Is There Such a Thing as “Office Logic”? Bring Your Questions for the Authors of The Org

We have been exploring, on this blog and especially in our Marketplace radio segments, the mores of the American office, from bosses to morale to the benefits of working from home.

If these topics interest you even a little bit, then you might want to check out The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, a new book by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan. Fisman, who has appeared on the blog before, teaches at Columbia, writes at Slate, and is the co-author of Economic Gangsters; Sullivan is the editorial director of Harvard Business Review Press.

The Org examines a variety of institutions, including the Baltimore Police Department (here’s an excerpt), Procter & Gamble, the United Methodist Church, McDonald’s, and even Al Qaeda. According to the book’s promo materials, you will learn:

  • The purpose of meetings and why they will never go away
  • Why even members of Al Qaeda are required to submit travel & expense reports
  • What managers are good for
  • How the army and other orgs balance marching in lockstep with fostering innovation
  • Why it’s the hospital administration — not the heart surgeon — who is more likely to save your life
  • That CEOs often spend over 80% of their time in meetings — and why that’s exactly where they should be (and why they get paid so much)

Fisman and Sullivan have agreed to field reader questions on the topic, so have at it in the comments section. As always, we’ll post their answers in short order. To give you a better idea of the book’s focus, here is its table of contents:

Introduction: A Machine for Getting Stuff Done 

CHAPTER 1: The Outsider

CHAPTER 2: Designing the Job

CHAPTER 3: Putting Together the Organizational Puzzle 

CHAPTER 4: In Praise of Squelching Innovation

CHAPTER 5: What Management Is Good For

CHAPTER 6: The View from the Corner Office

CHAPTER 7: The Economics of Org Culture

CHAPTER 8: Disaster and Change

Conclusion: The Future Org

This post is no longer accepting comments. The answers to the Q&A can be found here.

COMMENTS: 16


  1. Drew says:

    Hi guys,
    I work in an office with stark contrasts in the cultures of different departments. Has there been research on the success/failures of forcing departments to assimilate/work together more?
    Thanks!

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  2. Adam says:

    Just ordered “The Org…” and I’m excited to dive in! Why do companies that are stuck in the, as Seth Godin puts it, “industrial age mindset” struggle so hard to transition to current day thinking? What can we/I do to speed up the change/transition? Thanks in advance for your feedback and the book!

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  3. David Leppik says:

    “Why it’s the hospital administration — not the heart surgeon — who is more likely to save your life”

    That leads to a great idea to save money and lives: fire the heart surgeons and replace them with administrators!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1
  4. Joe J says:

    Through a merger I went from working for a micro buisness of >10 to working for a small buisness 100+. With noticeably different cultures in respect to things such as meetings, and number and role of managers. Which makes sense to me, the larger the company the more meetings needed for just communication.
    So is there an efficient company size to management % ratio or meetings ratio? Not sure If asking that right, but effectively, is there a optimum ratio saying something like square root (number of empoyees) = % of managers needed. Or CEO should be in square root (number of employees) number of meetings each week.

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  5. George says:

    Most orgs have boards. Boards are generally charged with hiring, setting salary for, and annually reviewing the CEO; setting corporate policies; and stating mission and goals, which the CEO is then charged with executing. Most boards do not function well, for many reasons. They become rubber stamps, are manipulated by the CEO or Chairman, directors don’t really care, etc. What comments do you have on boards’ roles, in both for- and not-for-profits orgs? Do you have much hope that future boards might perform more effectively?

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  6. Travis says:

    Has there been any research done into a correlation between error rates and productivity and hours worked per day?

    It seems that productivity per hour would be shaped like a bell curve for individuals, being less productive at few hours, most productive at some point, and back down to less productive after that point. Is that the case and has it ever been researched?

    Related, how does the cost of mistakes factor into the logic of operating a business, i.e. are mistakes something planned for and expected in terms of costs, or are they omitted in a sort of ‘planing fallacy’ manner? What mechanism would a business use to estimate the future cost of errors?

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  7. Craig says:

    Why does the e-book version of your book cost more than the paperback version?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0
  8. Mike H says:

    What do you think about a completely flat corporate structure such as the one at Valve Software?

    (link)
    http://blogs.valvesoftware.com/economics/why-valve-or-what-do-we-need-corporations-for-and-how-does-valves-management-structure-fit-into-todays-corporate-world/

    Did they just happen to hit it lucky with a couple of extremely profitable ideas, or is there something inherent in their organizational structure that allows them to be more efficient than more hierarchical organizations of similar size?

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  9. Tracy Tran says:

    I’m an independent recruiter, so essentially I am in the human resources (HR) field. There has been the debate, within my profession and outside of HR, what role HR plays for the organization. Some think it’s administrative, some think strategic, some think HR has no role because it serves no purpose. In my opinion, HR should reflect the executive’s (founder, owner, president, other top executives) vision and sets up the organizational culture. Just want to know your thoughts on what HR’s role to the organization should be.

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  10. Eric M. Jones says:

    At first when I read started reading your book, I didn’t get it. Then I realized that it was just a wild send-up of Dilbert. What a hoot! So I put it on my bookshelf with all other management books that unknowingly describe why civilization is collapsing.

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  11. Chris says:

    will order one for my holiday reading pleasure. as HR and an administrator, i must agree that a good administrator do “save lives”

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  12. John Pilge says:

    Is there ever a good time to do an end-run around your supervisor and go straight to HIS boss?

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  13. Pablo says:

    How does an organization address the so called peter’s principle — when an individual will rise until he reaches incompetency. It seems that the required skill set for a certain position is different than the one required for managerial duties. Why assume someone deserves a promotion? It seems offices lack leadership in the managerial level these days.

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  14. Caleb B says:

    More of a comment than a question, but in my office I, of my own accord, monitor the news to see how it might impact the bank’s investment portfolio. However, I quickly learned that if I spotted some new court decision, or hedge fund activity, ALL of the incentive was to keep my mouth shut….because letting management know would mean a ton of questions, most of which there’s no way to answer…tons of analysis, etc etc. I end up spending my entire day answering all manner of hypotheticals when the entire time I know with 100% certainty three things:
    1) we don’t/can’t know the future
    2) if we DID know, we CAN’T do anything about it anyway 
    3) even if we COULD do something about it, I know without a doubt we WOULDN’T do anything about it. 

    So after most of the day is wasted answering questions, I don’t get the slightest bit of credit for taking the initiative to find the news in the first place.  

    I still provide the info bc it really does matter that at least I know, but there is zero incentive for me to pass along the info. 

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  15. Caleb B says:

    Here is a question: I’d say about 60%+ of my white collar office job is doing total bulls#-t, answering questions that don’t matter, changing font sizes, doing reports that no one really reads. 25% is doing work to prove I did my work, preparing files for auditors to look at, blah blah blah. ~15% is actual work that matters. In your experience, how does that compare to the typical office?

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