“In the past the man has been first, but in the future the system must be first.” (Fredrick W Taylor). Although it’s been over a century since these famous words have been spoken, we can still see their powerful impact far into the 21st century. In his article, Steven Head explains how the original “principles of scientific management” have transformed into what we see today along with the strict operating guidelines necessary to sustain a complex and intricate system. He argues that this developing system continues to ease and simplify the responsibilities of the work place, but ultimately fails to realize the hidden negative consequences.
While it may have been Fredrick Taylor who first came up with the “principles of scientific management,” it wasn’t until the early 1920s when William Henry Leffingwell was able to shift his ideas from the industrial and manufacturing realm to the service (white-collar) world. His ideas of prioritizing the system before the people, establishing a “hierarchy of routines”, and segregating workers into specialized fields revolutionized the workplace. All these directives made the gears and cogs of desk work run much more smoothly. Companies implementing Leffingwell’s ideas saw vast increases in revenue, profit margins, and employee productiveness. The name of the game was getting things done as quickly, efficiently, and as cheap as possible.
|Technology is going to take over the world! ...This is the one scenario i'd let slide.|
It wasn’t until the 1990s, with the coming of the digital age and the reengineering movement, that information technology played a larger and more dynamic role in the process. Leffingwell’s ultimate vision of what he called, “a white-collar assembly line subject to the rigorous controls of the factory floor” was now within reach. With computer programs and expert systems to run and calculate all the difficult work, less skilled laborers (or “deal structurers”) could be substituted for what once took multitudes of skilled and specialized individuals. Dr. Head concludes his article by warning that those who oppose or refuse to give into to the systems, the “resisters”, will ultimately fall through the cracks in the fast paced jungle of the “new economy”.
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Because of Dr. Steven Head’s involvement with the Rothermere American Institute, an institution at the University of Oxford dedicated to the interdisciplinary and comparative study of the USA, along with the subject nature of his most popular book “The New Ruthless Economy: Work and Power in the Digital Age” (2005) many of his critics believe he is more inclined to promote the economic aspects of the situation more than anything else. While I agree with Simon Head that Leffinwell’s vision of a completely automated and organized society is more or less a reality and that information and digital technology is becoming increasingly vital to its operations, I agree with many of his critics that this could promote negative consequences. Through our efforts to create technologies that can do virtually everything, we ourselves have become less developed with our own talents, abilities, and desires. Technology is only as smart, innovative, and creative as those who design it. As the famous philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men, but no machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”