Last year I wrote a post on my blog about Getting Things Done (GTD), in which I wrote:
Despite how beneficial it has been for me personally, I am troubled by GTD and the cult of efficiency which surrounds it. Foucault talks about “technologies of the self” by which he means those “technologies imbued with aspirations for the shaping of conduct in the hope of producing certain desired effects and averting certain undesired ones” (Rose, 1999, cited in Wikipedia). At the end of the nineteenth century, Frederick Taylor developed the theory of “scientific management” which is one of the quintessential technologies of power. GTD is both scientific management for the digital age and a technology of the self for the IT crowd.
What I didn’t know at the time was what a fraud Frederick Taylor was. Thanks to a New Yorker review of The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting It Wrong by Matthew Stewart [also see his 2006 article in the Atlantic], now I know. Here’s how he estimated that “a ‘first-class man’ could load pig iron at a rate of forty-seven and a half tons per day, if he would only stop loafing”:
He chose twelve “large, powerful Hungarians,” observed them for an hour, and calculated that, at the rate they were working, they were loading twenty-four tons of pig iron per man per day. Then he handpicked ten men and dared them to load sixteen and a half tons as fast as they could. They managed to do it in fourteen minutes; this yields a rate of seventy-one tons per man per ten-hour day. Taylor inexplicably rounded up the number to seventy-five. To get to forty-seven and a half, he reduced seventy-five by about forty per cent, claiming that this represented a work-to-rest ratio of the “law of heavy laboring.” Workers who protested the new standards were fired. Only one…loaded anything close to forty-seven and a half tons in a single day, a rate that was, in any case, not sustainable. After providing two years of consulting services, Taylor billed the company a hundred thousand dollars (which works out to something like two and a half million dollars today), and then he was fired.
This week I’m teaching Gramsci who, along with Lenin, believed that scientific management (which he called “Fordism”) would bring great benefits to the working class, giving them time to read Marxism. In this he was perhaps closer to Lillian Gilbreth, one of the early advocates of scientific management, who mothered twelve children while running a business, getting her Ph.D. and publishing several books. Gilbreth believed that “the whole point of efficiency, she said, was to maximize ‘happiness minutes.'” I’m sure that for Gramsci time spent reading Marx counted as “happiness minutes.” I know I personally would like to spend less time “getting things done” and more time on the couch reading…
Update: Added missing link.