Hey folks 👋
At the tail end of last year mobile marketing expert Eric Seufert posted an interesting thread on Twitter regarding the U.S. Office of Strategic Services.
It’s a now-defunct WW2 intelligence agency and predecessor organisation to the CIA.
How does that relate to building a startup?
In 1944 the agency distributed a document titled Simple Sabotage Field Manual.
It’s a guide to sabotaging the Nazi war effort within occupied Europe. Some of the content is specific to the mechanics of armed warfare—but—a meaningful portion of it is relevant in practically any organisation because it pertains to counter-productive human behavior.
For example, Eric noted the list of tactics “describe perfectly the behavior of a toxic co-worker.”
Of particular interest is a section replete with tactics and behaviours that can be wielded to slow down an organization and thus reduce its productivity.
These are ‘soft’ internal actions to be executed by people considered to be friendly—meaning the tactics are not intended to rouse suspicions of hostility or deliberate sabotage—but nonetheless achieve that objective in a material way.
Cleverly, some of the tactics can appear as *intentionally* good even though the net result is *functionally* negative.
In the modern workplace intentional sabotage is fortunately not so common, but for whatever reason (e.g. insecurities), the identified behaviours can manifest either consciously or subconsciously.
It reads like a list of productivity-hammering red flags to watch out for.
“Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.”
“Refer all matters to committees, for 'further study and consideration.”
“Haggle over precise wordings of communications.”
“Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.”
You can view it, broken down one-by-one with modern workplace day examples, here.
What’s notable about the list is it doesn’t *have* to be negative. In order to produce the document the authors had to contemplate what makes an organisation fast and maximally productive. Doing the opposite of this sabotages it, which is represented in the field manual.
For the remainder of this newsletter I’m going to take a more positive tone and invert the behavioural section of the field manual! So it’s constructive instead of destructive.
Obviously, such a list would no longer be appropriate for sabotaging the Nazis or any other organisation.
It’s suited to improving the productivity of an organisation, whether that be the Allied war effort during WW2 or a modern day startup.
Here follows a list of tactics from what would be the ‘Simple Productivity Hacks Field Manual’.
- Decision short-cuts. Make decisions independently wherever possible. Base them on assumptions in the absence of supporting data and iterate according to results.
- Bite-sized communication. When a point needs to be conveyed, do it succinctly and quickly using the best available data.
- Domain ownership. Take ownership over your domain and empower others to do the same.
- Decision validity. All decisions made by persons within their domain expertise are valid until proven otherwise.
- Problem focus. Concentrate on fundamental issues. Ignore everything else.
- Content cadence. Publish content quickly. Don’t overthink it.
- Decisions are final. Once a decision has been made, stick with it until the results indicate otherwise.
- Advocate speed. Urge team mates to move quickly and not be afraid of “embarrassment” or “difficulties” later on.
- Do your own research. If you have a question that can be answered easily by looking it up yourself, do it. The same goes for everybody.
- Speedy delivery. Ship what has been built, even if it’s not “finished”.
- Preempt blockers. Identify and resolve blockers that can cause a slow-down or complete halting of production.
- Use available resources. Use whatever resources are available. There’s always a perceived better resource that’s just out of reach.
- Distribute available resources. Make sure your team has everything they need to thrive within the ‘available resource’ framework.
- Prioritise workflow. Jobs that are *critical* not *desireable* get done first.
- Accept flaws. Do not insist on perfection. Flaws on unimportant products or non-critical functionality are fine.
- Minimum viable training. Bring new team members up to speed quickly. Empower them with enough detail to be able to move forward competently and independently.
- Hire and fire. Confront inefficient team members and attempt to resolve sub-par productivity levels. Fire when necessary.
- Minimal meetings. Hold meetings on a strictly ‘as needed’ basis. Do not hold meetings when there is more important work to be done.
- Findable files. Keep all files logically stored in one central location.
- Minimal procedures. A procedure free organisation is a faster moving organisation. Keep approvals to a minimum.
- Non-stickler for the rules. Embrace the ‘spirit’ of regulations instead of interpreting them to the ‘last letter’.
- Be a connector. Be pro-active in connecting team members internally and externally to resolve issues and explore opportunities.
- Work lean and fast. Think out ways to decrease the number of movements necessary to acheive your objectives.
- Share skills and know-how. Pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful team member.
- Bin bad stuff. Don’t mix old unuseable product with new good product.
- Engage competitors. Speak to competitors. Don’t treat them coldly. Learn.
- Evdidence-based competitor evaluation. Base competitor conversations on evidence. Don’t speculate or spread rumours about what they may or may not be doing.
Looking back at this, business books have been published on some of these individual points alone! Pretty incredible for the context and time period.
— That’s it for today. Until next time. 👋
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