Saturday, December 10, 2005

Organisations as Phrog Farms

I had read this article, by Jerry Harvey, when it was published in Organizational Dynamics journal, I think, in 1977. Recently, I discovered it once again (as a chapter in his book Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management)...

...It is a depressingly insightful and hilariously zany look at the contemporary organisations - that sadly remains as much relevant now, as it was then.

Some excerpts:

  • All organizations have two essential purposes. One is to produce widgets, glops, and fillips. The other is to turn people into phrogs. In many organizations, the latter purpose takes precedence over the former. For example, in many organizations, it is more important to follow the chain of command than to behave sensibly.

  • Phrog is spelled with a ph because phrogs don't like to be known as frogs, and they try to hide their phroginess from themselves and others by transparent means... For one who has been a person, it's a great come down to be a phrog.

  • Phrogs tend to live a solitary life in the swamp, or as one phrog said, "It's a lonely life on the lily pad." Phrogs compete with one another for insects, vie for the right to head the flicking order of the swamp, and are ultimately evaluated for what they do in their own mud flats.... Most phrogs spend more time flicking flies in the fog than draining the swamp. It seems that their behavior is circular. If they were to spend time draining the swamp, there would be no flies to flick - and no phrogs. For that reason, it's very important to phrogs to maintain the swamp as it is rather than to drain it.

  • In phrog farms, bullphrogs generally get to be phresident. In other words, the better a phrog can tolerate the loneliness of his lily pad,
    - the more facile he becomes in flicking flies,
    - the more skillful he becomes at appropriating others' lily pads, and
    - the more adroit he becomes at maintaining the swamp,
    the more likely he is to become phresident.

  • Bullphrogs are greatly revered in the swamp. In fact, other phrogs assume that bullphrogs have magical powers because of their unusual abilities to turn people into phrogs... The magic exercised by bullphrogs comes from humans' belief in it. The tyranny of bullphrogs stems not from the reality of bullphrogs' power, but from the human belief of the myth of "bullphrog power." Belief in bullphrog power prevents humans from having to take responsibility for the fog and mud and moss that make up the atmosphere of the swamp.

  • Bullphrogs - particularly phresidents - frequently feel very trapped in the swamp. Many of them are destroyed by it. They feel trapped because they are trapped...

  • ...Management improvement programs generally consist of phrog kissing, which is magical, harmless, and platonic. Any activity designed to facilitate phrog kissing is cosmetic organizational development an example of ODD behavior - that is, organizational development, by deception - or organizational improvement as practiced by phrogs. Activities such as phrog style assessment, phrog chorus-building, and inter-lily-pad conflict resolution, in the absence of swamp drainage and area reclamation, are examples of phrog kissing by ODD managers...

  • ...Occasionally, during meetings of Phrognarians, a phrog pharts in the fog. When that happens, the phrog loses some of his or her phroginess and, therefore, represents a great threat to the balance of the swamp. Phrog pharts are seldom sanctioned by Phrognarians. They are too real. They put holes in the fog and ultimately threaten the atmosphere of magic required to maintain the swamp...

  • ...The job of most swamp managers is to maintain and enhance the swamp, not to drain it... The purpose of swamp consultants - in the eyes of swamp managers - is to help the swamp operate effectively, not to drain it.... Most management improvement literature is designed to facilitate swamp management, not area reclamation. Most managers are phrog farmers, and most management consultants and phrogfessors of marsh management are phrog farmers' helpers. The relationship is symbiotic.

  • Most phrog farmers and their helpers are aware that they are mired in the swamp... May God have mercy on their souls...

  • God does have mercy on their souls. Otherwise, God would be the greatest phrog farmer of them all.


  • 1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    This is too arbit bull (phrog)!!