Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, by Robert Jackall
08 January 2022
Okay, kids, I know we're all busy and the world is crazed and the last thing we want to do is cozy down in front of the fire with a 300-page treatise on business ethics. I know you don't really have the time to read Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, first published in 1988 and reissued in 2010.
So I'm going to read it for and with you!
Starting today, I'll try and post more regularly than usual with whatever daily gems I get out of Jackall's classic sociological book.
Why am I doing this?
Well, I gotta tell you, for at least 45 years of my life I didn't give "organizational behavior" much thought. I also never gave much thought to organizations in general, or corporations, or how people who work in corporations and organizations get along with each other. This is for one simple reason.
I am allergic to organizations.
If you saw my work area, you'd know I'm allergic to any kind of "organization," full stop. This shocks Mr. CR, because he knows I went to library school and at various parts of my career have been responsible for making sure library shelves and systems are in order (as well as individual books, when I indexed them, because creating back-of-the book indexes is all about bringing order to a text and breaking out its individual subjects so readers can find them in the index and therefore find them in the book).
What can I say? I can understand and follow the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal classifications. I like reading nonfiction and breaking it down into littler parts that readers can use. But organizing my own mind, home, workspace, life? I'm helpless.
In the greater picture, I mostly dislike organizations and institutions. I don't like their hierarchical structures and their rules and their dress codes and their norms of behavior. I recognize that to some extent we need them, but I do not prosper within them. The only thought I had when touring my son's middle school at Back to School Night was OH MY GOD IT'S A PRISON LOOK AT THE GUN-METAL GRAY WALLS I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW.
Nearly six months later, whenever I look at the CRjr's school, I still break out in a cold sweat. Not least because the other day, CRjr wore his boots and therefore had to pack his tennis shoes--and forgot one shoe. (Yup, that's my boy. Genetics are brutal.) So I drove his shoe over to school because if the elder CRjr cannot run off some of his nervous energy during gym and recess, life is not worth living around here when he gets home. I had to wait half an hour while the office staff called his room and then tried to find him because it was the opening advisory period and some kids were still eating breakfast in the cafeteria. They wanted me to just leave his shoe with them, and they would eventually call him to the office and he could find his shoe on the table of "parent drop-off" items, but I couldn't do that, because I do not trust his office staff. Earlier this year, on the coldest day of the fall, they had set him outside for half an hour on the WRONG DAY for a doctor appointment I'd signed him out for--using their software--so I was not confident they would do their job correctly. I could also not assume that my son would be able to find his shoe on the table, because he often can't find the milk in the refrigerator. (Sigh.) They also won't let any parents into the school, ever.*
That's all more than you needed to know, but you start to see why I dislike large institutions and organizations and companies. And now that I know that, I want to read about why that might be.
And that's why I'm reading Moral Mazes and telling you about it. More to come, but here's a teaser for what the book's about:
"What sort of everyday rules-in-use do people play by when there are no fixed standards to explain why some succeed and others fail? In the words of one corporate manager, those rules boil down to this maxim: 'What is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you. That's what morality is in the corporation.'"
*Please note I waited in the entryway of the school and about a million eighth-graders who are taller than me streamed through the doors where I was. If I hadn't chosen to obey school policy and stop at the office, I could have strolled in with the kids and nobody would have been any the wiser.