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January 16, 2019

Marketing medicine


The art of handling office saboteurs



Have you ever been in a meeting with someone who wastes your time? A colleague?  A supplier? A government official?  A representative of your brand, or someone else’s?


I’m pretty sure you have and you will be again: maybe today. So I wanted to share something with you that made me smile when I read it in the Sunday Times of London.


It seems that many years ago, at a crucial time in world history, someone set down guidelines on how to ruin a meeting. Indeed they turned it into a manual, which was studied by many people in the espionage community. And put into practice by some.


 In 1944 the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the American CIA, produced a sabotage manual. It was classified secret until recently. Called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, it offered the tips for workers in Nazi-occupied Europe on disruptive techniques such as starting factory fires and cutting telephone lines. It then went on to offer more subtle methods for slowing down industrial production, including “referring all matters to committees for further study and consideration”, and not ordering new working materials until current stocks were nearly exhausted.


The manual says that indirect sabotage is based on the universal opportunity “to make faulty decisions, to adopt a non-cooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit”. The techniques it recommends for “general interference” within organisations include:


•Insist on doing everything through channels. Never permit shortcuts to be taken to expedite decisions.

•Make speeches. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your points by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.

•Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

•Haggle over the precise wording of communications, minutes, and resolutions.

•Refer back to a matter decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to reopen the question of its advisability.

  • Hold a conference when there is work to be done.


Well, I don't know about you, but this sounds like the story of my working life! So have we all been the victims of a sustained campaign of professional espionage?


If you are interested in reading more, the manual has been used as the basis for a management guide aimed at helping businesses that are being ‘sabotaged’ by the well-meaning but misguided meeting participant.


Bob Frisch, Robert M. Galford and Cary Greene, the authors of Simple Sabotage: A Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors That Undermine Your Workplace, write: “We’re not suggesting that enemies are lurking in your midst. But the odds are great that some individuals have unwittingly taken a page from the OSS manual. Left unchecked, their behaviours will undermine your group or organisation, slowing down its (and your) best efforts.”


Before you lose control and try to fight back instinctively against meeting sabotage, remember that forewarned is forearmed. I have some encouraging news: there’s a brand new book about to be published in Europe by David Wethy. David is an iconic veteran of the UK advertising industry. Called ‘Mote’ after the Swedish for ‘meeting’, this text will apparently challenge the way we run meetings and offer some radical alternatives. I can’t wait to read it, and I’ll be obtaining some copies to share with colleagues in East Africa. I’m sure it will be welcomed by the private sector, but I’m less sure of the reaction from public sector or our friends in the end-of-era NGO world. An end to interminable meetings and junkets? Heaven forbid!


More on this very soon.


Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising, most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people.



Join Chris in this and other discussions about business, brands and behaviour by liking The Brand Inside Africa on Facebook.




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