Unless you live in the woods and the only thing modern around you is your band spankin’ new three-hole outhouse, you and bureaucracies are on a first-name basis whether you like it or not.
And probably you don’t like them. Most people get redder than a baboon’s behind at the mere mention of the “B” word, yet bureaucracies are tangled up in nearly every aspect of our lives.
No wonder so many people act like apes gone nuts, only worse because they’re armed (with weapons, I mean).
The interesting thing about bureaucracies is that, pound-for-pound, they’re the most efficient way of organizing large groups of people to get stuff done…when they work as they should.
The problem with bureaucracies (and this is kind of a big problem) is that they hardly ever work as they should. That’s why most of us have nothing but PTSD when we think about dealing with any government agency, credit card company, bank, hospital, retailer, university, or you name it.
Maybe if you understand some of the predictable problems with bureaucracies, at least you can play a little game when you run into them, thereby making the experience somewhat more fun.
No? Well, it’s worth a try. It’s better than wondering how people with supposed brain waves can screw things up so royally and get paid for it. You’ve got better things to wonder about, like how global warming is different from global climate change and how either will affect your barbecue plans.
Common Problems in All Bureaucracies
The Peter Principle. People will be promoted in an organization to their level of incompetence and stay there. This is a phenomenon observed by a man named Laurence Peter, so it doesn’t only apply to managers named Peter. In bureaucracies, people who do a good job are rewarded by being promoted. Well, usually people get promoted one too many times to a job they’re not suited for, so they’re not getting promoted again. But they’ve been good employees, so no one want to demote them. So there they stay, being stupid-heads in charge of your area.
Parkinson’s Law. I’m not talking about jittery people working at high stress jobs, although there are plenty of those. This idea was posited by Cyril Northcote Parkinson. It’s basically the idea that work expands to fill the time made available for it’s completion. Deadlines. That’s what I’m talking about. Set a deadline for two weeks and everyone needs two weeks to get it done. Move the deadline out another week. Whew! Everyone needed that extra week. Push it up a week. Poof! Somehow the work got completed. It’s like that mysterious foamy insulation stuff you see on HGTV home renovation shows. Magic.
Putt’s Law. Archibald Putt came up with this law, which describes two types of people in bureaucracies: those who understand what they don’t manage and those who don’t understand what they do manage. Why in the world would any organization would want incompetent people managing competent people? Simple! Power, Baby. People at the top want to stay at the top, so they don’t want any power-grabbing from their middle managers. The Big Cheeses spend a lot of time figuring out how to keep the people who know their shizzle in their place. It’s brilliant, really. Put people who don’t know anything in charge of people who know everything. But because they are managers, the people who don’t know anything think they know everything and the poor grunts at the bottom of the totem pole think they must not know anything because they never get promoted. Neither group is going to threaten the status of the Big Cheese. Forget going to business school, get a degree in psychology…or better yet–sociology (my discipline)!
Paradoxical Red Tape. You know the drill. If you don’t have the proper form filled out perfectly with the proper signatures in all the proper places, you might as well go home and cut your toe nails, wait for them to grow, and cut them some more. Bureaucracies are designed for the routine cases, not for special cases. If you fill out the paperwork properly, chances are things will go your way. But if you have any special circumstances, the whole “B” machine comes to a mind-numbing, grinding halt. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in more red tape than a holiday package decorated by a OCD crafter from the Midwest.
Next time (which is probably right…about…now) you’ll have a run-in with a bureaucracy, just know that:
1. You are not alone. Just shy of 7,000,000,000 people are with you. (The world’s population minus a few million to account for people on desert islands, remote regions we haven’t wreaked yet, and the voluntarily permanent campers).
2. You tend to forget the many times each day that bureaucracies are humming along smoothly and making your day run well. We tend to notice them only when we have trouble with them–kind of like our neighbors.
3. With the good comes the not-so-good. Your mail gets delivered to you most days just fine. You go to the post office one day just to buy some stamps and have to wait in a line and wonder if some new iPhone just came out and the US Postal Service is now the only place people can get it. It happens (as in shizzle happens).
4. Given your new-found knowledge of all these
pee P laws and principles, if you run into frustrations with your bureaucracy du jour, test yourself to see if you can figure out which problems they are.