COB-81: why nothing gets done

A common complaint about bureaucracy is that nothing ever gets done.  That’s not bureaucrats’ fault.  Zeno of Eleo, a Greek who lived about 2450 years ago, proved that no project can achieve its goal.  Zeno’s insight was that if each day you do half of the remaining work on project, you will need an infinite number of days to finish any project.  Zeno probably worked as a clerk in a major sheep-management firm.  He understood bureaucratic realities.

Committees for millennia have been meeting to establish a program for figuring out how to finish a project.  The growth of global bureaucracy offers a glimmer of hope.  World-wide collaboration through the United Nations brings together an unprecedented concentration of committees, meetings, and documents.  Innovative approaches, such as each day doing a third or a fourth or a fifth or …. of work remaining on a project, are being exhaustively tested to determine is they can yield a finished project in a finite number of days.

The United Nations’ High Level Committee on Management (HLCM) is block-heading the effort to establish a roadmap for finishing a project.  After 23 preliminary sessions, the HLCM turned to physicists’ recognition of the asymmetry of matter and antimatter.  HLCM pursued this innovative insight with a non-paper.  The non-paper observes:

At its 24th Session in September 2012, the High Level Committee on Management {HLCM} called for the development of a Strategic Plan to guide its work for the next three to five years … The HLCM Retreat scheduled for 14-15 January 2013 would build on these consultations, paving the way for the development of a Strategic Plan.

The HLCM’s non-paper is a key step for building on the consultations that are paving the way for developing a Strategic Plan for establishing a roadmap for finishing a project.

doing chores

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Cyrus Cylinder is on exhibit at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC.  The Cyrus Cylinder is an innovative medium for communicating a bureaucratic document within Cyrus’s vast Persian empire.  The Cyrus Cylinder is normally on file at the British Museum.  British Museum Director Neil McGregor has insightfully observed:

Unlike most empires of the period, which were based around rivers, Cyrus’s was a “road empire,” stretching thousands of miles, said McGregor, and also the first “multilingual empire.” It also had a civil service: “You can’t run this kind of an empire without a great bureaucracy.”

Any kind of great organization depends on a great bureaucracy.

Recent research is highlighting the importance of bureaucrats throughout history.  Bureaucrats, not slaves, erected the Egyptian pyramids.  The bureaucrats who did such extraordinary work were far from “fat-cat bureaucrats.”  Additional research on ancient Egypt has revealed the death-inducing circumstances in which the bureaucrats, including local middle management, worked:

although the cultural level of the age was extraordinary, the anthropological analysis of the human remains reveals the population in general and the governors – the highest social class – lived in conditions in which their health was very precarious, on the edge of survival.

Little is given to bureaucrats, and much is asked of them.

Evernote founder and entrepreneur Phil Libin displayed appalling stupidity in a recent interview.  Libin described his management priorities thus:

“It’s really about how quickly you can make decisions and how relentlessly you battle encroaching corporate stupidity,” he adds.

“It’s like you are locked in a battle against the natural forces of corporate bureaucracy – the things that just want to seep in and make everything stupid. It’s difficult to fight that – but it’s fun.”

Bureaucrats produce more notes than the rest of the world combined.  Evernote should embrace bureaucracy, not fight it.

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.

4 thoughts on “COB-81: why nothing gets done”

  1. An interesting article. However, I do wish that you had discussed the meaning and origins of the term “nonpaper”. You could give the term significance by noting that it was used in an article in Fox-News. Nonpaper is wonderful and useful term. I assume that it is used to describe a prepared but not officially circulated paper. I do suggest that the term has more impact if hyphenated as it was in the article on Fox News, e.g. non-paper. A good bureaucrat must learn to distinguish between non-papers, non-reports and non-meetings. One could even make good use of a non-meeting to study the proper use of such terms.

  2. Unfortunately, it appears that you added a “-” without even having a meeting. Is there a report or a non-report that discusses this change. The fact that the change was to correct an error is no excuse for not following proper and appropriate bureaucratic procedures. I urge you to organize a meeting of the editorial staff to discuss how you can appropriately apologize to your readers. You also need discuss what guidelines should be issued to insure that such a non-bureaucratic thing does not happen again. One other thing — you should add a facility to your page so that readers can also enter non-comments.

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