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A CIA Manual for Inaction

Perhaps you’ve seen this making the rounds on Facebook:  in the 1940’s, the CIA created a sabotage guide for citizens of France and other occupied countries.  You know, to screw with the Nazis, which is pretty much All Good.  This manual was declassified within the past ten years, and it provides an intriguing glimpse into human nature.

The manual contains the sorts of things you’d expect to find:  how to wreck equipment, ruin fuel, disrupt communications.  You know, hardcore sabotage stuff, like this nugget:

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How to Wreck Equipment – What We’d EXPECT to See, and the CIA Delivers!
(You Put the Grain in the Gasoline and Close the Tank Up – Sung to the tune of “Lime in the Coconut”)

But the Advice on Sabotaging a Company is the Unexpected Gem!

THIS, folks, is the winner:

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In the Same CIA Manual: How to Wreck an Organization!

Let’s reflect for a moment on what we are seeing:

  1. Taken out of context, we could imagine this to be “friendly” advice.  “Advocating caution,” for instance, could quite plausibly be a positive behavior – what’s wrong with that?
  2. But this is in the SAME manual as wrecking machines, derailing trains, and burning down factories.  So we absolutely cannot mistake the intent.  This is meant to be harmful, and not in a small way.
  3. And this was written by one of the world’s ABSOLUTE BEST organizations at underhanded WARFARE.  They had the resources of an entire nation behind them, and this is advice they were giving on how to make nations easier to INVADE.

Let that sink in:  this is how to harm a MORTAL ENEMY during WARTIME.  And it comes from an organization that, even in the 1940’s, knew what it was doing, and had access to virtually unlimited resources.  Just in case you aren’t 100% catching the vibe I’m trying to convey, check out this little morsel:

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From the Same Manual:  How to Derail Trains – an Act that KILLS People (Including Innocents)

My Takeaway:  Traditional BI is (Unintentional) Corporate Sabotage

You probably see this coming, but traditional Business Intelligence methodology is eerily similar to the corporate sabotage advice, in the bad way.  This goes well beyond BI, of course, and “captures” many kinds of corporate bureaucratic behavior, but I think it’s particularly applicable in traditional BI:

  1. The old way involves tremendous amounts of planning.  Whatever you do, don’t dive right in.  Draw up tremendous amounts of documentation first, and generate that through an interminable series of meetings.
  2. Responsibility, propriety, and authority are all salient themes of the old school philosophy.
  3. Dramatic short-cuts and cost-savings are treated with suspicion, rather than welcomed.
  4. Tremendous amounts of time are invested into infrastructure before any results are actually delivered.
  5. Preparation, responsibility, and methodology are all placed “above” results as the appropriate measuring sticks for project design and success.

Now, for perspective, I’m NOT outright dismissing the ideas of planning, responsibility, and infrastructure.  “A wing and a prayer” is not at ALL how we “roll” in the new world.  I’m just saying that those things above shouldn’t be so heavily prioritized and revered as they are in the traditional approach.  In the traditional model, those things come FIRST, before we ever can see results and validate that those results are in fact what we need.  In the new model, those things are a CLOSE SECOND to results.  It’s not a huge demotion for the principles of responsibility.  But the impact of this subtle shift in mindset is nothing short of MASSIVE.

Does this still sound harsh?

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Some of you may still think that I’m just being a jerk.  I’d like you to reconsider that, because in my heart, I’m not being nasty – I’m actually trying to be helpful.  Remember, before joining the “biz-first” self-service BI revolution, I used to help build traditional BI software – software that was built for the traditional methodologies, and actually necessitated those methodologies in the first place.  I was part of the problem, folks.  So even as I’m creating snarky graphics illustrating my point, I’m aiming a good chunk of that snark at Rob Collie circa 2002.

What I’m trying to say is that we should stop needlessly harming ourselves.  The CIA is not trying to disrupt our plans (I don’t think), so why play into the hands of an enemy we don’t even have?  I encourage the skeptics to open their minds to the possibility that we absolutely CAN deliver responsible results 20-50x faster and cheaper than we could with the traditional tools and methodologies.  And if we can do that, that is NOT a threat to anyone’s career, because in the end, we just end up doing MORE projects.

And this new way, once you’ve tried it, has an incredible side effect:  everyone actually gets HAPPIER.  Which is not something you expect from technology projects.  Joy, harmony, and satisfaction – with a side of transformational business impact, ROI, and all of those “hard” metrics that get the attention of the C-suite.

Come on in.  Plenty of room in the pool, and the water is a perfect temperature Smile

More on Sabotage!

I encourage thoughtful readers to read the last four pages of the document in their entirety, which I will include below – just click on each image for larger versions:

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(Click Images for Larger Versions)

Download the Entire PDF Here

Rob Collie

One of the original engineering leaders behind Power BI and Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, Rob Collie founded a consulting company in 2013 that is 100% devoted to “the new way forward” made possible by Power BI and its related technologies. Since 2013, PowerPivotPro has rapidly grown to become the leading firm in the industry, pioneering an agile, results-first methodology never before seen in the Business Intelligence space. A sought-after public speaker and author of the #1-selling Power BI book, Rob and his team would like to help you revolutionize your business and your career.

This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. I’m laughing and crying at the same time. I’m wondering how many people that behave this way would really recognize themselves. I have to confess that I’m partially one of them as well. I will think about this every day from now on. Thanks for a great food for thought.

    1. Thank you Jaroslav. Reading your comment just now felt really good, I appreciate you taking the time to write it. Always validating to hear feedback like this, especially when it makes me chuckle 🙂

  2. This is priceless! I understand corporate culture here in Europe a little better all of a sudden. Bring on the revolution. Absolutely loved the new book, finally everything just went click and I’m off and running. I owe you guys a pint 🙂

  3. Oh!!! It all makes sense now. That’s why it is so hard to get upper management at my place of employment to buy in to this technology. Rob – notice how my name is not the usual name associated with my email address.
    Whistle – whistle
    I’m this (fingers barely separated) close to coming out to Seattle this March for the Microsoft Data Insights Summit. I need to be around people that get it. Maybe I should practice for my return to work by talking to one of the huge redwoods in Washington. Seriously though, I do have a good job with intelligent people, but I wish they were more open to new ideas. Thanks for the levity.

    1. I could have written this comment almost exactly. That longing to “be around people that get it” is very familiar. Blogs and comments like this make me realise that they do at least exist. The other day, having drawn the short straw, I was in a BI project meeting for five hours where all we ‘achieved’ was re-wording a BRD for a dashboard we needed three years ago, whilst once again arguing over the meaning of some fairly basic industry terms. In the same period of time my colleague ETL’d the data sets, refined them a bit and built a whole multifunctional dashboard (albeit for a different reason) all using IT-unapproved methods and tools. Point 3 in Rob’s list, “Dramatic short-cuts and cost-savings are treated with suspicion”, chimes with me all too much. There seems to be a belief, perpetuated by certain IT managers and an army of consultants, that “worth” is directly proportional to “cost”: if a solution didn’t cost thousands (money, man hours, beads of sweat, etc) then it can’t be very good. The mammoth task for the enlightened is to try to turn this on it’s head. Proving that with access to the data, a data worker can create a viable and long-lasting solution after all.

  4. “Some of you may still think that I’m just being a jerk. I’d like you to reconsider that, because in my heart, I’m not being nasty – I’m actually trying to be helpful.” Sounds like a perfect description of me.

  5. Rob – This is probably one of the best posted i have read yet – and that is saying something….I read them all. As i reread the last four pages, i could put names of people in the company I work for with each of the items.

    I was wondering just last week when it was that the company I work for got so inefficient and less productive. This post provided the answer! Thanks! No need to spend anymore time wondering, I now know.

    Hopefully when i show this post to my boss, he will see the light. = )

    Thanks~!

  6. I’ve been in meetings that devolved into bitter fights about the fonts being used in the documentation. Seriously. I’ve seen so much of this internal unintentional sabotage over the years and you are right on the money. People get so focused on the process that they lose sight of the goal. It’s harmful and it needs to stop.

    One other thing that I often mention in my talks is the knee jerk reaction of DBAs to “protect” data from being accessed by people in the business. I confess, like you, I sinned as well. But these days I have very strong words for the DBAs. This data is not your data! It belongs to the business. You need to make it easy to access and easy to use use, do not hide it from people who need it to make decisions!

    Great post, Rob.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Phillip. “the data is not your data, it belongs to the business” – SO AWESOME.

      I’ve had a post rattling around in my head for years: The Tragedy of the “Write Only” Database.

      (If you think about it for a moment, you will be overwhelmed by the power of Sheer Clever :p)

    2. And wow, font???? That actually toes the line of mental illness, and yet, it was “allowed” to happen in a real biz situation.

      The world, in all of its weirdness, comes into focus a bit clearer for me at times like these.

  7. Excellent post, Rob. Most people who “sabotage” believe they’re doing the right thing.

    Risk-aversion creates much bureaucratic cruft. No one wants to risk being blamed for failure. So we bloat the process. Big solutions, huge teams, interminable planning, tedious approvals all create an illusion of safety. (See: TSA security post-9/11) If project fails we can say “We did everything we could” and “Can’t blame me” Individuals catch hell for small mistakes, but overall organizational inefficiency isn’t measured and becomes a tolerated baseline.

    And “big” can seem better. Small solutions are seen as “toys”.
    Trying to convince IT leadership that Excel & PowerBI could replace established methods is like suggesting that a $500 drone camera could replace a helicopter with a pilot, a cameraman and a shoulder-mounted video camera. You have to show the results to convince. Which means building unapproved prototypes on spec. Which makes me feel a little like a saboteur. Irony!

    Hope to meet you in March at the Data Insights conf in Bellevue.

    1. Amen!

      Perhaps it’s like the monkey’s with the bananas and the hose, someone way back read the sabotage memo and it’s just become the way it is 😉

      Really worth remembering your point that people are trying to do the right thing.

  8. I couldn’t download Power BI Desktop on my work PC because IT department blocked it. They told me that it will take them a couple of months to come to their decision on whether to let us download this tool or not. I remembered this great post which I greatly enjoyed at the time and I couldn’t agree more about sabotaging. I wish I was working for a more technology savvy company…

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