Clichés are comforting. Clichés don’t require thought. Clichés are risk-free. And clichés can be used to pad up anything that lacks substance: from press releases to statements in parliament. The cliché is the communicator’s equivalent of bread crumbs.

Which is why Indian politicians always pledge to “bring the perpetrators to justice". American presidents “will find you and destroy you wherever you are". Ask marketing types which of their products they love most, and they’ll vomit some nonsense about “all of my products are like my children. Can you choose one of your children over the other?"

(Of course you can. If push comes to shove you must always pick the child that has better toilet manners and greater capacity to learn Chinese.)

The modern workplace also has a terribly tiresome cliché that it likes to use over and over again. The cliché is regularly lampooned. But, like The Cricketer Who Shall Not Be Named, it refuses to give up and go away.


“People are our greatest asset." (Please point your mouth away from this newspaper/screen as you projectile-regurgitate your breakfast.)

Yet people say it all the time. And each time I hear it I want to walk up to the speaker, poke them in the eye with a pen, and see if there is any actual life in there.

People may be your most expensive asset. People may even be your most critical asset. (If you are an organ smuggler, for instance.)

But people are also your weakest link. People make mistakes. People often make mistakes without knowing it. But many people also make mistakes wilfully.

Other “assets" make mistakes too. Computers crash. Hard drives break down. LCD projectors conk off frequently, if by “frequently" you mean “now". And networks are pre-programed to find the one printer loaded with your CEO’s letter head, and print your resume on it. In landscape mode.

But there is a difference between people and printers. People often try to cover up, disown or foist off their mistakes on other people. Printers don’t. They just sit there, embarrassed, waiting for the guy from IT to come and repair them by removing the cartridge and replacing it and removing it and replacing it and removing it and replacing it and going for lunch and removing it and replacing it and then calling the service centre.

People, in general, try to not report their errors at all. And when you point errors out to them they get defensive, or blame it on something or somebody else.

My point is not to ridicule people or edify printers. But to share with you why I think organizations are actually quite important.

I’ve been writing this column for the last five years or so. Which translates to something like 200 instalments of Cubiclenama. Over this period we’ve been somewhat critical of companies. Indeed much of this column’s metier has been to help cubiclists work around and beyond the naff constraints that work puts on their lives and minds.

This perhaps explains why readers so often ask me if I am some kind of left-wing extremist. Are you, they write, a Marxist ideologue with a hatred of big corporations, big business and capitalism? Is this because you are a Malayali?

No, no, a thousand times no. Malayalis are not all communists. Indeed most Malayalis are only communists on working days.

There are aspects of many workplaces that I abhor. But I also understand that organizations help to do things that individuals can’t. For instance, they help to fund good ideas, propagate inventions and give great scale to innovation.

They also help to temper the human tendency to make mistakes and then cover them up.

In the last few days, we’ve seen at least two cases of individuals committing errors that organizations could have avoided. Or at least scaled back.

The first is the ongoing scandal over an economics paper that fuelled austerity measures all over the world, but is now believed to have been quite inaccurate. (Google “Reinhart Rogoff" for more details.)

Many say that this paper directly led to bad public policy that has now impoverished millions of people. The original authors remain defiant. Preliminary investigations suggest that there were fundamental errors even in their spreadsheets.

What if this report had been generated by a bank or a think tank with internal mechanisms to double-check data?

Secondly, over the last few days we’ve seen a steady stream of utterly unreliable information flowing in from online networks about the Boston Marathon bombing case.

It is romantic to think that a terror investigation can be crowdsourced accurately. The crowds can help. But you still need organizations with proven expertise and tested systems. When CNN made a mistake in mis-reporting the arrest of a suspect, they were subject to withering criticism. Which will quite possibly lead to internal soul-searching.

But what happens to the social networker that names entirely innocent people as terror suspects? Nothing at all. He or she escapes into the voids of the Web.

It is easy to slag off organizations, companies and workplaces. In fact, this column does it all the time. But organizations are vital. People, and printers, make mistakes all the time.

Good organizations know how to filter this noise, temper egos and draw out the music, as it were.

Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at

To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to