"I favor general use of the psychic-prison metaphor to free people from the traps of favored ways of thinking and to unleash their power and creativity."
--Gareth Morgan
"We cannot just remodel the prison. No, we've got to get out of it."
--W. Edwards Deming

Monday, August 28, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reader feedback

I received a personal response to an earlier post to the DEN list. I have removed identifying information to protect the privacy of the sender. My reply is after:

----- Original Message -----
From: <anonymous>

Sent: Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Subject: Thank You

Thank you for posting your comments on Taylor and Deming of Wed, 2 Aug 06. It is most appropriate and directly on the money. I couldn't agree with you more. Your views and the article on "Social Elimination" are bang on for me at this time. As I face all of this and more because I've grown faster than the organization on Dr Deming's System of Profound Knowledge. I have even used this line on numerous occasion to date, "forgive them because they don't know what they are doing". At least someone understands.
Thanks again,


I appreciated receiving your email very much. It's nice to know that mine is not a lone voice in the wilderness.

I too have felt such social eliminative forces. [self-censored content]. I think I need to tread very carefully, however. I'm trying to speak in general terms and refer to unidentified others (spanning multiple employers) who I think were unfairly treated, without publicly suggesting details about [self-censored content]. Unfortunately, that's hard to do, and speaking out about workplace mobbing at all I think entails some amount of career risk. It's easy to become labeled a "difficult" or "angry" employee:


Just as some of Deming's views may come up against persuasive detractors (Hoopes was one I identified), so I think will some of Westhues' views. Gavin De Becker is one such candidate. His book, "The Gift of Fear", is a powerful one, as it uses genuine tragedies as examples. But his chapter, titled "Occupational Hazards", on dealing with so-called "problem employees" I find very problematic in itself. When juxtaposed with Westhues' book, "Eliminating Professors", the contrast is disturbing. De Becker's advice is to eliminate a problem employee sooner rather than later, almost at the first signs that he makes others uncomfortable, the reasoning being that this could be a prelude to violence. No mention is made of workplace situations such as unfair treatment or accusations, which could justifiably make someone angry, at least temporarily.

My current plan is, when I get time to pursue it, is to contrast further the perspectives of Westhues' and De Becker or at least the conclusions reached for courses of action re: the workplace. It is interesting to note that of DeBecker's clients, university administrations are among the biggest, the ones most requesting his company's services, while Westhues' five [most recent] books are primarily about workplace mobbing in university settings.

One thing that DeBecker advocates is the use of some deception when terminating an employee. I think that this may contrast sharply with the writings of Sissela Bok, who wrote "the trilogy": "Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life", "Secrets", and "Mayhem" (about violence). Bok, like De Becker, is very interested in causes of violence in society. I think that between the two of them, some particular suggestions for action are likely to be widely divergent, however. I have more reading to do to elucidate this, and that's another key area of research interest for me.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Images of Taylor

In previous posts on Taylor, I believe I presented my opinion without proper qualification. While I would oppose "Neo-Taylorism" as it might be imposed upon creative endeavors, especially my own (e.g. software development), Taylor's scientific management is still highly applicable and desirable in some circumstances (e.g. managing the software code itself). Gareth Morgan, in his excellent book Images of Organization, makes that point well and helps point out some other circumstances:

"Surgical wards, aircraft maintenance departments, finance offices, courier firms, and other organizations where precision, safety, and clear accountability are at a premium are also able to implement mechanistic approaches successfully, at least in certain aspects of their operations." (p. 35)

"But in others it can have many unfortunate consequences. It is thus important to understand how and when we are engaging in mechanistic thinking, and how so many popular theories and taken-for-granted ideas about organization support this thinking." (p. 22)

Sometimes we purposefully engage in mechanistic thinking with regard to ourselves:

"Taylorism was typically imposed on the work-force. But many of us impose forms of Taylorism on ourselves as we train and develop specialized capacities for thought and action and shape our bodies to conform with preconceived ideals." (p. 32)

Taylor, of course, figures prominently into Morgan's chapter on the metaphor of "organizations as machines." With regard to Taylor's contribution, Morgan writes:

"History may well judge that Taylor came before his time. His principles of scientific management make superb sense for organizing production when robots rather than human beings are the main productive force, when organizations can truly become machines." (p. 33)

Taylor shows up again in Morgan's chapter on the metaphor of "organizations as psychic prisons":

"Taylor's life provides a splendid illustration of how unconscious concerns and preoccupations can have an effect on an organization. For it is clear that his whole theory of scientific management was the product of the inner struggles of a disturbed and neurotic personality. His attempt to organize and control the world, whether in childhood games or in systems of scientific management, was really an attempt to organize and control himself." (p. 205)

According to Morgan, Taylor's "aggressive authoritarian relationship with the worker was accompanied in his own mind by the idea that he was a friend."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A suicide note?

I just came across a blog author's farewell blog entry that I found to be very disturbing. I can find no other reference to it on the internet so am left wondering what happened to him. Before the alarming final entry the author chronicles losing his job and looking for work in IT:


Censorship and censure

"Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it. It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever."

--Noam Chomsky

I came across that quote recently and was struck by it. When it's not your ideas that are discredited, but when you yourself are discredited for expressing them, I believe a similar dynamic may take effect.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"A whole personality had been liquidated without a trace..."

Two years ago, Cao Maobing attempted to organize his fellow workers at a state-owned silk factory into a trade union. He was sent to the No. 4 psychiatric hospital in Yancheng [China] the day after he spoke to Western reporters. His fellow workers, according to an American who knows Cao, described him warmly: “Mr. Cao is an upright, kind, and law-abiding citizen. He is a brave and intelligent worker. He made a lot of personal sacrifice to help other workers to uphold their right to basic living.” Cao’s wife said he was being forcibly medicated. “He’s absolutely not insane and refuses to take the medicine. But eventually they force him to take it.” She said she was told to leave the hospital after her husband was medicated. According to other reports, he was also given electroshock treatment on several occasions. Cao was released after six months and has never returned to trade union activity.
(U.S. journalist), “China’s Psychiatric Terror,”
New York Review of Books,
27 February 2003.

The title quote to this blog entry is from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Thursday, August 03, 2006

More Taylor and Deming

The following was a recent post I made to the DEN discussion list:

I fear I am like a small annoying creature scurrying at the feet of giants. I gather you are mostly all long-term practitioners with impressive pedigrees, whereas I am just an interested lay person with perhaps an unusual perspective--sounded kinder than 'lunatic' :-) Thanks for your continued indulgence.

Perhaps I was not being fair regarding Taylor. I did not mean to malign him as a person, but rather to join in the chorus against "Neo-Taylorism" as it has been defined in the reference that the moderator of this list has included as a bracketed note in response to more than one post about Taylor. That reference I'll include again here for convenience: Deming's Profound Changes - When will the Sleeping Giant Awaken? by Delavigne & Robertson, ISBN 0-13-292690-3

My further reading reveals Taylor himself was concerned about the mis-application of his scientific management, and warned that it "it is impossible to hurry it beyond a certain speed". He argued against those who would use time studies "more or less as a club to drive the workmen into doing a larger day's work for approximately the same pay that they received in the past." He emphasized friendly cooperation between management and worker, which is, if not quite to the level of "reciprocity" advocated by Martin Buber, seems to be a good step in the right direction.

To sum up, in the words of Taylor himself: "Scientific management, in it's essence, consists of a certain philosophy, which results, as before stated, in a combination of the four great underlying principles of management." He includes those principles in a footnote: "First. The development of a true science. Second. The scientific selection of the workman. Third. His scientific education and development. Fourth. Intimate friendly cooperation between management and the men." (p. 130)

He goes on to write that "When, however, the elements of this mechanism, such as time study, functional foremanship, etc., are used without being accompanied by the true philosophy of management, the results are in many cases disastrous." I think we can assume that Taylor was well-intentioned, and hated to see the hurried and careless misapplication of his mechanisms that resulted in "strikes, followed by the downfall of the men who attempted to make the change, and by a return to conditions throughout the establishment far worse than those that had existed before the effort was made." (p. 134)

But in reading some of Taylor's writings, I am given pause. The second element of "the four elements which constitute the essence of scientific management" posits "the elmination of all men who refuse to or are unable to adopt the best methods." (p. 85) Regardless of Taylor's intention in using the word "elimination", this term is personally disturbing to me, particularly as I have seen over the course of my long career situations where people were "set up" for failure, where certain key information or assistance was seemingly selectively withheld in order to effect such elimination. In struggling to make sense of what seemed to me as such perplexing cruelty, I came across Westhues' writings:

"In lectures on social elimination, I have sometimes said that in every human being are three appetites: for food, for sex, and for humiliating somebody else. The third craving is not ordinarily grouped with the first two. All agree that hunger and sexual desire have a physiological basis, that they drive human behavior in overt and hidden ways, and that they are at times so strong as to preoccupy a person ompletely, turning him or her into a raging beast, a creature we scarcely recognize as human.

"Notwithstanding its less evident basis in biology, the eliminative impulse, the lust to wipe another person out, is categorically similar. It can consume a person to the point of obsession, spread like a virus through a group, and become the driving force behind collective energy. Yet unlike the appetites for food and sex, this one has come to be proscribed in the process of civilization. It is supposed to be held in check by a universal compassion, common allegiance to the 'brotherhood of man.' The eliminative impulse, when it does seize control of human behavior, is therefore almost always denied, obscured by the pretense of serving some lofty goal. Girard posits a 'persecutory unconscious' in those caught up in the snowballing process (2001, p. 126). It is, he says, what Jesus referred to in his prayer on the cross, 'Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing' (Luke 23: 34)."

I do beg your indulgence, as I come to the Deming list after my reading and understanding of Deming--though completely and apologetically inadequate--causes me to have the inkling that Deming was concerned with human beings and their treatment as much as the statistical underpinnings of his principles. With regard to ratings, he quotes the effect: "it leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, dejected, feeling inferior, some even depressed..." (Out of the Crisis, p. 102). Certainly this is the opposite of joy in one's work, something which Deming strongly advocated enabling, and of which I can think of no better ongoing reward for a lifetime of devotion to one's craft and career.

Deming's work expresses his caring insights into human behavior and fulfillment in the workplace, and I think some of these insights may even help in identifying possible examples of what Westhues calls the eliminative impulse. Deming wrote "Failure to make a good grade in the annual rating leads a man to look around for better opportunities elsewhere. It is not unusual for the strongest competitor to be someone that split off on failure to receive a promotion." ( p. 121) Another outcome might be that the employee does not immediately quit, but after a time is fired, resulting in--what does not kill us only makes us stronger and in some instances pissed off to boot--high motivation to become an even stronger competitor. Harvey Mackay may have done well to read the above quote from Deming. In the brief excerpts from his book below, Mackay seems to contradict himself in that the advice he gives (lesson 49) conflicts with his own experience (lesson 67)--how could a consuming bitterness that lasted for nearly five years be anything but miserable??

Lesson 49

"When I use this line in speeches, I get more 'amens' than a Billy Graham sermon. You can't put a little plaque with those words on your desk, but if you are a manager, you would be well advised to engrave them on your psyche."

Lesson 67

"....I once fired an employee who then went into competition with me and began using what I thought were unfair business tactics. The psychic energy and accumulated bitterness that went into my thoughts of revenge consumed me for the better part of five years."

--Harvey Mackay, Swim with the Sharks

I think my question may be answered by the title of Chris Hedges great book, "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" (shorter lecture here: http://forum.wgbh.org/wgbh/forum.php?lecture_id=1123). Whether real battles or figurative ones, we derive meaning from the struggle. People who are shot at and people who are "eliminated" from their workplace environment I'd guess have similar psychic responses, fear being the most obvious. Deming, in his concern about the negative effects of fear in the workplace, I think was on to an important principle. James Hoopes flippantly dismisses Deming's exhortation to "drive fear out of the workplace" by sarcastically remarking: "Yeah, scare the hell out of it!"

Hoopes might do well to pick up a copy of "Oxymoronica, paradoxical wit and wisdom from history's greatest wordsmiths" by Dr. Mardy Grothe. Though Deming was not quoted in Grothe's book, I think Deming's "drive fear out of the workplace" quotation has that quality Grothe describes: "Many examples of oxymoronica appear illogical or self-contradictory on the surface. But at a deeper level, they usually make a great deal of sense and are often profoundly true."