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.


View All Comments »
  1. 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.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  2. 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.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  3. 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”

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  4. John Pilge says:

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

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. 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.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. 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. 

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. 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?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0