Communication, and other CIA Sabotage tactics

Communication is Oxygen. If you feel bad, breathe. If a project is stuck in a rut – communicate. So if you see fire somewhere, you just pump more oxygen into it, right?

Oh, wait.

David Perell has recently shared a page from the CIA Sabotage Field Manual:

This document was created in 1944 to help incite enemy to

“make faulty decisions, to adopt a non-cooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit”

In my corporate experience, I have seen genuinely well-meaning employees act in any of these ways. The bigger the organization, the more of these behaviors become defaults. You default to committees to shift risk. You insist on proper channels to be a „Team Player.”

I will not explain why these behaviors are not conducive to innovation or, for that matter, even operating of a healthy organization. Have a look at the source document.

Open communication in a bigger organization encourages most of these behaviors and that is what I marked in red.

At Automattic, we kind of take the „Apple Opposite” approach. We are distributed in 75 countries, work without a spaceship HQ, and default to open communication whenever possible. I can snoop in on all internal projects and our VIP clients, see source code of upcoming releases and chime in on a product line strategy that has zero overlap with my responsibilities.

I found our instincts to be much closer to how Pixar operates and it makes me very proud:

A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.

„Creativity Inc.”


Unfortunately, everything in life has a downside and Open communication does as well. Every positive behavior can become a subterfuge tactic if overused:

My intentSubterfuge tactic I fall into
Async communication, by definition, can be read at any time.
I don’t know what the context of the other party is, so I will make a long-winded explanation of my reasoning, so we can skip the back-and-forth
(2) Make „speeches”. Talk as frequently as possible at great length…
When I stumble upon a thread or conversation, I try to provide additional value by looping in knowledgeable people.

Connecting people who talk to each other is great for creativity.
(3) When possible, defer all matters to committees for “further study and consideration”

This one is particularly effective as subterfuge – people I loop in will reciprocate, ensuring exponential growth of a committee.
Sometimes I try to provide additional value by sharing ideas and concerns. Did you thought about X?

Maybe they didn’t, and I just saved them a discovery in the future?
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible

Also known as Bikeshedding. Extremely powerful combined with the above (3). Random people looped into a conversation will feel compelled to provide value, sharing shallow unrelated concerns.

Since Async communication does not really have the concept of the „meeting finished”, we can hit another tactic for bonus points if we „share our thoughts too late”:

(6) Refer back to matters decided upon the last meeting, in an attempt to re-open the question (…)

Hippocrates said, that everything to the excess is opposed to nature.

Excess communication can have detrimental effects. It introduces noise for everybody, but more importantly – piles on more work for people trying to solve a problem. I am not advocating for hiding the communication but cutting on self-serving comments.

Are you making that comment to:

  • Show that you are smart? Pass.
  • To prove that you have taken action, even it is contributing very little? Pass.
  • Because you feel concerned, that „proper channels” were not used? Pass.
  • Project shipped, but you feel compelled to share a concern that should be addressed earlier? Pass.
  • You have helpful information, that will make them achieve goals faster? Go ahead.
  • You are certain a major risk was overlooked? Go ahead.
  • You have a genuine question and answer will help you or others in future pursuits? Go ahead.

Breathe and communicate. Within reason.

I miss the commute

Ridiculous as it sounds, even before the lockdowns, I missed the commute.

The gentle rocking of the bus, The camaraderie of workers returning home, and the blank stares filling the space. The commute is universally recognized as bad, right?

University of the West of England
  • It eats into your schedule, robbing you of your life
  • It starts your day off rushed and stressed, which limits your performance and happiness
  • You share the rush hour traffic with half of the known universe, all competing for the same 10cm in a bus to squeeze in.
  • You get infected with every possible ailment your fellow travelers can carry.
https://external-preview.redd.it/Z23YPAIgYeA3ts8d8PJ3Lo44RG3wANFc8MhLdDY3hvc.jpg?auto=webp&s=9060d1e6512aac55046317d3ea0bc0e0b12c51ec

And yet, a few times a year, this feeling comes back. Especially during challenging periods of focused work, I sometimes yearn for this transition period that will let me decompress between work and private engagements.

Now when we all are sheltered in place, these boundaries get blurred. We carry our stresses from work to home, because, well, both happen on the same couch!

The unexpected benefits of commuting are much more apparent now During summertime, it was quite enjoyable. I love cycling to the office and am in a fortunate position where I have 8 km of parks between the coworking spot and me.

  • On the way to the office, I get my daily fix of cardio and spent some time in nature. I identified some time ago that on the days that I see the trees, my mood goes up.
  • On the way back, I sometimes cycle quite slowly, reflecting on the day and some times maybe even sit in one of those parks.

On those exhausting days, the way home lets me decompress and maybe even put a border between times of the day.

  • The commute helps switch gears mentally
  • Me cycling to work produces mental energy

While stuck at home, you may want to reproduce the benefits of a commute:

After a challenging day, the most appealing thing is to sink into a couch and start the mindless consumption of Netflix. But if you try exercising, you will discover being more rested after the exercise than before it. Your mind will notice a transition between work and rest.

Hopefully, the lockdowns will end, because the commute can be quite OK if you choose it. With a flexible work schedule, going to the office on any given day is my decision, and I can make specific arrangements to avoid rush hour traffic.

Hopefully, I won’t have to always work from home, nor will I have to commute every day. I can choose whatever works for me, and that is the point.