"We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning
to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later
in life that we tend 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."
by:
Date:
210 BC
Source:
Falsely attributed to Gaius Petronius Arbiter. Quote is from Charlton Ogburn, Jr. (1911-1998), in Harper's Magazine, "Merrill's Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure" (Jan 1957)
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This is a great sentiment... but it is not really by Petronious. But its false attribution is key to the depth of its satire. That it has since been quoted by scholars as genuine has only added to its power as an epithet of inefficiency. The best research can find no reference to it prior to the immediate post WW2 period. It is reputed to have been found as a barrack room noticeboard comment in a British Army base in Occupied West Germany. No doubt a Classical Scholar Conscript who found himself compelled to anonymously criticise the inefficiencies of army management. P.S. The Roman Petronius died at his own hand on the orders of Nero in 66AD (CE for the politically correct) - Some quotes of this have him as a General or Admiral, Roman or Greek. He was Rome's great Satirist.
 -- Bill Nash, Sydney, Australia
 
Thanks, Bill!
 -- Editor, Liberty Quotes
 
 -- J, Pensacola 
Applies to governments too. Take U.S. Social Security, they keep reorganizing it too, but it's still going down the tubes as the largest scam (or pyramid scheme) in history.
 -- Joe, Rochester, MI
 
Is not this quote by GAIUS PERTONIUS PONTIUS NIGRINUS, who was consul in AD 37 and governor of Egypt and not the "arbiter elegantia"?
 -- Jim Pearson, Liverpool, UK
 
Jim, If you can provide a source and citation, we would be happy to make changes. Thanks.
 -- Editor, Liberty Quotes
 
Robert Townsend Uses this quote in his book "Up the Organization" and attributes it to Petronius Arbiter. Townsend, Robert. "Up the Organization: How to Stop the Organization from Stifling people and Strangling Profits". Knopf, New York. pg 162. 1970.
 -- Timothy Barnwell, Providence Village, TX
 
I was looking for this quote from "210 BC" It perfectly fits a situation I am in now. Sorry to learn the source is likely false. Having been in many government (military and civilian) positions all my life, (I'm 72) WHO EVER said this was indeed a wise and observant person. I love it.
 -- Fred, Springfield, IL
 
I spent my whole working life in the service of my country in one form or another. Even though the quote itself appears to be of dubious origin, the sentiment is consistent with bureaucracy, public or private. See also The Peter Principle, Parkinson's Law, Murphy's Law, Murphy's Law according to SODD, the comic strip "Bristow" by Frank Dickins (UK) or talk to anyone who has served in the military.
 -- Christopher J. Ward (Dr), Hobart, Tasmania Australia
 
never rub another mans ruhbarb
 -- Alan, Edinburgh
 
I spent 30 years in federal government law enforcement and we field agents had this quote taped inside our briefcases and somewhere very visible on our desks. These little reminders, once highly publicized throughout our agency, resulted in about 50% fewer meetings. Up until today, I thought it actually was Petronius Arbiter who coined the phrase. I still love it and still use it.
 -- Tony, Iowa
 
“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.” - Charlton Ogburn, pp. 32-33, “Merrill’s Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure,” Harper’s Magazine, January 1957
 -- jdp, xyz
 
Perhaps the quote is not from "Roman Times" but I'm sure it was just as valid in Roman times as it is in the hierarchies of today.
 -- walter c., eugene, OR
 
As mentioned just above -- this quote may be from Charlton Ogburn c. 1957, not Robert Townend c 1970. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlton_Ogburn
 -- Leon B, brisbane
 
 -- Anonymous 
I work at an large corporation and we have had that quote hanging or posted for decades. Our leadership just announced another major worldwide reorganization in a "major press release'. To find the quote was falsely attributed makes it no less truthful, just ironic. How informative this site is, Great work!
 -- John W., Rochester NY
 
I prefer this quote to be from Gaius Petronius, as he sounds at least noble, far more so than the other two options, I mean, Charlton Ogburn and Robert Townsend, Plebs the pair of them by the sound of it.
 -- Anonymous, Baingstoke, UK
 
I first heard this in the mid 70's after arriving on my first ship, the USS R.K. Turner DLG-20 (later CG-20). I've been looking for it of late; why? The more things change, the more things stay the same. Like some of the others who have posted, attributing this to Petronius rolls off the tongue a little sweeter. Illusions can be a wonderful thing, on occasion.
 -- Fred Lunsford, Flowery Branch, GA
 
In my opinion, it will be an error to attribute this quote to another person but Gaius Petronius or somebody in his time. Charlton Ogburn's version seemed to me lifted off an older version.
 -- Ishaka GG, Calgary
 
The quote is from the Satyricon which was published in Roman times. The debate is who actually published the Satyricon. It is thought to be Gaius Petronius Arbiter, but the text cited another author, likely thought to be a pen name used by Gaius Petronius Arbiter.
 -- Matt, Manassas, VA
 
Damn - wanted to use this in an assignment......i was hoping it was true, I did get it from someone who was in the forces......maybe I will try my luck and use it anyway.....maybe to be shot down in shame but it does sound good!
 -- Anonymous, Newcastle, UK
 
 -- Anonymous 
Anyone who has worked for the same organization for a considerable period of time will identify with this quotation, despite the uncertainty of the source. I posted this on the door to my office at one point, but unfortunately misplaced it just in time for another reorg. My advice: quote it freely and attribute it to 'Anonymous.'
 -- Lee, Michigan
 
A great quote regardless of who said it. Don't know about the 1970 attribution as I had it posted in my offices while on active duty beginning in the early 60s.
 -- Ron Murray, Colonel USMC (Ret), Sierra Vista, AZ
 
Sorry to take up space, but purportedly to be from "Merrill's Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure" in the January 1957 issue of Harper's Magazine: "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."
 -- Ron Murray, Colonel USMC (Ret), Sierra Vista, AZ
 
 -- Anonymous 
I'm pleased to learn a "possible" real source of this quotation before I use it extensively. I am a retired Presbyterian Minister and since my ordination in 1955 (I'm 78) our church has merged and/or reorganized many time with no noticeable result. I'm ready for the next reorganization plan!!!
 -- Russ Owens, Tallahass, FL
 
Thanks, everyone. The quote can be found in Harper's Magazine, January 1957, written by Charlton Ogburn, Jr.. We will check on the Satyricon reference.
 -- Editor, Liberty Quotes
 
Very true, my own Organisation re-organises at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately it's the office layout they change, they haven't quite realised the problem is it's the lack of technically trained personel they have, not who they sit beside in the office.
 -- Anon, Canterbury
 
 -- Anonymous 
I have had this qote printed up since 1960 , and it is more truthful than ever with the change of goverment. "Here we go again" as we used to say during my days in the RAF 1959-1985.
 -- Bob Edwards, Carterton
 
You give two dates for Petronius - 66 AD and 210 BC. He must have been very old! Can you explain? Owen O'Sullivan, Dublin.
 -- Anonymous
 
Matt says above that this quote is from the Satyricon by Petronius, can anyone else confirm or refute this?
 -- Graham, Bristol
 
I worked for an organization in the late 90's for a couple of years. This quote fit them to a "T." They continue to use this "strategy" to this day.
 -- Calvin, Madison
 
Prominent and healthy
 -- lasse nice, uptown
 
When I was a practicing manager several years ago, I came across this quote rather accidentally, had it printed on a card and placed it under the glass top of my office table -- facing my visitors and bosses -- for all and sundry to see. It never worked on my, or perhaps anybody's, bosses, but the content of the quote remains immensely quotable till this day. I rate it as an "eternal" pearl of wisdom, insofar as the "homo sapiens sapiens" are concerned.
 -- Aniruddha Sen, Kolkata, India
 
This is very close to an eternal truth about human behavior, in my view.
 -- James Carhart, Portland, Oregon
 
Colonel Ogburn was my regimental commander in Germany in 1955. He was a wise man, and the quotation seems characteristic of his mind and insight.
 -- Howard Fulweiler, Columbia, MO
 
Just came across the abbreviated quote in a speech by Stafford Beer, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaPX1t-99Ys . Beer attributes it to a 210 BC Greek Petronius. Seems Beer was mistaken but it made for some good theatre and got an extended laugh out of me. :~)
 -- Tom Loeber, Sunnyvale, CA
 
Wikipedia and e-mail references are not research. Perhaps you should read the actual historical roman documents before we circular reference chain mail like falsehoods. The falseness are claims of research. Even if it was not Gaius Petronius Arbiter - it is absolutely true and the sign of leaders with no real answer - just a desire to be seen to be doing something for political praise.
 -- Rod Kenyon, Sydney
 
 -- Anonymous 
My last boss before I retired was a fan of this quote. He had another one that was just as true and really struck home too: "Working with auditors is like wrestling with a pig in mud. It is OK till you realise that the pig is enjoying it"
 -- Chris Quinn, Bingley, UK
 
A word search of the Gutenberg text version of Satyricon shows nothing for the words "reorganizing" or "reorganized" and "illusion" shows up twice but not related to the subject quote. Conclusion: It does not seem to be from that text. The 1957 source may be the most reliable, if not the most elegant, source for now but eternal truth of human condition also seems to ring quite true.
 -- D Sadler, TX
 
I think Charlton Ogburn Jr was the reincarnation of Gaius Petronius Arbiter.
 -- Stan Smith, Langley Virginia
 
This quote reminds of the years I spent at a large university.
 -- HTR, Hardwick, vt
 
 
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