The “B” Word

No! Not that "B" word! This is a G-rated blog.

No! Not that “B” word! This is a G-rated blog.


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.

The separate stalls fer privacy ain't a bad touch, huh?

The separate stalls fer privacy ain’t a bad touch, huh?

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.

Do you know how difficult it is to find a dignified picture of a baboon butt? I don't suggest you try.

Do you know how difficult it is to find a dignified picture of a baboon butt? I don’t suggest you try.

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.

But the overdraft was just for $2.00. Oh, golly. Can't you please forgive me just this once? You don't have the authority? Who does? Please don't tell me his last name is Oz...

But the overdraft was just for $2.00. Oh, golly. Can’t you please forgive me just this once? You don’t have the authority? Who does? Please don’t tell me his last name is Oz…

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.

Duh, huh. My name's not Peter. I just got promoted from the mail room. Now I'm in charge of Human Resources. Duh, huh. What's a human resource?

Duh, huh. My name’s not Peter. I just got promoted from the mail room. Now I’m in charge of Human Resources. Duh, huh. What’s a human resource?

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.

It's alive!

It’s alive!

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.

Could someone put a finger on the bow for me?

Could someone put a finger on the bow for me?

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).

Not technically large enough to form a bureaucracy, but there was definitely a pecking order...

Not technically large enough to form a bureaucracy, but there was definitely a pecking order…

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).

I knew I should have gone to the bathroom before I came here...

I knew I should have gone to the bathroom before I came here…

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.

I’ll make sociologists out of you yet!
I may be a retired college professor of sociology, but I’m not dead yet!

Interested in culture and how the society we live in influences the people in that society? Well, then...sociology is the discipline for you!

Interested in culture and how the society we live in influences the people in that society? Well, then…sociology is the discipline for you!

Just for giggles, do you have any stories about run-ins with bureaucracies you’d like to share?

~ by Lorna's Voice on July 22, 2014.

22 Responses to “The “B” Word”

  1. I find it interesting that even in small organizations and groups, hierarchies form. We just can’t seem to accept different AND equal!

  2. Easier to spell, too!

  3. Dear Lorna, do as I do: Call it Bureau Crazy. That way you’ll stay sane.


  4. Back in the early 70s I lived in a bureaucracy of a unique variety…an ashram. One week you could be a dead-head, dope-smoking, drop-out-of -society and the next week moving into an ashram and then quickly become the head of one making executive decisions about others’ lives. I will let your imagination run wild on all the fun and frolic of those days!

  5. True about the promotion thing, But Peter didn’t mention that… 😉

  6. Thanks for the lesson in the Big B. One correction on the Peter Principle, though. It seems those rewarded with promotions are not those who do a good job, rather it’s those that have been in the building, breathing, the longest.

  7. 🙂

  8. And they don’t understand things the way the “front line” people do–the people who d the service provision.

  9. Yes, And too often, as in this situation, it’s unqualified (non-clinical) clerks who are making decisions.

  10. Oh yes I do so much so, I had a hard job not being sick.. haha! 😉

  11. Good grief! I’m like you, I eat what the herbivore pets eat!

  12. That stinks big time. I’m so sorry to hear that. In all that red tape, these organizations have lost sight of their missions.

  13. Oh, Lorna, I’m due in the ring for another bout of trying to get my off-formulary drugs for my kidney transplant approved. Can you believe it. According to Medicare, I had my transplant 9 days too early. They only cover these $1000+ meds under part B if you are on Medicare when you have the transplant. I had no idea, of course, and I was 9 days away from being on Medicare. And every year thereafter the battle is on. I could go on and on. The government does not know how to manage businesses…sadly, including health care.

  14. That’s one form that I hope you forget to sign somewhere or don’t file properly!!

  15. I went to the cafeteria for a break and for lunch. There were two entres — horse and rabbit. “Excuse me, I don’t eat pets.”

  16. Oh yes. Do you remember actual operators who connected you. Weren’t they nice?

  17. DMV- OMG!!

  18. Wuv you, too! ❤

  19. Yup, we’re allergic to the “B” word and what it represents. Poo poo. But we wuv you! wag wag, Max, Bella, Lady, and your biped friend Paw-wet

  20. I once had to register a car and get my driver’s license. In Switzerland. It happened in the fall of 1997 and I am not over it yet.

  21. And the phone lines ‘your call is important to us’ and then carry on playing Beethoven’s fifth… by which time you have a load of of ‘money for nothing’ 😉

  22. Having stood in thousands of lines, filled out thousands of few forms, and gone through thousands of “musical chairs” phone calls with the big “B”, I must say you have captured the very essence of the beast. In fact, it’s so depressing just thinking about it, I believe I’ll consume a vial of strychnine so I won’t have to deal with it anymore. Now, where did I put that government “Waiver of Life” request form that I had……

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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