MASLAM – Vain Operation to Soothe the Conscience

I only had the pleasure of meeting the impressive Yoel Ben Porat in person twice.

He was a brilliant person, with a sharp, uncompromising view of reality and a great sense for inventing new idioms.

We came to interview Yoel for an historical review of an organizational unit that he founded. We were planning to create a glorified PowerPoint describing the many successes of this unit. Much to our surprise , when we asked Yoel Ben Porat to describe it  he just said “It’s Maslam”.

We never heard the word before, so we asked for an explanation.In Hebrew it translates to “מבצע סרק להרגעת המצפון” which is loosely translated as an Acronym for “a Vain Operation to Soothe the Conscience” (VOSC ?).

What he meant to say was – it’s a useless body, it never had any achievements, it will never have any achievements and  it does not get any real budget or attention.The only reason it exists is that the real solution to the problem is expensive , but we are too afraid to cancel the whole thing as one they this problem might actually take place.

This is quite a common phenomenon in Israeli institutes. For years, after terror attacks, the Israeli government would send the air force to bomb “destinations” in Lebanon to retaliate . The destinations were always empty, since the enemy was expecting it and the retaliation never worked.

The hourly  radio news had a constant the tag line, that almost became a joke, “Our forces have bombed destinations in Lebanon and returned home safely”.

Not surprisingly , civilian managers fall into the same trap quite often. Look around you and search for the MASLAMS you created –

  • The special quality improvement project that lasted almost two weeks, but didn’t solve any root problems
  • The security officer who is supposed to prevent security bugs, but does not get any budget
  • The “We love the customer” signs posted around the office when most meetings are on “lets change the pricing to raise the profits”
  • The “Lets improve the documentation project” by asking every developer to stay an extra hour a day to write an FAQ.
  • The “New SMB product” that was created by disabling 80% of the  enterprise features, instead of creating a product that SMB really need

One thing that people hate the most is cognitive dissonance. When critical issues are at stake, put all the resources to work.

If it is  a MASLAM you are creating, you might as well cancel the whole project ASAP.


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