Organisational decay

Schwartz, H. 1989. Organizational disaster and organisational decay: the case of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Industrial Crisis Quarterly, 3, pp.319-334.

Organizational decay is a condition of generalized and systemic ineffectiveness. It develops when an organization shifts its activities from coping with reality to presenting a dramatization of its own ideal character. In the decadent organization, flawed decision making of the sort that leads to disaster is normal activity, not an aberration. Three aspects of the development of organizational decay are illustrated in the case of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They are (1) the institutionalization of the fiction, (2) personnel changes in parallel with the institutionalization of the fiction, and (3) the narcissistic loss of reality among management.

This is a corker of an article. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. I saw the launch of Columbia on television in 1981. I was briefly obsessed with manned space flight. I remember the explosion of the Challenger, in 1986, vividly.

Oh, and I should probably read this

Vaughan, D. 1996. The Challenger launch decision: Risky technology, culture and deviance at NASA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



Rauch, J. 2016. How American politics went insane. The Atlantic, July-August.

Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns and in the government itself.

Our intricate, informal system of political intermediation, which took many decades to build, did not commit suicide or die of old age; we reformed it to death. For decades, well-meaning political reformers have attacked intermediaries as corrupt, undemocratic, unnecessary, or (usually) all of the above. Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. Eventually, you will get sick.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: