Phil over at FuckedCompany.com has this great Customer Service email thread concerning a Dell employee who had the audacity to refer a problem directly to Michael Dell, the CEO. He only did this because the customer in question had been hounding the company for a solid year to get a power adapter, and Dell was ignoring her. What I think is interesting is how the transcipt of the emails shows that while Michael Dell (who responds) is concerned about the customer, all the layers of bureacracy are concerned (of course) with how a lowly customer service drone could have done this--none of them seem surprised or concerned that it took a year to get a part somewhere. I think here we are looking at the difference between "acceptable incompetence" and "unusual, attention-grabbing behaviors". You know that were it a choice, the Dell mid-level managers would rather have had that part stay lost forever than attract the eyes of their CEO for even a moment.
It's common sense, but it bears repeating: bureacracies exist to perpetuate themselves. Mao didn't know how right he was when he put that little bon mot in his little Red Book.