"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 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."

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