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What the CIA can teach you about sabotaging productivity

by Greg Hamblin

on 04 December, 2015

Suppose you’re the most powerful country in the world, and want to shut down someone else’s industry or business. What should you do?

You might start by getting someone inside to form committees. And make sure each of those committees has at least five people.

This timeless advice comes from the precursor to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Their 1944 Simple Sabotage Field Manual was passed along to ordinary citizens of Axis nations during WWII, to paralyze business and industry from the inside-out. The OSS cheerfully reports that they’ve found hundreds of ways that a lone individual can sabotage productivity, and “harass and demoralize” others, without even appearing to be an enemy. In fact, many of the most damaging activities were things that workers and managers do all the time.

Take a look at these 30 behaviors below, quoted directly from the Simple Sabotage Field Manual. And next time you get the urge to form some more large committees, speechify, or riddle your work with interruptions, remind yourself these are the actions of secret saboteurs.

1: Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.

2: Make “speeches.” Talks as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.

3: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.

4: Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

5: Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.

6: Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.

7: Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

8: Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

9: “Misunderstand” orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.

10: Don’t order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted, so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.

11: Order high-quality materials which are hard to get. If you don’t get them argue about it. Warn that inferior materials will mean inferior work.

12: In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.

13: Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.

14: When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.

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

16: Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

17: Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.

18: Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

19: Apply all regulations to the last letter.

20: Prolong correspondence with government bureaus.

21: Misfile essential documents.

22: Tell important callers the boss is busy, or talking on another telephone.

23: Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job.

24: Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can.

25: Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.

26: Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.

27: Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms.

28: Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.

29: Act stupid.

30: Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.