“We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
Anais Nin

Christopher Alexander on Frederick Taylor

Frederick Taylor

Frederick Taylor … was one of the individuals who had the greatest influence on the 20th century. An American machinist working at the very end of the 19th century, Taylor conceived the idea of time-and-motion studies … which make the repetitive production of objects more efficient.

Taylor first inspired Henry Ford’s factory at Dearborn, the first highly efficient moder factory. Ford employed Taylor as a consultant while he planned and build this factory. Later, as a direct result of Taylor’s work, almost all natural and organic processes throughout the world which relied on judgment, participation, and common sense were replaced by a way of thinking about process. Which relied on rules, rigidly applied, codification of category, task, function. What we know as he modern organization with machinelike repetition of processes, came from Frederick Taylor. What we know of as modern bureaucracy … came from the application of Frederick Taylor’s ideas to large human institutions … modern construction … modern agriculture …

It is amazing to realize that Taylor himself very well understood the positive social and human conditions of the living process he was trying to replace. Here is a quote from Taylor himself:

”Now, in the best of the ordinary types of management, the managers recognize frankly that the workmen who are under them possess a mass of traditional knowledge most of which is not within the possession of the management. The most experienced managers frankly place before their workmen the problem of doing the work in the best and most economical way. They recognize the task before them as that of inducing each workman to use hist best endeavors, his hardest work, all his traditional knowledge, his skill, his ingenuity, and his good will, in a word, his initiative, so as to yield the largest possible return to his employer”

Taylor understood all this extremely well. And then, for reasons of money and efficiency, he deliberately set out to destroy it. Three principles of Taylorism are: (1) Disassociate the labor process from the skills. Labor must be independent of crraft, tradition, and knwledge … (2) Separate conception from execution. (3) Gain monopoly over knowledge to control labor process … As Taylor himself wrote:

The full possibilities of my system will not have been realized until almost all of the machines in the shop are run by men who are of smaller caliber and attainment, and whoare therefor cheaper than those required under the old system”

… I have given a short summary of Taylor’s ideas because even those of us who are thoroughly sick of the bureaucratic and machinelike character of modern society, will, in general, not be aware of the extent to which it all started with the work of one man, nor the extraordinary extent to which these changes were deliberate, conscious, willfull. Obviously, if all this was created by the deliberate thought of an individual – as indeed it was – it becomes easier for us to conceive the possibility of changing it.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

When I read the words “men who are of smaller caliber and attainment” I thought to myself … and then we set about creating systems of education which created (1) such men and (2) men educated to create such men more efficiently.

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