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Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  228 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes offers an eye-opening account of how corporate managers think the world works, and how big organizations shape moral consciousness.
Based on extensive interviews with managers at every level of two industrial firms and of a large public relations agency, Moral Mazes takes the reader inside the intricate world of the corporation. Jackall reveal
Paperback, 249 pages
Published September 21st 1989 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1988)
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really liked it 4.00  · 
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 ·  228 ratings  ·  37 reviews

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Feb 08, 2013 marked it as might-read
One of Aaron Swartz's favourite books apparently.
Jul 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Written with a decent-sized vocabulary but not venturing too far into academic-ese, this book should be required reading for MBAs. Familiarity with European social structures in the Middle Ages (kings, barons, etc.) and Calvinism is helpful since he uses these as reference points.

I have worked in a large company in an oligopolistic industry for several years and have been puzzled by how fast what is important to the organization shifts, leaving a proliferation of priorities that fade but ostens
Aug 06, 2011 rated it liked it
We didn't choose to be bureaucrats
No, that's what Almighty Jah made us
We'd treat people like swine and make them stand in line
Even if nobody paid us
They say the world looks down on the bureaucrats
They say we're anal, compulsive and weird
But when push comes to shove you gotta do what you love
Even if it's not a good idea
Allys Dierker
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
For a sociological study that's 30 years old, Jackall's investigation of middle-management moral framework is still fairly, and demoralizingly, spot on. He begins with Max Weber's concept of the Protestant Ethic and maintains that America's management structure is related, but a different kind of hybrid organization that contains markers of the patrimonial bureaucracy of kings and princes, but that is also overlaid with a "personalism" that demands fealty to the CEO and elected/appointed officia ...more
Nov 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: pretty much anyone who will listen to me babble about it.
Recommended to steve by: ed crabbe
this man was before his time. the introduction alone is worth the kindle price. everyone knows that bureaucracy creates its own rules, but rarely are they parsed and analyzed by an external party. if you've ever wanted an academic and surprisingly dry analysis of the behaviors that manifest themselves in corporate america than you would be hard pressed to find a better read than this book. if you're of the ignorance is bliss school of thought, pass on this. otherwise, for something that was writ ...more
Keri Swenson
Mar 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
A fascinating-and disturbing-look into the workings of managerial life. Aaron Swartz had noted this as an influential book, so I was curious to explore what he found compelling about it. Overall, Moral Mazes is at once shocking but unsurprising. The detailed descriptions of the lengths managers will go to further their own careers and seeing the ways in which corporations make denying and rationalizing (indeed, ultimately accepting and defending) morally questionable behavior possible were the a ...more
Feb 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
In the late 1980's, Jackall (an anthropology/sociology professor) interviewed several managers at three large companies: a chemical manufacturer, a textile company, and a PR firm. This book describes the conclusions about corporate life that he drew from those interviews.

Jackall considers large companies to be systems of "organized irresponsibility." In bureaucracies, allocations of success and blame become largely arbitrary. Middle managers who rotate through positions for a couple of years ad
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you don't like management books, read this one!

A sociologist is doing research in the community of managers like he would describe an indigenous tribe in Papua-Neuguinea. The research was done in the 80s, but it feels like it was written yesterday.

Every current criticism of the management caste is here examined, explained and put into context. If you ever wondered where the lack of moral values, the short-sightedness of decision-making, the intransparent criteria for being promoted and the a
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had to stop reading this because the views presented in the book were seriously antiquated. Whilst the majority of the research was done in the 1980s and 1990s, I feel like the lessons didn't carry over well into the 21st century. Comments about perks such as "better, and more attractive, secretaries" are leaden in today's world, which by no means is a panacea of inclusion or diversity, but certainly doesn't reflect these anachronisms. As someone really interested in corporate ethics, I felt t ...more
Brandt Tullis
May 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
I found some great insight that paralleled my experience in the corporate world. The writing was unclear; the author spuriously used big words, and sentence construction was a mess. Also, the author was forming conclusions from a small collection of companies. Some of them rang true to me, and others seemed specific to those companies, and not mine. Lastly, the author's bias against corporations is thinly disguised. He often uses negative words to describe them, and focuses on negative events an ...more
Stephen Long
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
human psychology on the enterprise scale. depressing but excellent. The ability of the writers to honestly portray reality without falling subject to cynicism or nihilism is unusual.
Mar 13, 2017 marked it as to-read
Shelves: may-be
Mentioned by Aaron Schwartz as one of the two books that influenced him and his thoughts. Might pick up some day.
Uwe Hook
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Must read for anyone.

"Moral Mazes" is an extensive, award-winning and highly accurate sociological portrait of life in the modern corporation, an academic precursor, so to speak, of the "Dilbert" cartoon strip. Unlike many other writers on this topic, Jackall doesn't resort to Marxist rants, but rather, compares modern corporate culture to the "Protestant" work ethic most Americans are raised into.
Jackall's inquiry, based on in-depth interviews with managers themselves, is broad in scope, and it
Evan Snyder
I've worked for two tech companies in my engineering career so far, previously one founded in 1984 and currently one founded in 2004. Jackall's observations resonated very strongly with my experience at the company born in the 80s. I am happy to say that a 21st century perspective seems to have in particular ameliorated my personal grievance of people talking out of their asses without actually accomplishing anything in order to hop up the corporate ladder.

At the company of 1984, I watched such
Byron Wall
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
provides invaluable insight into what drives decision-making in large-scale businesses, well worth the read.
Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wow - what a book!

Jackall is a sociologist who spends two years interviewing managers at two very large manufacturing companies to discuss corporate culture, career advancement, morals, and a whole host of other subjects.

I would have considered myself to be pretty well informed on the subject of corporate irresponsibility, but reading excerpts from some of Jackall's interviews was still quite eye-opening. Jackall delves deep into the corporate cultures of short-term thinking, blurred lines of r
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: no-library
Most of the conclusions just confirmed existing assumptions. This book has probably sculpted public perception over the years to the point that people today would already have the impressions that this book argued for in its heyday.
Brittany Bond
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sociology, business
I have read a lot of business/management books for both pleasure (trying to stay current with the latest hot reads in the street) and work (reading the entire book whenever cited on a course syllabus or as recommended background reading).

And this book is the best one so far.

It came to me on the syllabus for a course I am a teaching assistant for this Spring: "Being Effective: Power and Influence" a very popular MBA elective at MIT Sloan. I listened to the audiobook that includes a post-Great Rec
Kristian Köhntopp
Sep 08, 2016 rated it liked it
"Das Sachbuch zu Office Space"?

Seit kurzem gibt es Moral Mazes als Kindle-Edition. Robert Jackall beschriebt hier die Business Ethics und Regeln des Managements einiger amerikanischer Konzerne, auf der Basis von Interviews und Fallstudien in den späten 80er und frühen 90er Jahren.

Ich bin auf das Buch aufmerksam geworden, weil es in (sehr lesenswerter Artikel) erwähnt wird: » Aaron Swartz counted “Moral Mazes” among his “very favorite books.”« und »The bur
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Published in 1988 (an updated version is available, but I did not have ready access to it), this book remains remarkably current, even prescient. The events and examples referenced by the author, and the anecdotes derived from them, are generally familiar to me from the early years of my professional life. A younger person might not be as familiar with the particulars, but the intervening years have supplied sufficient analogs that readers younger than I need only search recent memory for parall ...more
Sep 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Amazing sociological analysis of corporate culture from in-depth study and interviews over two years at several large corporations. The culture of yes-men (what bosses say they don't want), avoidance of decision-making, cover-your-ass mentality through group-think, morality that consists of self-interest alone, not even that of the stockholders and certainly not that of the customers or the employees was eye-opening. The only problem with the book is that it is now 25 years old and needs updatin ...more
mis fit
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I can't decide if this is 4 stars or 5, actually. This book is pretty amazing, and gets at a lot of the social psychological aspects of corporate decision-making that I have been trying to figure out but just haven't been able to get a handle on. This sort of thing is awesome because it addresses the everyday world of corporate management. There is this weird sort of way that capitalism eats away at itself that O'Connor's second contradiction just does not fully explain, and it's something that ...more
Feb 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The theme Jackall explores is how the social norms and behaviours expected within large complex bureaucracies compel managers to behave in morally ambiguous and self-serving ways. Whilst anyone who has worked in a large organisation can recognise some of the behaviours Jackall describes this is an unremittingly one-sided account illustrated largely by anecdote. Whilst undoubtedly there are some valid insights in this book his perspective leaves no room for factors beyond self-interest to guide p ...more
John Mcdonnell
Oct 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fairly depressing (and presumably accurate) view of corporate management world. I think it's aged fairly well: Corporations are organized around internal networks of patronage that determine decision-making and ascent of individuals' careers; managerial communication is coded for ideological palatability and dynamism in the face of changing circumstances rather than straightforward communication.

One substantial difference between Jackal's era and the present day is tenure at companies: Managers
Jun 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: evil-studies
An eye-opening book that didn't age much. Jackall does great job identifying structures, mechanisms and motivations that drive corporations and corporate managers (and it's a terrifying read).

Amazon recommended me Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem" as a related book, and it is in fact closely related - Moral Mazes is also a book about banality of evil, and, while it's not the main goal, it tries to answer the question "why normal people do evil things".

But that becomes a flaw, as throughou
May 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
I lost some faith in humanity over the course of this book. An interesting foray into world of middle management in larger organisations. The politics and crazy incentive structures produce some fascinating, and at times cringeworthy outcomes. Recommended for anyone who interacts with larger organisations, or works in a management role.
Anand Karthik
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Amazing account in detail about how good meaning middle managers come under the influence of a corporation's "ethics" end up creating so much evil. It goes full circle on the complex relationships between markets, profits, economy, managers and ethics of corporation.
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
While dated, the stories outlined in this book are still pretty applicable to everyday corporate life. Lots of interesting anecdotes about the crazy shit normally (or not) rational people do in the name of covering their ass, career advancement, character assassination and other dubious endeavors.
Nov 04, 2008 is currently reading it
It uses the metaphor of a feudal system to describe corporate culture. Middle managers work to gain favor, like the lords, of the CEO (or king).
Dawn Culver
Sep 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
More relevant today than ever.
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“Younger managers learn quickly that, whatever the public protestations to the contrary, bosses generally want pliable and agreeable subordinates, especially during periods of crisis. Clique leaders want dependable, loyal allies. Thos who regularly raise objections to what a boss or a clique leader really desires run the risk of being considered problems themselves and of being labeled "outspoken," or "nonconstructive," or "doomsayers," "naysayers," or "crepehangers.” 0 likes
“The manager comes to see all relationships with others by a strict utilitarian calculus and, insofar as he dares, breaks friendships and alliances accordingly.” 0 likes
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