In 1944, the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), distributed a secret pamphlet, the “Simple Sabotage Field Manual“, providing instructions to citizens living in Axis nations who were sympathetic to the Allies on how to weaken their country by reducing production in factories, offices, and transportation lines. It was declassified in 2008 and is available on the CIA’s website.
Most of the tips are about easy-to-do, hard-to-trace physical vandalism: sabotaging electric motors, fuel, cooling systems, power grids, railways and more. But several are timeless instructions on how to be a terrible employee in meetings and in management. And these instructions would be really funny except that I have encountered people in many of my work places that employ these methods. The motivations of employees using these methods today aren’t to help foreign governments – at least I hope not. I’m not really sure what their motivations are. But here’s my favorite productivity-crushing activities recommended in the manual, because I’ve encountered them so often (quotes are used because the manual used them; italics show exact quotes):
When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.
Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible. Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
Frequently advocate “caution.”
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.
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.
Give people wrong numbers and cut them off “accidentally”
Delay the transmission and delivery of telegrams (now emails and other messages)
Ruin presentations by coughing loudly and by talking (or ignore them while you play on your phone)
When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.
Misfile essential documents.
Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.
Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.
The last one made me laugh out loud.
But what the manual recommends is not all bad: there’s also this recommendation, which I find particularly valuable it getting what I want when working with government clerks:
Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion especially when confronted by government clerks