On further investigation, I was able to discover another memo-related saying in "The Zen of Bureaucracy." In one short sentence, this aphorism sums up the benefit that comes to those who write memos:
"History is written by those who put it in writing."
Yes, you might be saying, putting something in writing can be dangerous. True enough. But not putting something in writing is usually even more dangerous.
Consider an exchange between you and your boss where he has questioned your abilities, undermined your authority and threatened your continued tenure. Do you scurry back to your cubicle with your bureaucratic tail between your legs in order to lick your wounds?
No, you scurry back to your cubicle to commit the entire episode to writing. Not the nasty parts, mind you, but just your particular version of events. That way your boss will later have a tough time making any of his charges stick.
One, two or five years from now, no one will remember the encounter with your boss. But, if you choose, those in positions of power will be provided with a copy of your creative memo.
Chances are your boss has long since been promoted beyond his level of incompetence. But on the off chance that he's still there, your memo should stop him cold.
As George Santayana once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I would only add that those who re-write the past won't likely have to relive it.