Booknotes: A Message to Garcia

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I read A Message to Garcia the first time many years ago.  I always have thought that the encouragement to work hard and be loyal was a fine sentiment – who can argue with that.  But I have always thought that the author went too far.  The piece has always struck me as a call to blind servitude.  From the perspective of a loyal employee 100 years later, Hubbard seems to support the ideas and management style of several decades ago; a style of management that did not want the opinions of any uppity workers.  A style that calls for employees to do as management says without any back-talk.

This attitude is un-American.  This attitude fits better in a class conscious society where people know their place and stay in it.  But we are a nation of inquisitive question-askers.  We want to know why because why matters.  We want to know why so that we can do things better and more efficiently.  Asking questions is a good thing in our society.  Question asking is part of what makes Americans exceptional.

I am focusing on one part of the article where Hubbard lists questions that a lazy clerk would ask ending with “What do you want to know for?”  I am an engineer and I work in the information technology business.  I could not do my job well if I could not ask the kinds of questions that Hubbard denigrates.  In my career I have literally hundreds of experiences where someone has asked me for something and I have been able to propose something better to them simply by asking questions.  The most important of these questions is “Why?”  In my experience as a military officer I was taught that knowing the why of an operation order was of greatest importance.  This is because when the plan falls apart, if you know why there was a plan, you can still find a way to complete the mission.

Finding the reason that someone wants something very often reveals something essential about what they are asking. This important fact is of no consequence to egotists who want things their way or no way at all.  People who ask questions are seen as hindrances to the self-important because the asker threatens the egotist’s authority.  Having worked for and around people like this I can tell you that it is not an atmosphere conducive to enthusiasm, initiative, and integrity.

My point is this, it is fine to work hard, to show initiative, to be a Garcia and fulfill a mission.  But if you find yourself working for a Hubbard who doesn’t like to answer any questions about his orders, you should take Hubbard’s “horse sense” advice and find yourself a new boss who knows the value of an employee who asks questions.