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How Slavery Inspired Modern Business Management | Boston Review
"The most striking parallel between slavery and scientific management can be found in the “task idea,” which Taylor described as “the most prominent single element in modern scientific management.” The task system is closely identified with Henry Laurence Gantt, who is well known today for the Gantt chart, a scheduling tool, which still bears his name. During the heyday of scientific management, Gantt developed a “task and bonus system,” which paired a flat task and a time wage with bonuses for overwork. Workers would be paid a base wage plus an additional piece rate for production above a certain minimum. By combining an achievable (rather than a maximal) task with bonuses, workers would enjoy the security of a minimum payment but also be encouraged to strive beyond it."

"Writing in 1918, historian Ulrich Bonnell Phillips acknowledged the parallels between scientific management and slavery. As Daniel Joseph Singal notes, when Phillips described the sophistication of southern management strategies, he liked to reference a series of articles in the Southern Planter by H. W. Vick, whose “analysis of stance and movement” resembled some of the most advanced industrial studies of his own time. Perhaps Phillips’s own rosy views of slavery enabled him to see these connections. One of the most influential historians of slavery, his work was infused with racial bias. He famously characterized slavery as a kind of “school” for the enslaved, and his descriptions of the interactions between planters and their slaves bear striking similarities to the ways Taylor described the ideal interactions between managers and workers. In 1911, during the many months of congressional hearings on scientific management, Taylor attempted to distance his system from that of slavery by describing it as a school for workers who did not know how to work: this “is not nigger driving; this is kindness; this is teaching; this is doing what I would like mighty well to have done to me if I were a boy trying to learn how to do something. This is not a case of cracking a whip over a man and saying, ‘Damn you, get there.’”

Half a century after Phillips, Keith Aufhauser again described the extent to which the theory and practice of the slaveholders conformed to Taylor’s system of scientific management. During a decade of heated debate over the nature of southern slavery, Aufhauser argued that there were deep parallels not just between planters’ tools and those advocated by scientific managers, but also about the power relations they reflected. He wrote, “As far as discipline at the workplace goes, . . . the master-slave relationship is quite similar to the capitalist-wage-laborer relationship in scientifically managed enterprises.” Two decades after Aufhauser, historian Mark Smith would again describe aspects of plantation management that looked strikingly like scientific management. Smith focused on the role of time discipline on the plantation, pointing to the widespread use of clocks to assess how much labor the enslaved could perform.

Despite this research and more, the parallels between present-day business management practices and slavery have been persistently neglected in mainstream discussions about the history of U.S. enterprise. So much so that in 2003 management professor Bill Cooke argued that the failure of management scholars to account for this history amounted to “denial.” Cooke wrote that information about slaveholding business practices was widely available in published sources and thus had been willfully overlooked.

In some cases, the evidence for slavery can be literally read between the lines. Take the example of Gantt, whose task and bonus system so closely paralleled the one used by some slaveholders. Gantt is still sometimes profiled in modern management textbooks and web guides. In a phrase copied between them so frequently that it is hard to be sure of its original author, Gantt is said to have been born to a family of prosperous farmers in Maryland, but that “his early years were marked by some deprivation as the Civil War brought about changes to the family fortunes.” Those “changes,” so easily elided, were wrought by the more than sixty enslaved people who escaped from the plantation and took their freedom. The legacy of slavery is simultaneously acknowledged and erased.

To move beyond denial requires not only an acknowledgment that slaveholders practiced a kind of scientific management but also a broader rethinking of deep-seated assumptions about the relationship between capitalism and control. Though there are many exceptions, histories of business practices—at least those that reach a general audience—tend to be both individual and social success stories. They tell stories that are win-win, with businesspeople earning profits and customers, laborers, and communities benefiting along the way. This can, of course, be true. The shift from seeing trade as zero-sum to positive-sum was one of the most important transitions underpinning the rise of capitalism. But capitalism does not make this win-win inevitable.

Growing the pie brings no guarantee about how it will be divided. The sharing of rewards depends on how the rules are written or, differently put, on how markets are regulated. Slavery shows how one particular set of rules enabled precise management but paired its efficiencies with horrifying costs. Slavery also illustrates how certain kinds of market expansion—allowing lives to be bonded in labor and sold—can produce radical inequality. Economic growth can accompany the expansion of freedom and opportunity. But, as in the case of slavery, the expansion of market freedoms for a few can depend on the limitation of all kinds of freedoms for others. Growth can accompany choice, but it can also build on violence and injustice.

Certain kinds of management flourish when managers enjoy a very high level of control over their workers. The rise of scientific management in the late nineteenth century should be seen both as a moment of innovation and as the reemergence of old technologies of control. With the closing of the frontier, workers had fewer opportunities to leave the factory to return to the land. With immigration and rising inequality, manufacturers enjoyed access to a plentiful labor supply. The age of trust and monopoly limited outside options, and collusion meant that even when workers could legally go elsewhere, the circumstances were not necessarily better. Only in circumstances such as these did it make sense for managers such as Taylor to attempt to calculate “what fraction of a horse power a man power is,” with the expectation that this maximum rate of work could be acquired for an hourly wage, or perhaps a wage and a “bonus.”

Modern narratives of capitalist development often emphasize the positive-sum outcomes of many individual choices. They suggest that free, even selfish, decisions go hand in hand with growth and innovation. They often assume that vast wealth accumulated by a few accompanies improved circumstances for many. The history of slavery’s capitalism warns against all these expectations. My new book, Accounting for Slavery, as well as work by historians such as Daina Ramey Berry and Calvin Schermerhorn, shows that slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was highly adaptable to the pursuit of profit. Free markets for slaveholders flourished, and their control over men, women, and children expedited production, both by pushing up the pace of labor and by transporting it to new, more fertile soils. Slaveholders’ manipulation of human capital compounded it into massive fortunes—both through financial maneuvering and through human reproduction.

When Harvard Business Review marked its ninetieth anniversary in 2012, Taylor made it into all three featured essays, offering an inspirational point of reference for the ability of managers to transform the broader economy. The business history of plantation slavery offers a very different point of reference—a cautionary tale that warns us what profit-seeking can look like when everything, including lives, is up for sale. The heritage of U.S. business includes both stories of innovation and those of extreme violence. Often the two are deeply intertwined. This was true in specific ways for scientific management, and it was undeniable for plantation slavery. Reckoning with these uncomfortable histories can help us to see the deep connections between capitalism and control and, perhaps, even to find a more humane way forward."
taylorism  management  slavery  unschooling  deschooling  schooliness  schooling  2018  caitlinrosenthal  economics  injustice  socialjustice  scientificmanagement  henrylaurencegantt  scheduling  motivation  keithaufhauser  ulrichbonnellphillips  danieljosephsingal  control  hierarchy  tasks  capitalism  dainarameyberry  calvinschermerhorn  markets  growth  frederickwinslowtaylor 
september 2018 by robertogreco
Why time management is ruining our lives | Oliver Burkeman | Technology | The Guardian
"All of our efforts to be more productive backfire – and only make us feel even busier and more stressed"

"At the very bottom of our anxious urge to manage time better – the urge driving Frederick Winslow Taylor, Merlin Mann, me and perhaps you – it’s not hard to discern a familiar motive: the fear of death. As the philosopher Thomas Nagel has put it, on any meaningful timescale other than human life itself – that of the planet, say, or the cosmos – “we will all be dead any minute”. No wonder we are so drawn to the problem of how to make better use of our days: if we could solve it, we could avoid the feeling, in Seneca’s words, of finding life at an end just when we were getting ready to live. To die with the sense of nothing left undone: it’s nothing less than the promise of immortality by other means.

But the modern zeal for personal productivity, rooted in Taylor’s philosophy of efficiency, takes things several significant steps further. If only we could find the right techniques and apply enough self-discipline, it suggests, we could know that we were fitting everything important in, and could feel happy at last. It is up to us – indeed, it is our obligation – to maximise our productivity. This is a convenient ideology from the point of view of those who stand to profit from our working harder, and our increased capacity for consumer spending. But it also functions as a form of psychological avoidance. The more you can convince yourself that you need never make difficult choices – because there will be enough time for everything – the less you will feel obliged to ask yourself whether the life you are choosing is the right one.

Personal productivity presents itself as an antidote to busyness when it might better be understood as yet another form of busyness. And as such, it serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days. “How we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, in what reads like a foreshadowing of our present circumstances. “Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”

You can seek to impose order on your inbox all you like – but eventually you’ll need to confront the fact that the deluge of messages, and the urge you feel to get them all dealt with, aren’t really about technology. They’re manifestations of larger, more personal dilemmas. Which paths will you pursue, and which will you abandon? Which relationships will you prioritise, during your shockingly limited lifespan, and who will you resign yourself to disappointing? What matters?

For Merlin Mann, consciously confronting these questions was a matter of realising that people would always be making more claims on his time – worthy claims, too, for the most part – than it would be possible for him to meet. And that even the best, most efficient system for managing the emails they sent him was never going to provide a solution to that. “Eventually, I realised something,” he told me. “Email is not a technical problem. It’s a people problem. And you can’t fix people.”"
time  timemanagement  productivity  psychology  gtd  2016  oliverburkeman  stress  busyness  frederickwinslowtaylor  taylorism  merlinmann  technology  thomasnagel  humans  seneca  efficiency 
december 2016 by robertogreco
The Pitfalls of Productivity -
"There’s also the question of who really benefits when workers get more done. Mr. Poole writes critically of companies’ productivity initiatives:

“The latest wheeze is the Big Data field of ‘workforce science,’ in which everything – patterns of emails, the length of telephone calls — may be measured and consigned to a comparative database to create a perfect management panopticon. It is tempting to suspect that the ambition thus to increase ‘worker productivity’ is aimed at getting more work out of each employee for the same (or less) money.”

And while workers who get more productive may initially see raises or promotions, the labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein told Op-Talk, companies will soon come to expect that higher level of productivity from everybody: “over time, and not very much time, the corporation will say ‘this is the new work norm.’” This has already happened, he added, with the expectation that workers be reachable around the clock. A better approach, he said, would be to improve job protections and stability, since workers are actually more productive when their employment is more secure.

For Mr. Bailey, though, productivity doesn’t necessarily mean working more at your job: “I think everybody has a different reason for wanting to become more productive, and I think you should figure that out before you invest in your productivity,” he said. “I think of productivity as way to accomplish more meaningful things in a short amount of time, so you can make more time for the things that are actually important to you.”

And Dr. Gregg suggested that the systems we use to organize our work could be used to bring us together rather than to drive us apart. “I would like to encourage a kind of mindfulness that is less individual and more collective,” she said. Her hope for productivity apps and other technologies is that “they’ll allow us to have a better conversation about collective work practices, and what are the conditions that individuals feel that they need to get done what’s being asked of them in the workplace.”

“Mindfulness can also mean being mindful of others,” she said, “and that’s really the collective labor tradition that I would like to see continue.”"
gtd  gettingthingsdone  productivity  busyness  2014  annanorth  chrisbailey  stevenpoole  frederickwinslowtaylor  efficiency  melissagregg  slow  taylorism  jessicalamb-shapiro  bigdata  nelsonlichtenstein  mindfulness  labor  work  capitalism  industrialization 
october 2014 by robertogreco

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