Barron’s Book Review

Damage Control – Saving business from itself (Reviewed by Joe Queenan);

This how-to, by three management consultants, works from a delightful premise. Unlike those goofy Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun or What Bond Traders Can Learn From Jack the Ripper–type books, Simple Sabotage is a how-not-to. It outlines eight disruptive tactics that can wreak havoc in any organization, even though the saboteurs aren’t going out of their way to be destructive.

The eight tactics, boiled down to their core, run like this: Insist on doing everything through channels; make long, tiresome speeches; refer all matters to committees; bring up irrelevant issues as often as possible; haggle over the wording of official communications; reopen discussions that were closed; constantly advocate caution; and, to cap it all off, express concern that the group making this or that decision may not have the authority to do so.

“People who talk too much are annoying, but can they really be saboteurs?” the authors ask. “Absolutely. ‘Speeches’ don’t have to be long to do damage. They just have to be long enough. And they don’t have to be given from a podium.”

Fond—perhaps too fond—of terms like the “reopening decisions saboteur” or the “excessive caution saboteur,” the authors show how exciting projects can get derailed or delayed or simply talked into the ground by people who are actually trying to be helpful. The authors talk about how “wordsmiths” or the “grammar police” can suck the life out of a document, turning an extremely effective communication into mush.

The authors stress that organizations are constantly being “sabotaged” by well-meaning people who do not even know that they are saboteurs, but whose persnickety obsession with getting everything perfect makes it impossible for a decision to be reached. In this sense, they are not so much saboteurs as fussbudgets. But the effect is the same: The decision is delayed or never made, and the organization ends up getting sabotaged from within.

If you can believe it, Simple Sabotage is inspired by the Simple Sabotage Field Manualpublished by U.S. intelligence during World War II, which set forth identical ways that saboteurs could disrupt the Thousand Year Reich at the organizational level. At the end of the book, the authors insert their own, ninth suggestion for sabotaging an operation: sabotage by CC. If you really want to ruin a business, make sure that everyone gets CC’d on everything and ask for everyone’s input. Do that and, like the Third Reich, your company will be history.