Friday, November 13, 2009

On Memoranda - Second Proverb

It's Friday the 13th and what better time to help ward off potential bureaucratic pitfalls. In that spirit, here's the second maxim that I found in the Zen of Bureaucracy:

"A memo of a dozen pages begins with one unintelligible phrase."

What exactly does this proverb mean? I suspect it meant the same to the ancient Chinese author of the text as it does to today's dedicated bureaucrat. Essentially, this saying is a Zen corollary to the first entry, namely that it will do you little good to write a clear, concise memo to your supervisor. All that will do is give him reason to actually monitor and evaluate your performance.

It's much better to bury your actual report in the middle of a long, boring, tedious memo filled with jargon, gibberish and bureaucratese. That way, if you have to report some bad news or make an actual committment to a plan of action, you can place it half way into the memo where no one is likely going to read it. And if they do, after slogging through six or seven pages of turgid prolix prose, they're not likely going to remember it anyway.

The key to this exercise is to open with the longest, densest, most yawn-inducing sentence you can in order to immediately render the reader semi-comatose. Something like: "The long term viability of human resources reduction parameters in the context of ongoing organizational planning necessitates the employment of mitigating factors often beyond the control of management in the day-to-day implementation of budgetary metrics." Once his eyes have glazed over, there's little chance that anything you write after that will be read, much less retained in his long-term memory.

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