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Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  298 ratings  ·  45 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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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
Corbin Routier
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A little less scientific than I was led to believe, but a good source for understanding upper echelon power structures. In the book the author shows how the conflict between performing well at your job can sometimes conflict with being a moral person. Corporations place success in business along with the morality of that person. It is the old belief that successful people are usually upstanding citizens. He portrays the conflict of social roles as people attempt to perform in a business environm ...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
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
May 06, 2016 rated it 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.
Hamish Seamus
Pretty boring. I would recommend reading the Ribbonfarm essays on The Office instead. It may be worth re-reading the first 5% and the last 10% because these went into the history of work ethics, PR and finance, and I don't think I absorbed all the information.

- A bit of advice which could be useful: if your company is doing a bad thing and you want to nudge it in the right direction, then try to do so using the language of rational utility. Don't say "it will harm people" but "it will harm
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
Trandt Bullis
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
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
Ari Mahonen
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
The first part of the book discusses many of the issues with corporate culture. I think it needs to be revised as another decade has passed and some of the assumptions and statements made did not hold true with the passage of time.
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.
Feb 17, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Probably best to skip the last two chapters and the essay on the 2008 financial crisis.

Terse notes and quotes here:
Alexander Gusak
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Hard to read, too many pages to explain simple ideas, over and over.
a hooded figure from your friendly neighbourhood dog park
I don't know if this study hasn't aged well or if I'm that cynical, but I have literally read nothing here that I haven't already known or suspected, and the writing is VERY dense.
Sarah-louise Raillard
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely essential reading for anyone frustrated by today’s workplace
(2020) still very relevant to silicon valley companies.

Prologue is very abstract, but it soon gets concrete, going over specific examples.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
Think I would enjoy this more post-retirement. The HBR article would have been enough for now.
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
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 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
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
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