Venkatesh Rao's Gervais Principle is an enlightening take on human organizational structure. When I first read it in 2014, I had never seen The Office. Moreover, I assumed it wasn't worth seeing. I associated the show with kids from my high school gym class... wearing "Dunder Mifflin" t-shirts, and constantly cracking "that's what she said"s (offensive to my delicate sensibilities🥀... little did I know, that was just their version of Gametalk).
I still find it hard to sit through an entire episode of The Office– I find it more horrific than funny– but I was wrong about its artistic value. Watching some of Rao's references definitely enhances the Gervais Principle reading experience. So, here is a selected list of Office YouTube clips and the Gervais Principle excerpts that mention them.
Note that in most cases, I couldn't find the entire set of relevant scenes. The utility here is less in seeing the whole drama play out, but in building a rough mental model for the characters if, like me, you've never watched the show.
When Michael’s boss and dominatrix-lover Jan suffers a psychotic meltdown, her boss, the uber-sociopath David Wallace, has no great hopes of a good outcome. Setting up yet another band-aid move, he calls up Michael for an interview to take up Jan’s spot.
So Ryan floats directly to the top, where he does what is expected of him — lead a bold strategic gamble by building an online sales channel operation. As with any big strategic move, the operation has its risks, and fails.
And so, when Jim (in the first true Sociopath move of his career) engineers a private meeting with the visiting David Wallace to carve out a promotion, Michael tries to crash the meeting. When politely turned away, he instantly switches scripts and pretends he is too busy and that he is the one who can’t attend. And then he sneaks into the meeting room anyway, first with various excuses, and finally by hiding in a Trojan-Horse cheese cart.
At a Dunder-Mifflin management party, shortly after Michael and Jan disclose their affair to David Wallace, per HR requirements, Wallace casually invites Jim to blow off the party for a while and shoot hoops in the backyard. Once outside, Wallace nonchalantly asks, “So what’s up with Jan and Michael?” He is clearly fishing for information, having observed the bizarre couple dynamics at the party.
The day, and Round Two, ends in a stalemate. Though the opening move by Andy was good (Dwight does not question Andy’s arrogation of interviewing rights), his mistake was in playing his hand openly. If he had maintained the fiction of fair due process, he could have used Dwight’s need for formal affiliations to firmly establish his superiority. But it takes more of a developmental advantage to play a game at two levels. So Andy overplayed his hand and turned a win into a draw.
...the episode when Michael, playing Willy Wonka, puts golden tickets for a 10% discount into random reams of paper. Unfortunately for him, all the tickets are found by a huge customer, and David Wallace prepares to rain fury on Scranton for ruining margins.
I find this comment hilarious, btw (I'm sure you can figure out why):