This is an old joke and a current non-joke. Here is the story copied from one of the multiple write ups available (Huffingtonpost, 2012)
The story of three envelopes is a business classic for dysfunctional organizations. It starts with an incoming manager replacing a recently fired outgoing manager. On his way out, the outgoing manager hands the new manager three envelopes and remarks, “when things get tough, open these one at a time.”
About three months goes by and things start to get rough. The manager opens his drawer where he keeps the three envelopes and opens #1. It reads: “Blame your predecessor.” So he does and it works like a charm.
Another three months passes and things are growing difficult again so the manger figures to try #2. It reads, “reorganize.” Again, his predecessor’s advice works like magic.
Finally, about nine months into the new job, things are getting really sticky. The manager figures it worked before, why not try again. So he opens the envelope drawer one last time and opens #3. It reads…”prepare three envelopes.”
But it is not a joke. It is a whole Theory Of Management
Here are some alternatives for the content of the envelops
Number 3 is always ‘prepare 3 envelops’. But number one and two work as well with
Centralize – decentralize
Reorganize – keep reorganizing you have not gone far enough
Call BIG (Big Consulting Group) – Fire BIG, call SBIG (Second Big Consulting Group)
Go back to your roots – get out of your roots, disrupt
And many others
The sad part of the joke is that it represents real life in many places.
I could imagine a start up that creates pre-prepared envelopes and sells them to management teams but in bulk: three buckets of envelops, number one with a variety of options, number 2 with another random set from books on ‘strategy’ and number 3 with envelops with the (unknown) same content: prepare 3.
Kickstarter, I am coming