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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Quotes from Dune - Frank Herbert on Leadership

Dune is a science fiction/ecology saga (more than 6 books) written in the ’60’s and ’70’s by Frank Herbert. Dune is also a written simulation about governing (leading) an empire (organization). Like SimCity shows urban development over time and SimAnt models an ant colony, Dune explores cause and effect in the practice of management, leadership, environment, security, loyalty and economics over thousands of years. Frank Herbert’s observations on leadership are original, thought-provoking, and useful. Dick Davies

From Dune, 40th Anniversary edition:
“The Guild Navigators, gifted with limited prescience, had made the fatal decision: they'd chosen always the clear, safe course that leads ever downward to stagnation.” (p458, Dune)

From the third book of Dune:
“Perhaps your deficiency rests in the false assumption that you can order men to think and cooperate. This has been a failure of everything from religions to general staffs throughout history ... Men must want to do things out of their own innermost drives ... Every civilization depends on the quality of the individuals it produces.” (p335, Children of Dune)

From the fourth book of Dune:
“The difference between a good administrator and a bad one is about five heartbeats. Good administrators make immediate choices.”
“Acceptable choices?”
“They can usually be made to work. A bad administrator, on the other hand, hesitates, diddles around, asks for committees, for research and reports. Eventually he acts in ways which create serious problems.”
... A bad administrator is more concerned with reports than decisions. He wants the hard record he can display as an excuse for his errors.”
“And good administrators?”
“Oh, they depend on verbal orders. They never lie about what they've done if their verbal orders cause problems, and they surround themselves with people able to act wisely on verbal orders. Often the most important piece of information is that something has gone wrong. Bad administrators hide their mistakes until it's too late to make corrections.”
“Men of decision.”
One of the hardest things for a tyrant to find is people who actually make decisions ... Most bureaucracies before mine sought out and promoted people who avoided decisions.” (p240-1, God Emperor of Dune)

“Even a society such as the one he had created ... had no real hope of totally eliminating dangerously violent small weapons. The whole idea of controlling such things was a chimera, a dangerous and distracting myth. The key was to limit the desire for violence.” (p252)

“Not addressing immediate needs is an offense to the young.” (p257)

... there is knowledge you can only gain by participating in it. There's no way to learn it by standing off and looking and talking.” (p291)

From the fifth book of Dune:
“For the in-between universe where we find our daily lives, that which you believe is a dominant force. Your beliefs order the unfolding of daily events. If enough of us believe, a new thing can be made to exist. Belief structure creates a filter through which chaos is shifted into order. (p131, Heretics of Dune)

“Law always chooses sides on the basis of enforcement power. Morality and legal niceties have little to do with it when the real question is: Who has the clout?” (p151)

Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept. Who enjoys appearing inept?” (p222)

Philosophy is always dangerous because it promotes the creation of new ideas. (p449)

From the sixth book of Dune:
“Confine yourself to observing and you always miss the point of your own life. The object can be stated this way: Live the best life you can. Life is a game whose rules you learn if you leap into it and play it to the hilt. Otherwise, you are caught off balance, continually surprised by the shifting play. Non-players often whine and complain that luck always passes them by. They refuse to see that they can create some of their own luck.” (p56, Chapterhouse Dune)

“Remember: Bureaucracy elevates conformity ... Make that elevates ‘fatal stupidity’ to the status of religion.” (p111)

“Many things we do naturally become difficult only when we make them intellectual subjects. It is possible to know so much about a subject that you become totally ignorant.” (p114)

“Do actions agree with words? There's your measure of reliability. Never confine yourself to the words. Look for the consequences. That's how you ferret out things that work. That's what our much-vaunted truths are all about.” (p 128)

“Laws to suppress tend to strengthen what they would prohibit. This is the fine point on which all the legal professions of history have based their job security.” (p131)

“Delegate heavily to only the same people and you fell into bureaucracy.” (p133)

“Instincts and memories of all types ... even Archives-none of these things spoke for themselves except by compelling intrusions. None carried weight until formulated into a living consciousness. But whoever produced the formulation tipped the scales. All order is arbitrary. ...There is no reality. Only our own order imposed on everything.” (p137)

“Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect all who seek it ... We should grant power over our affairs only to those who are reluctant to hold it and then only under conditions that increase that reluctance.” (p151)

“If you don't see the difference between regulation and law, both have the force of law.”
“I see no difference.”
“Laws convey the myth of enforced change. A bright new future will come because of this law or that one. Laws enforce the future. Regulations are believed to enforce the past.”
In each instance, action is illusory. Like appointing a committee to study a problem. The more people on the committee, the more preconceptions applied to the problem.” (p166)

“Some never participate. Life happens to them. They get by on little more than dumb persistence and resist with anger or violence all things that might lift them out of resentment-filled illusions of security.” (p173)

From Sandworms of Dune
“Some problems are best solved with an optimistic approach. Optimism shines a light on alternatives that are otherwise not visible.” (p468)
Sheanna, Reflections on the New Order


  1. Not sure if this was in the book or just the movie...
    Baron : "Your Highness, there must be some mistake. I never requested your presence."
    Emperor : "Ah. But your lack of action demanded it.

  2. Nice to get a picture, jabberwocky!

    Lookin' gooood!

  3. I thought that this concept was a great one. It is from the original book.

    "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

  4. Hi Tom!

    Of course, The Bene Gesserit Creed.

    Great addition!