Recently Martha Payne, a nine-year-old girl, was photographing her school lunches and writing about them on a blog. She did this for fun, as writing practice, and as a way to raise money for Mary’s Meals, a charity helping to provide food for impoverished children in Malawi. She was doing this independently, on her own initiative, and without any organizational affiliation or team of editors. That’s a recipe for trouble. Martha should have been learned better in school. Not surprisingly, her independent initiative led to some bureaucrats becoming afraid of losing their jobs. The Argyll and Bute Council thus ordered the school to tell Martha to stop taking photos of her lunch.
This cease-and-desist order didn’t eliminate the bureaucratic threat. Undoubtedly aided by her status as a cute, nine-year-old girl, Martha’s plight attracted a huge amount of attention from Persons Acting Without Job Descriptions (PAWJDs) across the Internet. The PAWJDs forced the Argyll and Brute Council to change its decision. Millions of such cases around the world go unnoticed and unchanged. But even one change is too many. This bureaucratic emergency went from bad to tragic. More change, possibly even in school lunch menus, may be forthcoming.
Directly ordering Martha to stop taking photos of her lunch is far from bureaucratic best-practice. A top-notch bureaucracy would instead have sent her a 66-page incomprehensible legal document, with a cover letter from a London solicitor. This document would formally inform Martha that she must apply for a license to take photos of her lunch. The document would set out the lengthy application procedure for licensing, specify possible photographic rights differentiated by fruit and vegetable, and describe dire penalties for unlicensed lunch photography. Any respectable bureaucracy could have ensured that Martha would not photograph her lunch without fear, uncertainty, and doubt until she become old enough not to want to. Direct commands are the actions of tyranny, not bureaucracy.
In other bureaucratic news this month, Ryan Tomayko at the hugely successful Internet firm GitHub explains GitHub’s organizational secret. As Horowitz’s Law of Crappy People instructs, GitHub makes everyone a manager. Mr. Tomayko explains:
It’s often cited that GitHub doesn’t have managers. In my opinion, a better way to describe the phenomenon would be to say that everyone at GitHub is a manager. Instead of assigning 100% management duties to individuals, the basic role of management is spread between 1.) every single employee, and 2.) a set of custom in-house tools that serve to keep everyone in the know with regards to other projects.
Other firms that want to be as successful as GitHub should also adopt bureaucratic best-practices.
Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer has, among his many plaudits, the high honor of being selected Bureaucrat of the Month. Despite Ballmer’s distinguished record of achievement, Eric Raymond has suggested that Microsoft should replace Ballmer:
You know, at this point Microsoft’s board ought to replace Steve Ballmer with an orangutan. Screaming a lot and flinging feces in all directions seem to be the job requirements; the orangutan would cover that for a few bunches of bananas a week, and its strategic decisions couldn’t possibly be worse.
Prudent bureaucrats should be starting to formulate plans to defend their jobs if they are being threatened with being replaced by orangutans. A good first step would be to establish a company meal policy that forbids eating bananas within the office or during lunch.
That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats. Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here. Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.