Happy Birthday to Franz Kafka

“I usually solve problems by letting them devour me.”

Franz Kafka, Letter to Max Brod

This blog is named after a great short story by Franz Kafka, a writer who should be read by every Quality professional.

Franz Kafka’s work has huge relevance for management and organization. The characteristics of bureaucracy that we find in Kafka’s fiction are widespread in the real world bureaucracies we find ourselves in, particularly the ambiguity of rules, the existence of informal networks within organizations, and systemic corruption. Reading Kafka has greatly influenced my ideas of organizational sense-making and has shaped many of my ideas on ethical issues and conflicts that arise within organizations. It is no exaggeration to say that Kafka’s name is as closely linked to the notion of bureaucracy as Weber’s, and deserves a central place in all organizational studies. Quite frankly, Quality as a practice and a profession would do well to read Kafka thoroughly.

Quality Book Shelf – Kafka

In a past job interview I was asked two questions that stay with me, “What degree do you think every quality professional should have” and “Which of your favorite authors reflects on you as a quality manager.”

For the first, I said philosophy, a rather tongue in cheek answer that I hope will become clear as this blog develops.

For the second, I answered LeCarre and Kafka. I’d like to expand on Kafka, as it has to do a lot with the name of this blog.

Kafka is, probably, one of the 20th century’s greatest writers on organizational life. His writing is often a dystopian counter to much of the cheerleaders, even today, of the mythology of organizations. In this way he serves as a needed balance to all the cheerleaders of holarchy, of agile and lean organizations and everything else that dominates modern business since Weber. Through exploring these dark contemplations I strongly believe we grow in our understanding and that understanding can make us more humble.

Kafka deals with issues that lie at the heart of the challenges that await the modern organization, and of quality as a profession: rationality, bureaucracy, power, and how we make sense of the work and the value of the work we do.

As this blog is going to be about applying rationality to the work we do, grappling with bureaucracy and power, and how quality practices bring sense to the work we do, Kafka is an appropriate inspiration.