What Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera can teach us about organisations and change

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readSep 22, 2021

Gabriel Garcia Marquez knew a thing or two about management. And about change management.

Notice how in this extract, the secretary, who ‘only has a job from charity’, bides her time and carefully shares her insights with the boss through a channel and in a way that might be accepted.

In this story, the ‘general section’ is actually a ‘self-generating, self-licking icecream’ — the place where everything everyone doesn’t want to deal with goes to die. Except it doesn’t die, it thrives like mould and multiplies.

Do you know any example of ‘general sections’ in organisations?

In the book, Leona Cassiani goes on to great things within the business. But it’s also intriguing to ask: why might the General Section *not* have been abolished? What was it really for?

pdf: gabriel-garcia-marquez-love-in-the-time-of-chDownload

The Administrative Section was on the upper floor of the building, in small but comfortable and well-appointed offices… At the end of the corridor, like any employee, Uncle Leo XII dispatched his business in an office similar to all the others… On the ground floor was the Passenger Section, with a waiting room that had rustic benches and a counter for selling tickets and handling baggage. Last of all was the confusing General Section, its name alone suggesting the vagueness of its functions, where problems that had not been solved elsewhere in the company went to die an ignominious death. There sat Leona Cassiani, lost behind a student’s desk surrounded by corn stacked for shipping and unresolved papers, on the day that Uncle Leo XII himself went to see what the devil he could think of to make the General Section good for something. After three hours of questions, theoretical assumptions, and concrete evidence, with all the employees in the middle of the room, he returned to his office tormented by the certainty that instead of a solution to so many problems, he had found just the opposite: new and different problems with no solution. The next day, when Florentino Ariza came into his office, he found a memorandum from Leona Cassiani, with the request that he study it and then show it to his uncle if he thought it appropriate. She was the only one who had not said a word during the inspection the previous afternoon… It had an alarming simplicity. Uncle Leo XII had proposed a thorough reorganization, but Leona Cassiani did not agree, for the simple reason that in reality the General Section did not exist: it was the dumping ground for annoying but minor problems that the other sections wanted to get rid of. As a consequence, the solution was to eliminate the General Section and return the problems to the sections where they had originated, to be solved there.