Efficiency & effectiveness
You can make a baby in a minute. But you can’t make love in a minute. Either way can be effective if all you want is a baby. The first method wins on efficiency – takes less time and uses less energy. Many folks, however, find making a baby distasteful. For those who do, they might also want to reconsider modern management practices.
Management theory didn’t start in companies but in the classroom. In 1843, Horace Mann’s “Seventh Annual Report” called for a revolutionary new model for public education. He proposed that the Prussian schooling be brought to America to replace the English system. Mann believed the English model, based on mentoring, was inefficient for filling the demands of the new industrial society. America needed a more efficient system for producing workers. Horace Mann’s Prussian model was designed to render the populace “manageable,” educator John Taylor Gatto writes.1
This new educational system overlapped nicely with the revolutionary ideas of Charles Darwin, published in 1859. On the Origin of the Species suggested that humans are merely highly evolved animals. With Darwin’s “science” and Mann’s “system,” the stage was set for Frederick Winslow Taylor’s revolutionary new modern management theory.
In 1899, the Bethlehem Steel Company asked Frederick Winslow Taylor to improve worker efficiency. Taylor started with a simple question: “How many tons of pig iron bars can a worker load onto a rail car in the course of a working day?”2 He reviewed company records and estimated the rate at which Hungarians loaded iron. He offered to double their wages if they worked harder. They huffed and puffed and loaded sixteen and a half tons in under fourteen minutes. Taylor extrapolated fourteen minutes into a full working day. The Hungarians howled at their quadrupled workload.
No problem, said Taylor. He hired “high-priced men” – Pennsylvania Dutchman – whose intelligence he compared to that of an ox. That’s right – animals. They came close to meeting the goals and Taylor went on to write The Principles of Scientific Management and become the founding father of modern management. But Bethlehem profits didn’t increase and they fired Taylor in 1901, throwing out his systems. Taylor later admitted his “scientific management” wasn’t based in much science. He defended his “wags” (wild-ass guesses, in M.B.A.-speak) as the product of his assumptions about people.
Assuming people are animals became the working definition of reality primarily because it overlapped with the ideas of the culture-shaping institutions of the day. In the spring of 1908, Taylor met with Harvard professors and later that year Harvard opened the first graduate school in the country to offer a master’s degree in business. It was based on one assumption – people ought to be “managed” by “experts.” By 1924, H. L. Mencken noted that the aim of public education “is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality” – to render the populace “manageable.” Oink oink.
The odd thing is that the Bible says we never “manage” people. We only manage animals, our appetites and assets. We mentor people. Mentoring is a highly effective method of apprenticing people as thinking, creative, responsible individuals – but it’s not as efficient as “managing” people. It’s the difference between making love and making a baby in a minute – but that’s a whopping divergence.
The Bible says people are not highly evolved animals but are made in the image of God – we are responsible individuals. God created us to “have dominion,” using our head to produce economic and social capital. The result is capitalism, which comes from the Latin caput meaning “head.” The best method for crafting responsible people is mentoring and apprenticeships, not managing. This idea is grounded in scripture yet gained its moniker from Greek mythology. Mentor was the son of Alcumus and, in old age, a friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War he placed Mentor in charge of his son, Telemachus, who became Mentor’s protégé.
“The concept of efficiency – and I don’t mean just business efficiency – has done irreparable harm to the way we operate our institutions, our organizations; it doesn’t belong in any organizational setting,” says Dennis Bakke, co-founder and former CEO of AES, a worldwide power supplier serving one hundred million people.3 Under Bakke’s leadership, AES had no shift superintendents or foreman in any plants, no HR department, and no safety department, although AES has one of the best safety records in the industry. AES threw out “19th century ideas that mankind could be manipulated,” Bakke says.4 He started with an assumption “that people are thinking, creative, responsible individuals, and a whole panoply of things have followed from that.”5
Similar to Dennis Bakke’s company, Matthew Stewart founded a firm that grew to over 600, but it wasn’t about bureaucratic control or efficiency. “It was about love,” Stewart says. Making love is mentoring, effective yet somewhat inefficient. Making babies is merely managing, more efficient but less effective. You can get a baby either way, but would you want to be the child raised in an “efficient” home? It’s small wonder why people – “managed” under the ruse of making the company more “efficient” – chafe at the bit. They’re not animals. And its small wonder why people – mentored at AES while Bakke held the reins – flourished. They were treated like humans.
1 John Taylor Gatto, “Against School: How public education cripples our kids, and why.” Gatto is a former New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year and was a participant in the Harper’s Magazine forum “School on a Hill,” which appeared in the September 2003 issue.
2 Matthew Stewart, “The Management Myth,” Atlantic Monthly, June 2006; Volume 297, No. 5; pp. 80-89.
3 “Values Don’t Work in Business,” Max L. Stackhouse, Dennis P. McCann, and Shirley J. Roels, with Preston N. Williams, ed., On Moral Business: Classical and Contemporary Resources for Ethics in Economic Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 713-717.
4 “A Reluctant Capitalist” http://www.businessweek.com/1999/99_50/b3659121.htm
5 “Values” pp. 713-717.
Thank you Mike, for bringing the ideas driving a mechanistic, behaviourist education to the fore. I am involved in recovering the work of one such British “mentor,” named Charlotte Mason, who fought the factory model and the child as a machine by building a whole wonderful pedagogy based on this radical idea that a child is a person! Visit our website, wwwchildlightUSA.org for more info. We feel the time is ripe to reassert this type of education that offers the educational equivalent to a banquet as opposed to a vitamin pill. A collegue has dubbed it “the slow food” model of eduction. I am afraid that often,even Christian schools need to hear that we ought not to be about producing workers for systems managed by “science” but we deal with full human beings who relate and learn, less than efficiently, but in the image of their Maker. I always enjoy your posts and share them often. Thank you for the great analysis.
And thank you, Laurie, for attempting to reshape an institution that fundamentally shapes people and society. I like the idea of “slow food” model of education. If we look in the rear view mirror, as we get older, we recognize that any wisdom that accrued to our character account came from mentors, rather than a factory boss.
Good words – keep pressing into this challenge.
Outstanding commentary, Mike! I have been on a campaign against efficiency for some time (probably since I first heard you mention what you thought were the most discernable qualities of modern parachurch organizations). Watch the Comment website (www.cardus.ca/comment) for a complementary point of view about architectural training.
To those of us in the Blogger Universe: For what it’s worth, David Greusel is someone who embodies this idea of mentoring and worth paying attention to. He’s featured in the most recent Comment magazine… plus, you can check him out at the website address he lists. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and modern management won’t be disassembled in a decade. But I’d be curious about your thoughts, David, as to the kind of built environment in a corporate setting that would promote mentoring.
Mike, The trouble with people is that we usually don’t live long enough to notice these changes happening, or we are too busy to pay attention. That, of course would be the result of being “managed”, eh? Even the word “business” …only years after learning to spell it did I get the irony of business/busyness. I think the sign of the times is this: Once upon a time we would have gone to the Personnel Office for help getting a job or dealing with workplace issues. Now we go to “Human Resources” as though we are coal to be strip mined as cheaply as possible, with “HR” now there to help the company avoid costly legal entanglements managing the masses. Moo.
So who is writing about an alternative form of education? How can we get a mentoring system going again? Thanks for your thoughts and research.