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Sly-entific Management 3

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First Installment
Second Installment

What starts as inspiration, gets explained as technique. Then technique gets taught as if that would induce inspiration.

The history of every management scheme, every movement since Scientific Management, has followed exactly the same pattern. It starts with some visionary, a real oddball, experiencing an insight. [Hey, that works!] Usually for no reason directly related to anything the oddball actually did (but sometimes due entirely to passionate public relations), the odd insight gets noticed. Perhaps it gets a little prominent press.

Then the danger point: popularization. Everyone who can misspell the name hangs a shingle and proclaims mastery. To defend brand integrity, certifications are offered. The market floods with practitioners, societies, devotees, as well as charlatans. By the time prominent companies notice and join in the throng, the originating spirit, the inspiration (which is and always was quite personal, context-dependent, and, well, nothing like a process in the first place) has been thoroughly branded, man-handled, and shop-worn until it resembles even more of the same of whatever was already happening.

Once the major corporations show real interest, the movement is certainly in decline. The major corporations have no interest in doing anything any different, and little ability to change their spots, anyway. So, like they did with Scientific Management a hundred years ago, recognizing the commercial necessity of associating with the latest, greatest movement, they adopt the label while continuing to do pretty much what they were always doing, while proclaiming themselves transformed.

"In 1922, Persons (then President of The Taylor Society) announced that one need not "be a 'Taylor man' or represent a 'Taylor plant'" to join the [Taylor] Society. Membership now meant only that one was interested in that field, and was "open-minded and appreciative of the great contributions to the development of better management." Now the staff members of the large corporations flocked to the Taylor Society. These officials usually had no intention of revamping their firms in accordance with the stringent requirements of the Taylor System; rather, they would shape the mechanisms of Taylorism to fit into the existing structure of their companies. Members of the "Human Engineering Department" of General Electric and AT&T began to take part in Taylor Society activities. Student branches of the Taylor Society at the best business schools introduced Scientific Management to the future officialdom of the large corporations." (excerpted from Efficiency and Uplift-Scientific Management in the Progressive Era 1890-1920 by Samuel Haber, 1964, University of Chicago Press T58.H23)

Most practitioners complain about this distastefully political meat grinder without fully acknowledging that their movement is no less political than the orthodoxy it opposes. This is no tragedy, except the normal kind associated with anyone who engages in politics without fully acknowledging that it's politics they are engaging in.

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