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Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  371 ratings  ·  58 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. ...more
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
Dec 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Maciej Wasilak
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book, even if I don't agree with it completely. It was written more than 30 years ago, but in my opinion it aged quite well (or maybe corporations in Poland today are actually close to 1980 US mindset in some aspects). It's a study of corporate managers and their moral values, written by an anthropologist.

The outcome of the study is pretty bleak - managers function in structures where moral rules are set by their superiors, truth is established by PR specialists and self-gain
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 16, 2021 rated it it was ok
Extremely depressing sociological look at life inside a corporation, and the behaviors/incentives of people that work in corporate management. This treats the corporate world like the subject of an anthropological study - it digs into the social dynamics and hierarchies of corporations with case studies and draws generalizations.

The book was written in the early 80’s - there are some grains of truth that feel applicable today (the depressing part), but a large chunk of this feels very antiquated
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
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
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.
Lorin Hochstein
Apr 16, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Almost all management books are prescriptive: they’re self-help books for managers. Moral Mazes is a very different kind of management book. Where most management books are written by management gurus, this one is written by a sociologist. This book is the result of a sociological study that the author conducted at three U.S. companies in the 1980s: a large textile firm, a chemical company, and a large public relations agency. He was interested in understanding the ethical decision-making proces ...more
Apr 29, 2020 rated it liked it
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
Murray Robinson
Dec 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have worked in management at all levels in big corporates and small digital agencies from middle management to senior executive for 30 years. I still have trouble understanding the many poor business decisions that senior executives have made around me. This book accurately and rather depressingly explains what is really going on in upper management in large corporations. It's just as viable in 2020 as it was in 1980. The book is particularly good at explaining why a lot of mediocre yes men ar ...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
Nov 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who interacts with large corporations.
Could be subtitled: "What Becomes Of The Protestant Work Ethic When Religion Is Replaced With Bureaucracy."

Written by a sociologist who did fieldwork within some (anonymized) U.S. corporate enterprises in the 1980s, the book is marked by a) some things that have been satirized into hiding in the intervening decades, like a practiced indifference to the natural environment, and b) the author's propensity to write 600 word paragraphs. So, some discussion feels outdated, and the writing is dense. B
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
Mar 16, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having studied Business Administration and Management Accounting at university for over 5 years, I really wished some of the professors there had the guts to introduce us, the students, to this book.

After many years of professional experience, I doubt that very many people can disagree with the core assertions of this book.

I really cannot recommend it enough to people who study business at college/university level or about to enter the work force. The book is unapologetically focused on all the
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: https://twitter.com/hyponymous/status...
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. ...more
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.
Oct 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Still learned a ton and was often surprised, despite having read lots of blog posts on the book.
Tim Chambers
Feb 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
A key chapter in the management bible.
Mar 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
A little dry at times but definitely still insightful. Since this was an observational study, it is easy to see what is still relevant today is
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Robert Jackall has done several years of fieldwork with New York City police detectives and prosecutors, among whom he is known as “The Professor.” He is Class of 1956 Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Williams College.

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