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Is the Blob eating your business?

Stephen Balzac | May 19, 2015
At a very basic level, red tape exists to make people feel safe.



Nothing can stop it!

If those three phrases seem oddly familiar, it's because they were used to advertise The Blob. The Blob, for those who were never eaten by it, was a campy 1950s horror movie in which a quivering mass of protoplasm crashes to Earth in a meteor. Meteors have few amenities and are not known for their food service. In short, a meteor is not the most comfortable way to travel, so it is not a big surprise that when the Blob gets out it starts absorbing everyone in sight. Despite the best efforts of our heroes, as the movie progresses, the Blob also progresses from a tiny gray lump to a giant red Blob capable of engulfing small buildings in a single bound. Fortunately for the world, our heroes figure out that the Blob does not like the cold, and they are able to freeze it solid using fire extinguishers. At the end of the movie, the Blob is flown off to the Arctic, where it will remain so long as the ice never melts.

All in all, the Blob is a fun movie, although it is probably considerably less enjoyable to be living in the town being eaten by the Blob. Thus, it is odd that people voluntarily choose to create blobs that then eat them. I am not talking about giant red Blobs from outer space, of course, but rather the giant mass of red tape that devours so many businesses. Although bureaucracy is not the Latin word for "giant tangled ball of red tape," there are times when it might as well be!

All right, it's no big shocker that bureaucracies and red tape go together. But how does the red tape come about? And what can you do about it once your organization is being devoured by a giant red blob? Fire extinguishers, sadly, do not work in this situation. Fortunately, understanding how that blob gets started can help you figure out how to deal with it.

At a very basic level, red tape exists to make people feel safe. All the procedures and processes of the organization exist to prevent mistakes. Mistakes, after all, are very, very bad. They could lead to a lower grade and might go on your permanent record. More to the point, they might cost the company money or actually make you look bad in front of your boss.

But wait, this seems counterintuitive. Doesn't a lot of red tape cause people to make more mistakes? Well, yes, it does, in a phenomenon aptly demonstrated by a company that I will refer to as ShrinkWrap. At ShrinkWrap, management was so afraid that people would make mistakes that they instituted elaborate paperwork requirements to make sure that every "i" was dotted and every "t" was crossed. The paperwork was so complex that it inevitably led to errors, which convinced management to add checklists, or meta-paperwork, to make sure the paperwork was done correctly. Think of it as kind of like a pearl: Something irritates the oyster, so it surrounds the irritant with nacre. This, of course, makes a larger irritant, so it adds more nacre, until eventually we have a pearl. Red tape works much the same way, except that in the end all we have is a giant red Blob.


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