The Gervais Principle, Or The Office According to “The Office”

Although positivistic in its framing of people and I disagree that sociopaths are creative, even so it makes interesting reading around the life cycle of a business. Courtesy of Venkat @ RibbonFarm:

My neighbor introduced me to The Office back in 2005. Since then, I’ve watched every episode of both the British and American versions. I’ve watched the show obsessively because I’ve been unable to figure out what makes it so devastatingly effective, and elevates it so far above the likes of Dilbert and Office Space.

Until now, that is. Now, after four years, I’ve finally figured the show out. The Office is not a random series of cynical gags aimed at momentarily alleviating the existential despair of low-level grunts. It is a fully realized theory of management that falsifies 83.8% of the business section of the bookstore. The theory begins with Hugh MacLeod’s well-known cartoon, Company Hierarchy (below), and its cornerstone is something I will call The Gervais Principle, which supersedes both the Peter Principle and its successor, The Dilbert Principle. Outside of the comic aisle, the only major and significant works consistent with the Gervais Principle are The Organization Man and Images of Organization.

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I’ll need to lay just a little bit of groundwork (lest you think this whole post is a riff based on cartoons) before I can get to the principle and my interpretation of The Office. I’ll be basing this entire article on the American version of the show, which is more fully developed than the original British version, though the original is perhaps more satisfyingly bleak. Keep in mind that this is an interpretation of The Office as management science; the truth in the art. Literary/artistic critics don’t really seem to get it. I’ll have some passing comments to offer on the comedy and art of it all, but this is primarily about the truths revealed by the show, pursued with Dwight-like earnestness.

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