Quotations about   organization

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Memory, as we all know, is fitful and phantasmagoric. History is organized memory, and the organization is all-important.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
The Nature and the Study of History, ch. 1 (1965)
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Added on 13-Apr-22 | Last updated 13-Apr-22
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I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.

Groucho Marx (1890-1977) American comedian [b. Julius Henry Marx]
Groucho and Me, ch. 26 “Foot in Mouth Disease” (1959)
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Variant: "I don't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member."

Different confidants of Groucho's attributed this resignation note to different organizations, though most think the resignation from the Friars Club or the Hillcrest Country Club. In his autobiography (the noted source), Grouch referred to it apocryphally as "the Delaney Club."

More discussion of this quotation:

Added on 18-Mar-22 | Last updated 18-Mar-22
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Any social organization does well enough if it isn’t rigid. The framework doesn’t matter as long as there is enough looseness to permit that one man in a multitude to display his genius. Most so-called social scientists seem to think that organization is everything. It is almost nothing — except when it is a straitjacket. It is the incidence of heroes that counts, not the pattern of zeros.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Glory Road, ch. 2 [Rufo] (1963)
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Added on 15-Feb-22 | Last updated 15-Feb-22
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For indeed it is possible that a man may think well, and yet not be able to express his thoughts elegantly; but for any one to publish thoughts which he can neither arrange skilfully nor illustrate so as to entertain his reader, is an unpardonable abuse of letters and retirement: they, therefore, read their books to one another, and no one ever takes them up but those who wish to have the same licence for careless writing allowed to themselves.

[Fieri autem potest, ut recte quis sentiat et id quod sentit polite eloqui non possit; sed mandare quemquam litteris cogitationes suas, qui eas nec disponere nec inlustrare possit nec delectatione aliqua allicere lectorem, hominis est intemperanter abutentis et otio et litteris. Itaque suos libros ipsi legunt cum suis, nec quisquam attingit praeter eos, qui eandem licentiam scribendi sibi permitti volunt.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Tusculan Disputations [Tusculanae Disputationes], Book 1, ch. 3 / sec. 6 (45 BC) [tr. Yonge (1853)]
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Source (Latin). Alternate translations:

Now it is possible, that one may have true Conceptions, and yet not be able to express his Notions in proper Terms; but for a man to commit his thoughts to writing for the publick, who can neither put them in due method, nor illustrate them with clear Proofs, nor by any delightful Ornaments entertain his Reader, is the part of one that at no rate abuses his own time, and the benefit of Writing. Here∣upon they read their own Books among themselves, nor doth any one else meddle with them, but they that expect allowance to write after the same loose fashion.
[tr. Wase (1643)]

For indeed it may be that a man may think well, and yet not be able to express his thoughts elegant; but for any one ot publish thoughts which eh can neither methodize, nor illustrate nor entertain his reader, is an unpardonable abuse of letters and retirement: they, therefore, read their books to one another, which were never taken up by any but those who claimed the same privilege of writing.
[tr. Main (1824)]

For it may very well happen, that a man may think rightly, and yet be unable to give utterance to his sentiments with sufficient elegance. But, for any one to consign his thoughts to letters, who can neither arrange them with method, nor make them intelligible by illustration, nor attract the reader with any delight, is the part of a man who rashly abuses both his leisure and literature. And, therefore, let them read their books themselves with their friends; nor let them be touched by any, except by those who are like to need the same indulgence for the same license in writing.
[tr. Otis (1839)]

One may think correctly, yet be unable to give elegant expression to what he thinks; and in that case for a man to commit his thoughts to writing when he can neither arrange them, nor illustrate them, nor attract readers by anything that can give them delight, is the part of a man who outrageously abuses both leisure and letters. Such writers read their own books with their intimate friends, nor does any one else touch them except those who crave for themselves like liberty of writing.
[tr. Peabody (1886)]

Even when they have their arguments in order, they don't express them with any flair. They waste their free time -- and do a discredit to literature -- when they commit thoughts to writing without knowing how to arrange or enliven them or give any pleasure to the reader. And so they just end up reading each other's books! No one pays attention to them except people who hope to qualify for the same writer's licence.
[tr. Habinek (1996)]

But it can happen that someone may have a good thought which he cannot express well.
[tr. @sentantiq (2016)]

It is possible for a man to hold the right views but be incapable of expressing these with any elegance; but that anyone should entrust his thoughts to writing, without the ability to arrange them or to express them with clarity, or to attract the reader by offering him some pleasure, is characteristic of a man who is making an ill-disciplined misuse of both leisure and writing. The result is these fellows read their own books to their own circle and no one touches them except those who wish to be permitted the same freedom in writing.
[tr. Davie (2017)]

Added on 19-Jul-21 | Last updated 13-Sep-21
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My life is already complicated enough, without trying to introduce organization into it.

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Pot-Shots, #1960
Added on 26-Mar-21 | Last updated 26-Mar-21
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I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime I am not frightened by your menaces. I am not a giant physically; I shrink from pain and filth and vermin and foul air, like any other man of refinement; also, I freely admit, when I see a line of a hundred policemen with drawn revolvers flung across a street to keep anyone from coming onto private property to hear my feeble voice, I am somewhat disturbed in my nerves. But I have a conscience and a religious faith, and I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. I intend to do my duty to my country.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
Letter to the Louis D. Oaks, Los Angeles Chief of Police (17 May 1923)
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Reprinted in his Autobiography (1962).
Added on 11-Jun-20 | Last updated 11-Jun-20
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Most of the activities of any bureaucracy are devoted not to the organization’s ostensible goals, but to ensuring that the organization survives: because if they aren’t, the bureaucracy has a life expectancy measured in days before some idiot decision maker decides that if it’s no use to them they can make political hay by destroying it. It’s no consolation that some time later someone will realize that an organization was needed to carry out the original organization’s task, so a replacement is created: you still lost your job and the task went undone. The only sure way forward is to build an agency that looks to its own survival before it looks to its mission statement. Just another example of evolution in action.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Annihilation Score, ch. 16 (2015)
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Added on 1-Aug-17 | Last updated 1-Aug-17
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Don’t agonize, organize.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).
Added on 10-Jul-17 | Last updated 10-Jul-17
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Observe the invincible tendency of the mind to unify. It is a law of our constitution that we should not contemplate things apart without the effort to arrange them in order with known facts and ascribe them to the same law.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1836)
Added on 15-Aug-16 | Last updated 15-Aug-16
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The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.

Gruenert and Whitaker - leader is willing to tolerate - wist_info quote

(Other Authors and Sources)
Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker, School Culture Rewired, ch. 3 (2015)
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Often misattributed as "Gruenter and Whitaker".
Added on 16-Mar-16 | Last updated 16-Mar-16
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Now when an American has an idea, he directly seeks a second American to share it. If there be three, they elect a president and two secretaries. Given four, they name a keeper of records, and the office is ready for work; five, they convene a general meeting, and the club is fully constituted.

[Or, quand un Américain a une idée, il cherche un second Américain qui la partage. Sont-ils trois, ils élisent un président et deux secrétaires. Quatre, ils nomment un archiviste, et le bureau fonctionne. Cinq, ils se convoquent en assemblée générale, et le club est constitué.]

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
From the Earth to the Moon, ch. 1 “The Gun Club” (1865)
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Added on 11-Mar-16 | Last updated 11-Mar-16
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My life has been largely spent in affairs that required organization. But organization itself, necessary as it is, is never sufficient to win a battle.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Young Republican National Leadership Training School (20 Jan 1960)
Added on 19-Jan-16 | Last updated 19-Jan-16
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Let the Care of one’s business be committed but to one Person; for otherwise, besides Disagreement which may arise when Account is taken, everyone’s Answer is, That he thought others had done it.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio ad Prudentiam, #1073 (1725)
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Added on 21-Dec-15 | Last updated 26-Jan-21
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The trouble with organizing a thing is that pretty soon folks get to paying more attention to the organization than to what they’re organized for.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) American writer
Little Town on the Prairie (1941)
Added on 4-Dec-14 | Last updated 4-Dec-14
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Every organization appears to be headed by secret agents of its opponents.

Robert Conquest (b. 1917) Anglo-American historian, diplomat, poet
“Conquest’s Second Law”


Attributed in Kingsley Amis, Memoirs (1991). Also known as "Conquest's Law of Organizations."

Variants:

  • "Every organisation behaves as if it is run by secret agents of its opponents."
  • "The behavior of any organization can best be predicted on the assumption that it is headed by a secret cabal of its enemies."
Added on 13-Aug-14 | Last updated 13-Aug-14
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In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

Lawrence J Peter
Lawrence J. Peter (1919-1990) American educator, management theorist
The Peter Principle, ch. 1 (1969)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 3-Apr-20
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In the end, as every human being who has ever breakfasted on their own in someone else’s kitchen has done since nearly the dawn of time, he made do with unsweetened instant black coffee.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Good Omens (1990) [with Neil Gaiman]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 8-Jun-21
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One will weave the canvas; another will fell a tree by the light of his ax. Yet another will forge nails, and there will be others who observe the stars to learn how to navigate. And yet all will be as one. Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love.

[Celui-là tissera des toiles, l’autre dans la forêt par l’éclair de sa hache couchera l’arbre. L’autre, encore, forgera des clous, et il en sera quelque part qui observeront les étoiles afin d’apprendre à gouverner. Et tous cependant ne seront qu’un. Créer le navire ce n’est point tisser les toiles, forger les clous, lire les astres, mais bien donner le goût de la mer qui est un, et à la lumière duquel il n’est plus rien qui soit contradictoire mais communauté dans l’amour.]

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944) French writer, aviator
Citadelle [The Wisdom of the Sands] (1948)

This looks to be the origin of the following, more common quotations attributed to Saint-Exupery:
  • "If you wish to build a ship, do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea."
  • "If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
  • "If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
  • "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the workers to gather wood, don't divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
More discussion: Teach Them to Yearn for the Vast and Endless Sea – Quote Investigator.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Oct-21
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We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.

Ogburn - reorganization - wist_info quote

Charlton Ogburn, Jr. (1911-1998) American journalist, author
“Merrill’s Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure,” Harper’s Magazine (Jan 1957)

In his 1959 book, The Marauders, Ogburn rephrased this as: "As a result, I suppose, of high-level changes of mind about how we were to be used, we went through several reorganizations. Perhaps because Americans as a nation have a gift for organizing, we tend to meet any new situation by reorganization, and a wonderful method it is for creating the illusion of progress at a mere cost of confusion, inefficiency and demoralization."

Sometimes incorrectly cited to Gaius Petronius Arbiter. For more on this quotation, see here.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Mar-16
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