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Phil Rizzo: Always in a hurry to speed things up

Full Speed to Port

Posted: October 13, 2009 10:36 p.m.
Updated: October 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
There's a book review in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine entitled, "Not so fast. Scientific management started as a way to work. How did it become a way of life?" It is fascinating in the details of the origins of scientific management.

Fredrick Winslow Taylor is given credit for being the father of scientific management.

His method was to take the elements or steps in producing a product and breaking the process down, each movement examined and timed to determine how it could be produced faster and more efficiently. Taylor's methods were considered effective or a fraud depending on your bent.

His objective was to increase production at less cost, having those doing the labor speed up, thereby increasing their monetary value, translated into pay of the worker and holding down the price of the product.

He had considerable success in convincing managers. You might say in the course of selling his methods to managers, he created the profession of management consultant.

It's a flourishing business today, giving birth to hundreds of books on how to become a millionaire and the like.

His principles are still employed today, but when it was discovered that some of the criteria he used were manufactured out of thin air, his methods came under question.

In his time, which was around the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the methods of management were centered on using, rather than employing, individuals to do a job.

Efficient "hurry, hurry" management intended for the workplace became an American lifestyle. We see evidence of it every day.

Driving is one example. No matter how fast you go there's always someone who will pass you. And what about tailgating? Where are people going in such a rush?

My bottom-line observation is that any way of life we adopt that has to do with "hurry, hurry" is an escape mechanism centered in fear.

The dream is that if we do it fast enough and get a lot done we will accumulate wealth of some sort and satisfy our inner needs.

Some do - making a sport of hurry - and may succeed, but most are left in the lurch by boredom, exhaustion and discontent.

Few can do whatever it is fast enough to really obliterate the fear.

It's like the inner-city kid whose dream is to become a basketball star, with no consideration of what that entails or the odds against him. Reality finally sets in and it may be too late to focus on working hard at an education.

"Haste makes waste" is not a cliché the early science of management people cared to take into account. The objective was focused instead on how to make labor more efficient.

All concern for the health and welfare of the working man was disregarded.

People were considered expendable and the timing of their output was considered paramount.

Wringing portions of a minute out of nailing a box shut or loading heavy metal onto a rail car were the areas of study.

Taylor is accused of fudging some of his data suggesting that in one experiment he told his technician not to bother with his timing watch but take a calculated guess.

So how did Taylor's principles leak from industrial management into doing the dishes, baking a cake or shaving in the car on the way to work?

Perhaps most responsible for this phenomenon was a couple by the name of Frank Gilbreth and Lillian Gilbreth, who were fascinated by Taylor's investigations.

As a result, they embraced an efficient way of life studying every move they and their large family made and reducing it to the minimum amount of motion.

The book - written by their children, Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey - and film entitled, "Cheaper by the Dozen," is a depiction of their bizarre way of life.

Eventually, Lillian developed the field of home economics and used Taylor's principles as a professor. She made it clear that the whole point of efficiency was to create times when happiness would reign in the worker's life.

This may have been the point where the thumb, pulled from the hole in the dike, modified the harshness of pure, "hurry, hurry" Taylorism.

So efficiency can be a good thing or it can mess up one's life. Like most things it needs to be examined for where it's taking us.

Climbing the ladder of life may result in discovering at the top that it is leaning against the wrong wall.

Phil Rizzo is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. Full Speed to Port appears Wedne

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