Tips for dealing with bureaucracy

I'm an optimist; I believe in progress and long-term improvement. Sometimes, when dealing with bureaucracy, I'm not so sure, though.

Recognize it

Bureaucracy is not the natural state in a competitive, capitalist economy; certain things seem to encourage it:
  • Competitive barriers. Why isn't the bureaucracy circumventable? Examples: blessing by a higher power (law e.g. the courts, religious hierarchy), commercial barriers to entry (capital intensity, patents), legal regulation (there is generally only one regulator of an industry), or custom (one public school per district)
  • Big, spread-out groups of people
  • Organizational age: older organizations tend to be more bureaucratic than younger ones
  • No skin in the game: individual decision-makers don't share in the consequences of their actions, e.g. mortgage brokers getting commissions even on bad loans, regulators without incentives to make it easy to do business
  • Find an internal champion

    When someone tells you no, your first instinct might be to get mad at them. Don't do this.

    Instead, try to get someone on your side. In many cases, the low-level people think the rules are as stupid as you do, but have no power to change them. Try to get them invested in your case; treat them with kindness, and you'll stand out among a sea of rude people.

    Don't try to change the rules

    Your odds of them changing the rules just to accommodate your unique set of circumstances: essentially zero. Don't delude yourself. This isn't the hill you want to die on.

    Come prepared

    Talk to people who recently went through the process; be an empiricist. Read the instructions, but realize they may not be followed.

    Try to do things by mail/phone, not in the office. If you must make an in-person visit, try to make an appointment, schedule the visit off-hours, and in no case, ever, simply show up and expect to be served.

    Bring every form of payment device you can muster, including cash, checks, debit, and credit cards. Bring at least 2-3 forms of government-issued identification, including your passport and driver's license.