Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Unmeasurable Work Is Priceless

When we think of the most influential people of the 20th century, many names spring to mind: Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Gandhi, Einstein—but one man is almost always left out.

And not for lack of having an impact. The force of his work is still felt in our society today.

His invention is the reason why Coca Cola is sold in all but two countries of the world.

I’m talking about management zealot, Frederick Taylor.

In the era of the factory, machinists were self taught. Each craftsman used his own methods to get his work done. 

When new hands entered the factory floor, a veteran taught them the ropes. And once the novice could stand on his own feet, the new machinist was free to develop his own artisanal quirks.

Thanks to this creative style of work, productivity was impossible to gauge. 

Managers and workers had a rough idea how long it took to build a part. But no one truly knew what a factory could ideally produce.

In comes Frederick Taylor.

He felt that labourers didn’t work hard enough. 

And so he saw it as his duty to cut up the machinist’s work into the smallest possible parts and discover the optimal way of doing each step.

And no step was too small.

Men with stopwatches watched workers shovel dirt and adjusted the shoveler’s movements until productivity went up. 

But Taylor was right. Intentional foot dragging among the workforce was a problem.

The real culprit, however, was the system.

When productivity got too high, wages were slashed. The rationale being: “If you can work harder, why didn’t you do so before? You must be punished for cheating us.” 

And so it was more rewarding for machinists to work slower.

Taylor changed all this.

If he wanted labourers to produce the maximum output humanly possible, the system needed to reward ‘a fair day’s work.’

And so Taylor raised wages. But only for the machinists who did exactly as he said.

At first, the wages were too low to get workers to play ball. But eventually a high enough salary was reached where machinists were willing to give up their independence.

Taylor’s efficient system had won. And humanity had lost.

You see, work was now more specialised and repetitive than ever before. Factory workers couldn’t bargain for higher wages, because they were too easily replaced.

And if you couldn’t keep up with the stopwatch, you got sacked.

Today, measuring productivity is easier than ever. 

How many keystrokes per hour?
How many articles a day?
What’s the clickthrough rate? 

We’re still living in Frederick Taylor’s world.

And even though productivity is at an alltime high, meaning is missing. 

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach