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Taylor would watch a bricklayer work and use a stopwatch to determine
exactly how much time each motion of his body took. He recorded the time
to reach out and grab hold of a brick, to lift it to the correct spot, to pat it
down, to lay cement on top of it, and to scrape off the excess. Numbers in
hand, he went to the blackboard to work out the best way to lay bricks. He
rearranged and removed motions to find the most efficient sequence. He
cut the wasteful step many bricklayers took between their brick pile and
the wall. He redesigned the tools, creating a special sled for holding the
bricks at just the right position so that they could be taken quickly. Then
he instructed the workers in exactly what motions to carry out until they
moved like assembly-line robots. This process of “scientific management”
became his stock in trade, and he applied it to fields ranging from metal
cutting to pig iron handling.
Taylor didn't bother trying to make the workers understand what they
were doing. To him, they were bumbling idiots, and their comprehension
was unnecessary. “The workman who is best suited to actually doing the
work,” he wrote, “is incapable of fully understanding this science, without
the guidance and help of those who are working with him or over him,
either through lack of education or through insufficient mental capacity.”
Taylorism is about concentrating every decision into the hands of a
small group of very smart people. One thinking “mind” at the top directs
the actions of many dumb “hands.” By concentrating knowledge in the one
best mind, Taylorism increases the quality of decisions because that mind
is the best motivated, most skilled, and most capable, and can intelligently
coordinate the actions of the dumb people hauling the pig iron.
Taylor's ideas became the foundation of the modern study of efficien-
cy because they work. Over the past century, methods grown from it have
provided us with better and cheaper cars, potato chips, and computers.
This method of concentrating decisions within the minds of a smart few
and squeezing waste out of repeated processes is so successful that it is
now an assumed part of industrial culture.
But Taylorism is limited in the kinds of task it can handle. The key is
the amount of knowledge a job involves. If a job involves little knowledge,
Taylorism works well. A factory foreman can know everything about what
each of his subordinates is doing because factory work is simple and re-
petitive. He can make all of the subordinates' decisions for them because
there are not that many decisions being made. Every piece of knowledge in
the process can be held in his head.
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