this oc­curs, al­most in­vari­ably, he will move his ac­count to an agency whose lead­ers he knows and with whom he feels com­fortable. This con­tinual cir­cu­la­tion of ac­counts means that agency per­son­nel are con­stantly search­ing for new ac­counts and con­stantly de­vis­ing ways to hold pre­sent clients, de­spite the knowl­edge of the in­evita­bil­ity of their even­tual de­par­ture. (Lo­ca­tion 3868)

151. In the world of pub­lic re­la­tions, there is no such thing as a no­tion of truth; there are only sto­ries, per­spec­tives, or opinions. One works, of course, with “facts,” that is, se­lected em­piri­cally ver­ifi­able state­ments about the world. But as long as a story is fac­tual, it does not mat­ter if it is “true.” One can feel free to ar­range these facts in a va­ri­ety of ways and to put any in­ter­pre­ta­tion on them that suits a client’s ob­jec­tives. In­ter­pre­ta­tions and judg­ments are always com­pletely rel­a­tive. The only canons bind­ing this pro­cess of in­ter­pre­ta­tion are those of cred­i­bil­ity or, more ex­actly, of plau­si­bil­ity. If an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of facts, a story, is taken as plau­si­ble by a tar­geted au­di­ence, it is just as good as “true” in any philo­soph­i­cal sense, in­deed bet­ter since it fur­thers the ac­com­plish­ment of an im­me­di­ate goal. (Lo­ca­tion 3886)

152. From the stand­point of pub­lic re­la­tions, the jour­nal­is­tic ide­ol­ogy closely re­sem­bles the so­cial out­look of most col­lege se­niors—a vague but pi­ous mid­dle-class liber­al­ism, a mildly crit­i­cal stance to­ward their fathers in par­tic­u­lar and au­thor­i­ties in gen­eral; a maudlin cham­pi­onship of the poor and the un­der­class; and es­pe­cially the doc­trine of tol­er­ance, open-mind­ed­ness, and bal­ance. In fact, pub­lic re­la­tions peo­ple feel, the news me­dia are also con­struct­ing re­al­ity. They are always look­ing for a “fresh” and ex­cit­ing an­gle; they have an unerring in­stinct for the sen­ti­men­tal that ex­presses it­self in a prefer­ence for “hu­man in­ter­est” rather than sub­stance; and they ar­range facts in a way that pur­ports to con­vey “truth,” but is in fact sim­ply an­other story. In re­al­ity, news is en­ter­tain­ment. And, de­spite the pub­lic’s ac­cep­tance of jour­nal­is­tic ide­olo­gies, most of the pub­lic watch or read news not to be in­formed or to learn the “truth,” but pre­cisely to be en­ter­tained. There is no in­trin­sic rea­son, there­fore, why the con­struc­tions of re­al­ity by pub­lic re­la­tions spe­cial­ists should be thought of as any differ­ent from those of any group in the busi­ness of tel­ling sto­ries to the pub­lic. (Lo­ca­tion 3903)

153. The top offi­cial, in a writ­ten doc­u­ment pre­pared for a meet­ing to dis­cuss the is­sue, ar­gued that: [T]he fi­nal re­port was bet­ter than it would have been if it had not gone through [the] pro­cess of re­ex­am­i­na­tion. It was stronger, it was more im­por­tant, it was more con­struc­tive…. At the same time, there is no doubt that pres­sures were brought on us to come to the kind of con­clu­sions we fi­nally reached. At the meet­ing, he added, some­what more pithily: “We tried to be hon­est but, be­lieve me, it wasn’t easy.” (Lo­ca­tion 4124)

154. The same top ex­ec­u­tive defines truth: I some­times sit back and think that if we could make up a list of all the view­points of all our clients and some­how fit them to­gether, then that would be truth. That would be what we are as a firm. (Lo­ca­tion 4130)

155. Agency prac­ti­tion­ers not only defend mul­ti­ple in­ter­ests but face re­peat­edly the ex­pe­rience of even well-served clients switch­ing agen­cies. Espe­cially un­set­tling are the de­par­tures of clients who de­cide that, since they are as they have been por­trayed, they have no fu­ture need to con­struct re­al­ity. The con­tinual cir­cu­la­tion of client ac­counts in agen­cies diminishes the pos­si­bil­ities of com­fort­ing, long-held alle­giances to or­ga­ni­za­tions, prod­ucts, or causes. (Lo­ca­tion 4192)

156. Alter­na­tively, and by con­trast, prac­ti­tion­ers in both set­tings some­times jus­tify their efforts by ap­peal­ing to a pro­fes­sional ethos that cel­e­brates the ex­er­cise of tech­ni­cal skill sep­a­rated from any emo­tional com­mit­ment to one’s clients. A dig­nified ver­sion of this le­gi­t­i­ma­tion is the of­ten re­peated anal­ogy be­tween pub­lic re­la­tions prac­ti­tion­ers and lawyers; both oc­cu­pa­tions, it is ar­gued, fulfill im­por­tant ad­vo­cacy roles in a free so­ciety. Only the prac­tice of the pro­fes­sional virtue of pub­lic re­la­tions, how­ever haz­ardous to in­di­vi­d­ual prac­ti­tion­ers, can as­sure the con­tinued di­ver­sity of opinion that marks our democ­racy. (Lo­ca­tion 4195)

157. That’s the re­al­ity of our so­ciety. There’s no ques­tion that their story is be­ing told be­cause they have the money and power. I’ve got to rec­og­nize that I’m part of this so­ciety and just come to live with that. Our so­ciety is the way it is. It’s run on money and power, it’s that sim­ple. Truth has noth­ing to do with it. So we just ac­cept the world as it is and live with it. (Lo­ca­tion 4206)

158. The agency liter­ally cre­ates these re­al­ities by match­mak­ing artis­tic tal­ent and ac­com­plish­ment with money. In the pro­cess, up-and-com­ing ju­nior cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives get the kind of ex­po­sure to re­fined, so­phis­ti­cated artis­tic and in­tel­lec­tual cir­cles that will help pre­pare and pol­ish them for higher posts. Artists, in turn, as long as their work is not too avant-garde, re­ceive the benefits of a lat­ter-day Medici-like pa­tron­age. Public re­la­tions peo­ple claim a dou­ble ac­com­plish­ment—they help civ­i­lize busi­ness­men, not least by in­spiring in them a “pas­sion for great­ness” rather than self-in­ter­est as the im­por­tant mo­tive for pa­tron­age of the arts; and they provide the pub­lic with ac­cess to high cul­ture. The same firm has also ar­ranged cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship of dance and mu­si­cal perfor­mances, helped de­velop im­por­tant ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams such as one on in­fant nu­tri­tion, con­ducted some use­ful sur­veys such as one on the prob­lems fac­ing eth­nic minori­ties, and done a lot of pro bono work for philan­thropic, com­mu­nity, and pub­lic ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions in the bar­gain. One tries, then, to move some clients in di­rec­tions that seem so­cially de­sir­able while at the same time play­ing with the magic lan­tern to serve their in­ter­ests. Some­times, too, the abil­ity to ac­com­plish any good at all in this world seems to de­pend on the will­ing­ness to serve even clients with no ap­par­ent re­deem­ing fea­tures in or­der to seize capri­cious op­por­tu­ni­ties to chan­nel other clients’ re­sources into work deemed so­cially worth­while. (Lo­ca­tion 4214)

159. In short, bu­reau­cracy cre­ates for man­agers a Calv­inist world with­out a Calv­inist God, a world marked with the same profound anx­iety that char­ac­ter­ized the old Protes­tant ethic but one stripped of that ide­ol­ogy’s com­fort­ing illu­sions. Bureau­cracy poses for man­agers an in­tri­cate set of moral mazes that are paradig­matic of the quan­daries of pub­lic life in our so­cial or­der. Within this frame­work, the puz­zle for many in­di­vi­d­ual man­agers be­comes: How does one act in such a world and main­tain a sense of per­sonal in­tegrity? (Lo­ca­tion 4351)

M. Un­der Siege

160. Part of the folk­lore of the mod­ern cor­po­ra­tion, in fact, con­sists of a cat­a­log of sto­ries about how big cor­po­ra­tions are be­ing vic­tim­ized by the courts in what amounts to a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of tort law. Man­agers re­peat vari­a­tions of cases—for in­stance, of a man who pur­chased a thrice-owned punch ma­chine, al­tered it, and af­ter los­ing a finger, sued the origi­nal man­u­fac­turer for neg­li­gent con­struc­tion; of a farmer who, de­spite clearly marked warn­ing la­bels, coated his an­i­mal feed troughs with a toxic wood preser­va­tive, sold milk from con­tam­i­nated cat­tle, and then when he him­self was sued by irate par­ents whose chil­dren had drunk the milk, sued the chem­i­cal com­pany who pro­duced the preser­va­tive; or of a stu­dent re­search as­sis­tant in­ex­pli­ca­bly asked to carry dan­ger­ous acid in glass con­tain­ers on a faulty ele­va­tor that lurched and caused the young woman to break a con­tainer, show­er­ing her with acid and per­ma­nently dis­figur­ing her. Although she is said to have sued her uni­ver­sity, her su­per­vis­ing pro­fes­sor, the ele­va­tor man­u­fac­turer, and the chem­i­cal com­pany that pro­vided the acid, man­agers had few doubts that the jury would “pin the tail on busi­ness” be­cause of the “abid­ing con­vic­tion that cor­po­ra­tions have vaults filled with gold bars called prof­its.” At some level, even man­agers who re­peat such sto­ries and thus re­in­force their own shared sense of be­lea­guer­ment, rec­og­nize the profound and profoundly felt de­pen­dence of most peo­ple in our so­ciety on those large or­ga­ni­za­tions that claim to con­trol the sci­en­tific ge­nie. (Lo­ca­tion 3413)

161. was at this party the other night and I was sit­ting next to this older lady and she said: “My God, did you peo­ple see the pa­per tonight? There’s leak­age from some chem­i­cal plant and it’s in­fect­ing the drink­ing wa­ter around here.” So I asked if I could see the pa­per and the ar­ti­cle said that there was some seep­age out of a pond that a chem­i­cal plant used for dis­posal but that the EPA was mon­i­tor­ing the situ­a­tion as well as all 25 wells in the area. In the mean­time, the com­pany was rem­e­dy­ing the situ­a­tion. I pointed this out and she looked at me, her eyes nar­rowed, and she asked, “Who do you work for?” I said I worked for a large chem­i­cal firm and she burst out laugh­ing and asked if I ex­pected her to be­lieve me. She laughed right in my face! I asked her what she was wor­ried about. You have to drink the wa­ter for 25 years be­fore any­thing would hap­pen—I mean, she was already a grand­mother—but that didn’t seem to help her much. (Lo­ca­tion 3459)

162. My in­ter­views are filled with sto­ries of man­agers who claim to have been ver­bally as­saulted not only by strangers at cock­tail par­ties, but by their chil­dren’s teach­ers when they visit schools, and even by their chil­dren them­selves at the break­fast table for be­ing sup­pos­edly cal­lous and in­sen­si­tive to the so­cial con­se­quences of busi­ness ac­tivity. Per­haps more than any­thing else, man­agers are puz­zled by such at­tacks, though they pounce quickly on any in­con­sis­ten­cies that they per­ceive in their op­po­nents. For ex­am­ple, one man­ager whose firm pro­duced a pes­ti­cide that be­came caught up in a widely pub­li­cized epi­sode of mishan­dling and ille­gal dis­posal was at­tacked by his brother-in-law, a lifelong mil­i­tary man, for his very as­so­ci­a­tion with the com­pany. The man­ager found it grimly ironic that “things have reached a point where a trained kil­ler is be­rat­ing me for pro­duc­ing some­thing use­ful.” More gen­er­ally, man­agers view the ir­ra­tional fear of con­tam­i­na­tion evinced by those who es­pouse an ide­ol­ogy of bod­ily pu­rity with some de­ri­sion. One can, af­ter all, refer­ring to the same pes­ti­cide, “eat hand­fuls of the stuff with no last­ing ad­verse effects.” (Lo­ca­tion 3467)

163. Well, from 1957 through 1962, I was in­ti­mately in­volved with the man­u­fac­ture of DDT. Dur­ing that time, we dou­bled pro­duc­tion and sold al­most all of it to Africa and In­dia. And I knew and went home know­ing that I was sav­ing more lives than any ma­jor hos­pi­tal was ca­pa­ble of do­ing. I knew that I was sav­ing thou­sands of lives by do­ing this. Then Rachel Car­son’s Silent Spring came out and not only did I be­come a mur­derer of fal­cons and robins, but also one of the mass mur­der­ers of the world. I was now do­ing evil things to the world. Then I went to a plant which was man­u­fac­tur­ing [chlo­rofluoro­car­bons] and we in­creased pro­duc­tion by 20–25 per­cent; a lot of it went into hair sprays. We also used vinyl chlo­ride and found out that it was caus­ing liver can­cer. Then I found out that I was de­stroy­ing the whole ozone layer of the earth and do­ing it for per­sonal gain. Then I went into soda ash. Without it, there wouldn’t be a win­dow pane in the whole United States. But at the time, be­cause of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, sud­denly I be­came a pol­luter. Chil­dren learned in school that chem­i­cals kil­led. And, of course, there was no ques­tion in the aca­demic com­mu­nity that I was per­ceived as an evil per­son do­ing evil things. And that be­came true even in the cor­po­ra­tion. Plants be­came a li­a­bil­ity, rather than the source of wealth. The per­cep­tion was: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just sell chem­i­cals with­out pro­duc­ing them? So the pro­fes­sion of pro­duc­ing things be­came a low pro­fes­sion and the good peo­ple were those who were pro­duc­ing ser­vices. Man­u­fac­tur­ing peo­ple be­came evil. I think this is one rea­son that mar­ket­ing peo­ple be­came as­cen­dant in the com­pe­ti­tion for ad­vance­ment. Then I went into mak­ing sulfuric acid and that in­volved the whole is­sue of wa­ter pol­lu­tion. He goes on to de­scribe his re­ac­tion to all of this: I guess I’m more be­mused than any­thing else. It’s the same type of feel­ing that I would have if I were an MD who had been do­ing rad­i­cal mas­tec­tomies and then some­one says—hey, you didn’t have to do that. It’s a feel­ing of dis­ap­point­ment with­out a feel­ing of shame. I know that I have done some use­ful things. I know that the only source of money is tak­ing some­thing out of the ground and mak­ing some­thing. That’s where money comes from—mak­ing some­thing out of noth­ing. Without that type of ac­tivity, civ­i­liza­tion wouldn’t ex­ist. So, on some­thing like DDT, I’ll leave the judg­ment to Europe af­ter World War II and all the peo­ple saved by the wide­spread use of it. (Lo­ca­tion 3482)

164. Within this con­text of per­ceived ha­rass­ment and shift­ing sci­en­tific and ide­olog­i­cal winds, while always at­tend­ing to the press­ing and some­times con­tra­dic­tory ex­i­gen­cies of busi­ness life, man­agers must ad­dress a mul­ti­plic­ity of au­di­ences, some of whom are con­sid­ered ri­vals, and some out­right ad­ver­saries. Th­ese au­di­ences are the in­ter­nal cor­po­rate hi­er­ar­chy with its in­tri­cate and shift­ing power cliques and com­pet­ing man­age­rial cir­cles, key reg­u­la­tors, lo­cal and fed­eral leg­is­la­tors, spe­cial pub­lics that vary ac­cord­ing to the is­sues, and the pub­lic at large, whose good­will and fa­vor­able opinions are con­sid­ered es­sen­tial for a com­pany’s free op­er­a­tion. Man­age­rial adept­ness at in­con­sis­tency be­comes ev­i­dent in the widely dis­crepant per­spec­tives, rea­sons for ac­tion, and pre­sen­ta­tions of fact that ex­plain, ex­cuse, or jus­tify man­age­rial be­hav­ior to these di­verse au­di­ences. (Lo­ca­tion 3506)

165. The Supreme Court, how­ever, de­cided in 1981 that the 1978 OSHA rul­ing was fully within the Agency’s man­date, namely to pro­tect work­ers’ health and safety as the pri­mary benefit ex­ceed­ing all cost con­sid­er­a­tions. (Lo­ca­tion 3533)

166. The seg­mented work pat­terns of bu­reau­cracy un­der­lie these larger struc­tures. Man­agers’ cog­ni­tive maps to the thick­ets of their world con­tain sharp, some­times ab­surd, car­i­ca­tures of the style and ethos of differ­ent oc­cu­pa­tional groups. Th­ese sug­gest some of the ways in which man­agers ap­praise the myr­iad of char­ac­ter types whom they see peo­pling their world. Pro­duc­tion types, for in­stance, are said to be hard-drink­ing, rau­cous, good-time char­lies; en­g­ineers, always dis­t­in­guish­able by the plas­tic pen con­tain­ers in their shirt pock­ets, are hostages to an out­dated be­lief in a pris­tine math­e­mat­i­cal ra­tio­nal­ity; ac­coun­tants are bean coun­ters who know how to play the shell game; lawyers are le­gal ea­gles or le­gal bea­gles in wool pin­stripes who, if they had their way, would tie man­agers’ hands com­pletely; cor­po­rate staff are the king’s spies, always ready to do his bid­ding and his dirty work; mar­ket­ing guys are cheer­ful, smooth-talk­ing, up­beat fash­ion plates who must nonethe­less keep sales­men un­der their thumbs; sales­men are ag­gres­sive loud­mouths who feel that they can sell freez­ers to pen­guins in Antarc­tica and who would sell their grand­moth­ers just to make a deal. Sales­men hate the re­straints that mar­keters put on their work and on their ego grat­ifi­ca­tion. Fi­nan­cial wiz­ards, on the as­cen­dancy ev­ery­where, are tight-mouthed, close to the vest poker play­ers who think that a so­cial or­der can be built on pa­per deals. And out­side con­sul­tants are men and women who bor­row one’s watch and then charge for tel­ling the time. (Lo­ca­tion 4327)

167. But so what, they ar­gued, if the preser­va­tive did in fact pose some risk of can­cer? Bet­ter, they said, the risk of a slight long-run in­crease in the rate of stom­ach and in­testi­nal can­cer than the cer­tainty of a pre­cip­i­tous spurt in the in­ci­dence of bo­tulism, par­tic­u­larly in the lower-in­come black and His­panic groups that typ­i­cally con­sume large amounts of pro­cessed meat and, both be­cause of poverty and cul­tural prac­tices, of­ten leave food un­cov­ered and un­re­friger­ated for con­sid­er­able pe­ri­ods. Is cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, they asked, main­tain­ing a pri­vate sense and pub­lic image of moral pu­rity while some­one else does nec­es­sary but tainted work? Or is real so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity the will­ing­ness to get one’s hands dirty, to make what­ever com­pro­mises have to be made to pro­duce a product with some util­ity, to achieve there­fore some so­cial good, even though one knows that one’s ac­com­plish­ments and mo­tives will in­evitably be mis­in­ter­preted by oth­ers for their own ends, usu­ally by those with the least rea­son to com­plain? Be­sides, they pointed out, con­sumers con­tinue to pur­chase ar­tifi­cially pre­served meats in large quan­tities. Is not the proper role of busi­ness “to give the pub­lic what it wants,” adopt­ing the mar­ket as its po­lar star, as the only re­li­able guide in a plu­ral­is­tic so­ciety to “the great­est good for the great­est num­ber,” as the fi­nal ar­biter not of val­ues, which are always ar­guable, but, more im­por­tantly, of tastes, about which there can be no rea­son­able dis­pute? (Lo­ca­tion 4500)

168. In fact, ex­er­cises in sub­stan­tive ra­tio­nal­ity—the crit­i­cal, re­flec­tive use of rea­son—are not only sub­ject to in­finite in­ter­pre­ta­tions and coun­ter­in­ter­pre­ta­tions but also in­vite fan­tas­tic con­struc­tions of re­al­ity, in­clud­ing at­tri­bu­tions of con­spir­acy. Thus a ma­jor cor­po­ra­tion pro­vides a gift of $10 mil­lion to es­tab­lish new foun­da­tions that will ma­te­ri­ally aid South Afri­can blacks and is promptly ac­cused by a black Amer­i­can leader of bols­ter­ing apartheid. Weft man­agers cre­ate an elab­o­rate recre­ational com­plex for Weft em­ploy­ees in the cor­po­ra­tion’s south­ern com­mu­nity and are charged with per­pet­u­at­ing tra­di­tional tex­tile com­pany pa­ter­nal­ism. Some ex­ec­u­tives at Images Inc. donate their time to bring to­gether sev­eral in­sti­tu­tional sec­tors of a lo­cal town in which they live for com­mu­nity bet­ter­ment and are charged with try­ing to grab head­lines and line up fu­ture busi­ness. Man­agers of­ten feel that, how­ever gen­uine it may be, al­tru­ism is a mo­tive that is always de­nied them by oth­ers. To com­pli­cate mat­ters still fur­ther, the nec­es­sary self-pro­mo­tional work of pre­sent­ing pri­vate goals as pub­lic goods, or the self-defen­sive work within the cor­po­ra­tion of pre­sent­ing pub­lic goods as hard­headed busi­ness de­ci­sions, or man­agers’ knowl­edge that bu­reau­cracy in­su­lates them from the real con­se­quences of their ac­tual choices, of­ten make their protes­ta­tions of so­cially re­spon­si­ble ac­tions sus­pect even to them­selves. (Lo­ca­tion 4512)