"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

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."

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