Welcome to the dehumanizing world of scientific management, where business gurus and middle managers view workers as resources, and where a cult-like devotion to productivity has invaded almost all facets of daily life. From fairy tales about strapping steel workers who put CrossFit champions to shame, to the plight of Amazon warehouse workers who can’t even get a bathroom break, we’ve got stories that expose the dark side of the efficiency fetish. Grab your stopwatch and a pee bottle so you can listen to this episode as efficiently as possible! For episode notes and more information, please visit our website

Transcript

Rob Dietz

I’m Rob Dietz.

Jason Bradford

I’m Jason Bradford.

Asher Miller

And I’m Asher Miller. Welcome to Crazy Town. Where 43% of adult diaper sales at Amazon are for their own workers.

Melody Travers

Hi, this is producer Melody Travers. In this season of Crazy Town, Jason, Asher, and Rob are exploring the watershed moments in history that have led humanity into the cascading crises we face in the 21st century. Today’s episode is about the dehumanizing world of scientific management, where power tripping business tycoons turn workers into resources. The watershed moment took place in 1899. At the time, the estimated carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 296 parts per million, and the global human population was 1.63 billion.

Rob Dietz

Hey, everybody! Our listeners out there, you know that we broadcast from Jason’s farm. And Jason, I got to commend you on running a farm that takes into account people and the place. And you’re trying to take care of the soil and the animals.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, thanks for recognizing that, Rob. I appreciate it.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, but that’s not really the issue here. What we need is to maximize the dollars and the output on this.

Jason Bradford

You’re an investor in the farm. So you should be really mindful of that. I appreciate it.

Rob Dietz

Well, I am mindful and I hired a management consultant a couple of months back to come in with recommendations.

Jason Bradford

That wasn’t in my operating budget.

Rob Dietz

Well, that’s okay. We’ll work that out in the details. But we’ve had drones flying over and monitoring what you’ve been doing here on the farm.

Jason Bradford

I thought I heard a buzz.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, well, we’ve got some recommendations. Last week, you guys were working on the fence, trying to pound in some poles, and you only got 50 of them done. Our consultants say you could have gotten 52 of them done if you weren’t wearing pants.

Jason Bradford

It was cold.

Rob Dietz

You know, restrictive movements keep you from getting those fence posts in.

Jason Bradford

I do have quilted jeans. They’re stretchy.

Rob Dietz

We’ve got a booklet of ideas like this. We’re gonna get some more dollars out of this farm.

Jason Bradford

Okay. Okay. Well, let’s talk to  Kristen about this, the other owner, and I’m happy to listen.

Rob Dietz

Okay, good. Good.

Asher Miller

It sounds to me, Rob, like you’ve been doing some reading up on Frederick Winslow Taylor.

Rob Dietz

I may have.

Asher Miller

And we wanted to bring up Taylor today because Taylor is the person who’s behind this watershed moment, which is famously or infamously known as the pig iron story. I don’t think I was familiar with this. But  let’s just go back in time a little bit. Back to 1899. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It was actually in a town called Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. And this guy, Frederick, our buddy Freddie, was outside with a bunch of his workers. And he had a stopwatch. Actually had a group of stopwatches. He was hired by the Bethlehem steel company to manage a gang of 75 men working on the rail yard basically, they had to move about 80,000 tons of pig iron bars. Each of these bars weighed 92 pounds.

Rob Dietz

What the hell is pig iron?

Asher Miller

I think it’s cheap iron. Okay, they’re trying to move all of this. So imagine 80,000 tons of this. They’re trying to move it from the main yard to the railroad cars, right? So they had a gang of like 75 workers.

Rob Dietz

So Asher, you and I are basically glorified desk workers. Do you think the two of us together could move a 92 pound bar?

Jason Bradford

I’m doing some calculations right now.

Asher Miller

You’re totally insulting me. At my age I could maybe move a foot at a time.

Rob Dietz

Jason would just be twirling a baton.

Jason Bradford

Each man needs to move on 11.59 bars by the way. Anyway, keep going.

Rob Dietz

Oh, you’re like a disciple of Frederick Taylor already.

Jason Bradford

Weighing 1,067 pounds total.

Rob Dietz

1.21 gigawatts.

Jason Bradford

Keep going. I love this. I love this. This guy sounds great.

Asher Miller

Clearly, Well, so the bars are needed for the Spanish American War. I don’t know exactly why, but there’s a big rush on to get this iron.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, making ships, making guns.

Asher Miller

So they’re trying to get it onto the rail cars as quickly as possible. So on March 11, 1899 Taylor, and he had a bunch of guys, young guys, working for him who were there to observe these workers in the rail yard, right. And they took their stopwatches and they’re trying to figure out how much, you know, how many tons, how much of this pig iron these guys are moving on average per day. And they calculated that it was about 12 and a half tons per person per day on average. So they applied this sort of science of observing these guys, timing them, and all this stuff, and figured out that if they actually applied the best ways of moving the stuff that Taylor came up with, that they could actually on average load 47 and a half ton of pig iron instead. That’s like almost four times as much.

Rob Dietz

That’s a lot more. And more than the song, “Load 16 Tons.”

Asher Miller

And Taylor was much smarter than you, Rob, or the consultant that you hired. It isn’t about taking your pants off so you could get a better grip or something on the pig iron bar. You know, I don’t know exactly what the –

Jason Bradford

Well, so 80,000 pounds. . . Oh, 80,000 tons! I was putting pounds in there.

Rob Dietz

Put your calculator away.

Asher Miller

Yeah, your math . . .You’re a farmer and not an MBA consultant.

Jason Bradford

I was so far off! Oh my god. I gotta go back to –

Asher Miller

You gotta go back to school, buddy.

Jason Bradford

Geez. That’s a lot of pig iron. I’m like, this is not that hard.

Asher Miller

So the reason this is a watershed moment is because this seminal moment in Bethlehem, right?

Rob Dietz

Timeout. You can’t use the word “seminal” and Bethlehem.

Asher Miller

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Rob Dietz

Oh okay.

Asher Miller

The seminal moment in Bethlehem Pennsylvania would eventually lead to the development of the theory of scientific management. And ultimately, the formation of a whole new class of worker, the manager, who usually came out of one of 1000’s of MBA programs from around the world.

Jason Bradford

That’s 1.7 million of those 92 pound bars. I was so far off.

Asher Miller

You were very far off.

Jason Bradford

I’m sorry. I’m caught in this right now. But let’s move on. This story is good.

Asher Miller

Yeah. What a great job they had moving this stuff. Don’t you think?

Rob Dietz

Can we talk for a minute about which is the worst job? Like being the guy sitting there with a stopwatch, trying to figure out . . .

Jason Bradford

No. We’re talking 1.7 million 92 pound bars of iron. I think I’d rather be the stupid manager.

Rob Dietz

Well, I don’t know. I mean, I know I’m a scrawny dude, and would never be able to move all that stuff. But it seems like at least a good day’s work as opposed to going, “Hey! I’ve got my stopwatch here and that guy – ”

Asher Miller

Ah yeah. Jason, let’s set this up for Rob. See if he could do this for a day. And then you can come back to us and tell us which job you think is better.

Rob Dietz

These guys were like the CrossFit before that was a thing, right? This is where you would want your CrossFit gym.

Asher Miller

This is where the economy’s gone. It’s like you’ve got to invent a CrossFit because people don’t actually do, you know, a lot of people don’t do this kind of hard labor anymore.

Jason Bradford

It’s a lot easier to put in fence posts, Rob. I should do 52. You’re right.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, why don’t we talk a little bit about this character, Frederick Taylor? As you alluded to, Asher, I did a little bit of reading up on him, and I wanted to share that with you guys. So he was born into a privileged family. They had high expectations on him and his brother and they sent him to the best high school, Phillips Exeter, which is –

Jason Bradford

Sounds pretty good.

Rob Dietz

Probably like an Ivy League college basically. Yeah. So that was kind of his start in life.

Jason Bradford

And it turns out, Taylor and I are probably related because his family came over on the Mayflower just like my family.

Rob Dietz

Oh, wow. Hoity toity. You seem to remind us of that almost every episode.

Jason Bradford

But you guys bring it up.

Asher Miller

I bring it up more. Yeah, I like to give Jason some grief about it.

Rob Dietz

We’re just jealous. We didn’t go to fancy Exeter high schools or sail on fancy ships.

Asher Miller

Do you think the Mayflower is fancy? I doubt it was fancy.

Rob Dietz

Well, at least it made it across the ocean.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, that was a good ship.

Rob Dietz

So actually, it’s good you brought it up because Taylor was actually – he would have belonged well on the ship. He was a true Puritan. No alcohol, no tea or coffee. No fun. Was not allowed to have fun at all. No. But he was definitely obsessed with work.

Jason Bradford

Our families moved on from that, by the way. Yeah.

Rob Dietz

Well, his obsession was so great that he studied so hard – I guess there was a big competition at Exeter, who could be the best student. And so they would read and read and read and read. I have no idea what that’s like. I try to avoid reading. But he ended up basically blowing out his eyes. His eyesight failed. And so rather than go on to college and become a lawyer, like his parents wanted him to, he ended up becoming an apprentice at the Midvale Steel Company.

Jason Bradford

I bet lighting wasn’t as good back then. Reading by candlelight. It must have been awful.

Rob Dietz

Right. Well, you know, but he was such a hard worker. He moved his way up, became the gang boss, and then the chief engineer. And he started coming up with these theories, these ideas about how to manage the steel company better. And voila! We get to Asher’s watershed moment in 1899.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and I think what really tipped this story into being something that actually really transformed business and perhaps you could even make a claim that society at a larger scale was Louis Brandeis. Ever heard of him?

Jason Bradford

Brandeis University?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, he was a Supreme Court judge, right?

Jason Bradford

Oh, okay. You know more than I do.

Asher Miller

I think the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, ever. He was a lawyer, and he became a highly regarded lawyer. I think a labor lawyer to begin with. And Brandeis actually became enamored – He heard about what our buddy Freddie was doing. And he talked it up. There was a situation where the railroad companies were petitioning the government, I guess. They had to get approval to do a freight rate increase, and they’re trying to jack it up. And Brandeis argued that instead of doing a price hike, they could save millions of dollar, like a million dollars a day, if they just applied Taylor’s scientific management techniques.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, 47 and a half tons of pig iron loaded.

Asher Miller

If they did that, they could be a lot more productive, and therefore they wouldn’t have to increase rates.

Rob Dietz

If you can exploit the hell out of some labor, there’s no reason to raise prices.

Asher Miller

But it’s funny, he actually was a proponent and defender of labor. He thought that applying scientific management would actually help these workers.

Jason Bradford

Oh, interesting.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And that really put Taylor sort of on the map. He got a lot of press coverage and attention. I think at some point he actually was brought in to testify in front of Congress and stuff. In 1911, he published, The Principles of Scientific Management” based upon the sort of techniques in the approach that he developed at Bethlehem steel. And that book ended up being voted the most influential management book of the 20th century by the Academy of Management in 2001. That’s an academy I longed to belong to someday, but I’m not a good enough manager.

Jason Bradford

You’re the top manager at Post Carbon Institute.

Asher Miller

I’m not good enough to win. Anyways, and you know, all of that was based on his experiences at Bethlehem Steel, and that book ended up becoming the best-selling business book in the first half of the 20th century.

Jason Bradford

I mean, I can imagine why someone who’s – if you think about scientific management, and what it was portrayed as, how someone who’s really in favor of labor rights would be like, “Yeah, this is going to be helpful,” right? It’s basically using research and data to optimize the work a labor force can do in a given time. And if you can imagine that, okay, you’re gonna get management on the side of labor to help  make them more efficient, get more out of them, but also maybe that requires better training, better equipment, and maybe if they are more productive, they can call for higher wages. So you can think about how efficiency and productivity could maybe be a good thing if you’re a worker.

Rob Dietz

Well, that’s all well and good. I like that definition of optimizing, but I think Taylor’s genius was he just added the word scientific in front of it. So like, I was thinking about that – I want to do scientific coffee brewing so that I can get more caffeine per cup of coffee.

Asher Miller

The exact temperature you’ve gotta get the beans at.

Jason Bradford

I’m not awake enough in the morning.

Rob Dietz

Maybe I picked too nerdy of a topic. I want to do scientific soccer spectating where I can watch 110 minutes of soccer in a 90 minute game. How about that?

Asher Miller

There is the halftime so I think you’ve got your 110 minutes down already.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I want to try one other definition of scientific management. How about, how to run a team by being the biggest asshole. Does that . . ?

Asher Miller

I think a lot of people have gone to that program.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, it was ostensibly about using these, what sound like reasonable techniques to increase productivity, but what it ended up doing it seems like is promoting the creation of this whole new class of worker, you know. The educated scientific manager, which really is setting themselves apart from then the wage laborers, right?

Rob Dietz

They’re also called Stopwatchers.

Jason Bradford

I mean, let’s put ourselves in the position of say we’re deep into the Industrial Revolution, factories are being put together at larger scales, being financed with these captains of industry around. But you imagine at a certain scale, you’re an owner, just like Rob’s an owner, and doesn’t know what the hell’s going on. Just like Rob doesn’t.

Asher Miller

You need to hire drones.

Jason Bradford

And yeah, it becomes impossible for the owner class to really know what’s going on. So they need this management, this new set of people that are in between them and the wage laborers to sort of stay on top of things and report. And of course, if you can couch it as all we’re gonna make your workers super efficient, then that is really appealing of course.

Asher Miller

And like we’re talking about with Brandeis who thought that maybe applying scientific management would actually improve the lot of laborers, right? Maybe they could argue for better pay or something like that. The truth is that this idea of having kind of a new managerial class was basically saying these workers can’t figure this stuff out themselves.

Jason Bradford

Right. Right.

Asher Miller

The bosses don’t really know what’s going on. The owners don’t know what’s going on. And you can’t trust the workers. I mean his biographer claimed that he actually respected the laborers.

Jason Bradford

This is Taylor’s biographer?

Asher Miller

Yeah, exactly. But if you actually read the stuff that this guy said, I mean, it’s pretty heinous. You know, one of the things he wrote was that the ideal worker is so stupid, quote, unquote, “so stupid and phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental makeup the oxen than any other type. He is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work. He’s so stupid that the word percentage has no meaning to him.”

Rob Dietz

That is rough. And can we just not be insulting oxen as well? We had an episode about dominating animals and how we need to be in a different relationship with them. Here, he’s not only saying people are this bad, they’re so bad that they’re like oxen.

Asher Miller

We actually had another episode about oxen. Remember “Bill and Lou’s Not so Excellent Adventure?”

Jason Bradford

Oh yeah!

Rob Dietz

Right. Right. Wow, we do return to the animal themes.

Asher Miller

Well, oxen specifically.

Rob Dietz

Well you know, one of the weird things – like when the Frederick Winslow Taylor says that stuff, it almost sounds like he’s responding to the trauma that befell him. Like in coming up with scientific management, he’s putting this pressure on workers, right. Like he’s pummeling them. And when he went through this suffering at Exeter –

Jason Bradford

Oh yeah. In terms of reading too much.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. It’s like he saw the direct effects of overdoing the work.

Jason Bradford

The abused become the abusers.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. It really kind of made me think of that. Maybe, you know, whatever – I don’t want to armchair psychologize this guy that I’ve never met, but yeah, it seems pretty odd.

Asher Miller

Well, if it’s not obvious already, to our listeners, we’re not huge fans of this scientific management thing. You know, seeing the clear toll that it might take –

Jason Bradford

I’m willing to listen to the consultant Rob put out for me though. I’m just letting you know. I’m willing to listen.

Asher Miller

You’ve got to take your pants off.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I’ll take my pants off.

Rob Dietz

Let me make you guys aware of something. Okay, right. Frederick Winslow Taylor – F.W.T. Make that an anagram, you got WTF!

Asher Miller

Oh, I thought you were gonna say “for the win.”

Rob Dietz

No, no, no, no. It’s WTF, not FTW.

Asher Miller

Well, let’s talk about WTF for a second. Because here’s the thing, not only – and we’ll talk a little bit about this. Not only are there some negative consequences of applying critical scientific management to labor. It turns out that it’s all kind of bullshit in the first place. So let’s talk about this story, right? This story of what happened in Bethlehem, and I’m actually going to quote a great –

Rob Dietz

In the manger?

Asher Miller

In the manger. I’m going to quote a great piece by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker who talks about how he came up with these 47 and a half tons. Remember that was the number that they came up with, which an average worker could ideally move in a day.

Jason Bradford

That’s crazy.

Asher Miller

So here’s how he did it, quote, unquote, “He chose 12, large, powerful Hungarians.”

Jason Bradford

Nice.

Asher Miller

So he picked out the strongest guys in the group, right?

Jason Bradford

Born and bred baby, let’s go.

Asher Miller

And he observed them for an hour. He calculated that at the rate that they were working, they were loading 24 ton of pig iron per man per day, right. And then he hand-picked this group and dared them to load 60 and a half tons as fast as they could. I think he even offered them some extra pay. So they managed to do that in 14 minutes, right. So that yielded a rate of 71 tons per man per 10 hour day. He then rounded that up to 75, right? But then he saw these guys, even these strong, you know, strapping Hungarian dudes or whatever that were working at this rail yard, were spent. You know, they were working as hard as they could.

Jason Bradford

They’d ruptured 25 discs.

Asher Miller

Exactly.

Rob Dietz

The ground was covered in Hungarian vomit.

Jason Bradford

It’s red. Beet juice.

Asher Miller

Goulash.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, goulash. Paprika.

Asher Miller

Were so insulting to the poor Hungarian people. Not very nice of us. Not as insulting as Taylor was.

Jason Bradford

I love Hungarian food.

Asher Miller

In any case. So, you know, when he saw that, okay, not even these dudes can work their asses this hard for like 10 hours a day, right? So he decided he would reduce that number by about 40%. He’s like, you know, you got to work in, quote unquote, a work-to-rest ratio, which was the law of heavy labor.

Jason Bradford

He’s created a law.

Rob Dietz

It’s a law.

Jason Bradford

It’s scientific. It’s a scientific law.

Rob Dietz

So wait. Let me get this straight. You need a law that says if you work really hard, it’s good to rest?

Asher Miller

Yeah.

Jason Bradford

I love managerisms. These are great.

Asher Miller

So that’s how he came up with this, you know, almost a fourfold increase in what these workers were doing. And he’s basically riding them hard. And, you know, anyone who was complaining about it basically was fired. It turns out there was only one dude in this entire group that could do anything close to this amount, right? So clearly it wasn’t sustainable.

Jason Bradford

Was he Hungarian?

Asher Miller

I don’t know. His name was Henry Knoll, this guy.

Jason Bradford

Oh, okay. Big guy.

Rob Dietz

He was Austro-Hungarian. He was a descendant of Arnold Schwarzenegger actually.

Jason Bradford

Ancestor.

Rob Dietz

Ancestor. Yes. Oh, sorry.  I mean, unless it’s a time travel movie with Arnold.

Jason Bradford

Right, right.

Asher Miller

So not only is this whole thing skewed by the way he even did this quote, unquote, experiment, right? But it turns out there, and this is an amazing thing, there’s these two business professors in the ’70s, who did a close analysis of the pig iron experiments and actually went back into Taylor’s like, you know, things that he was saying and what he wrote down in his notes, his diary, or whatever it was. You know, he’s talking up the story for years before he wrote his book, right? And it turns out, he kept changing the story. So even this fucked up number which was like, totally an unsustainable number. He just pulled out of thin air when he basically wrote this book. It wasn’t a consistent thing.

Jason Bradford

Wait, wait. I gotta do my calculations again? Is that what you’re saying? I’ve got my calculator here.

Asher Miller

Yeah. This whole thing, scientific management, there’s like no science involved in its origin story at all.

Rob Dietz

47 tons, 78 tons, 1.2 trillion tons per man!

Asher Miller

And the last kicker is two years after he got hired, Bethlehem Steel basically ended up cutting him off. Getting rid of him. He wasn’t actually saving them much money. But the guy walked away with a cool 100 grand for this work, which, in today’s dollars, is about like 3 million for doing this consulting work.

Jason Bradford

I’m going to LinkedIn right now. I’m turning myself into a consultant.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, let’s talk about this for a minute. I was joking with you about hiring a consultant. When I was in college, senior year, all of these management consultants, they would come to the school to recruit people from the Wharton Business School. So I mean, we had the Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey, Kearney, KPMG. All these you know, they’re like highfalutin boutique consultancy sharks.

Jason Bradford

McKinsey is huge. And I’ve not really liked anything they’ve written that I’ve read.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, some of them are really big. But it was pretty wild. This setup was in our career center. There were these slots, almost like in a post office or something, where you could just drop your resume into the company’s recruiting slot. And so I did that. I was like –

Asher Miller

Did they time how quickly you did it?

Rob Dietz

Probably.

Asher Miller

That guy was slow.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, they had a camera watching. “Oh, he only delivered five resumes in three minutes.” But no, I did drop with almost all of those kinds of management consultants. And I got quite a few interviews. But I didn’t get hired by any of them. And I think it’s because I tried to turn the interviewer around. I was like timing the guy on his question. “Dude, you only got five questions out.”

Jason Bradford

They can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

Rob Dietz

Clearly not. So I’m sure that’s why they didn’t want the likes of me. But, you know, I do think that’s actually one of the legacies of Taylor, this whole industry of overconfident, think tanky consultants that come in and tell you how to run your show, even though they’re not there. They just apply some goofball blunt instrument, or the what did you call it? The law of whatever it was?

Jason Bradford

But they create also an aura of sort of guru like status around them. And they may not know a whole lot about what you actually do. But some outside consultant comes in, and suddenly a company says, “Okay, well, they’re telling us and we pay for it.”

Asher Miller

Right. Well we’ve talked about, like, I don’t know if it’s a sunk cost bias, but you invest in something and you’re like, that’s got to be good.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And then you don’t want to tell anyone how ridiculous the whole thing was because it makes you look bad.

Rob Dietz

Well, it’s amazing though. Like you said, some of it, it’s this guru aura. But there’s a lot of bullshit in it. And even though the debunking that you just gave us, Asher, on Taylor’s whole origin story, scientific management has become a big thing that really influences our culture. There’s actually an author, this guy, Robert Kanigel, or Kan-Nigel, I’m not sure how you pronounce his name. But he wrote a book called, “The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency.” And he actually says that Taylorism, or this idea of scientific management, has been completely absorbed into the living tissue of American life.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I mean, certainly in business. So I think of the Ford assembly line.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, Ford is a good example. And Toyota had this kind of lean methodology — definitely has wound its way into business. But I think also broader than that –

Jason Bradford

Oh, I mean, and Taylor saw that it was broader. He had a vision that it would infiltrate. And so in his book, he calls this, you know, a mental revolution, and he could apply it with equal force to all social activities, to the management of our homes, the management of our farm.

Rob Dietz

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

Jason Bradford

The management of the business of our tradesmen, large and small, our churches, our mega churches, our philanthropic institutions.

Rob Dietz

Don’t make me do another Joel Osteen imitation.

Jason Bradford

Our universities, and our government departments. But my favorite, of course, is how this was applied in the family, right? So there was a Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, and they were time and motion efficiency experts.

Rob Dietz

That was their job?

Asher Miller

There’s some great stuff that’s been done criticizing some of this. There was like a Vogue thing for a while, where people were really trying to make movements as efficient as possible. And I actually saw this cartoon that was done where one guy was like critiquing another guy who’s kissing his girlfriend. Because like, there are 15 wasted motions in that right there.

Jason Bradford

Ah well, there’s a certain motion that they did not waste because they had 12 children.

Rob Dietz

Talk about a seminal moment.

Jason Bradford

They decided to well, that’s a lot to deal with. So they decided to raise their children according to the Taylor method. And this was made famous –

Rob Dietz

So each child had to move 47 tons of pig iron a day.

Asher Miller

Yeah, you have to eat your cereal in 12 seconds.

Jason Bradford

Two of their kids actually wrote a book about this. And it turned into a film. It’s called “Cheaper by the Dozen.”

Asher Miller

Yeah, there’s been a bunch of those made.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. So it was originally a movie in 1950. But then, yeah, Steve Martin remade it. And now Disney is remaking it this very year.

Asher Miller

Awesome.

Jason Bradford

That’s what we need.

Asher Miller

So they’re practicing total efficiency by just remaking shit all the time. No new new original scripts are applied.

Rob Dietz

Well, you gotta keep Taylor alive. You gotta keep scientific management in the pop culture. And in our mindset.

Jason Bradford

I think it’s still around like, I mean, think about what we do nowadays with with our phone apps. And remember the guy, Tim Ferriss, ever hear of him? He was big about 10 years ago. The four hour work week, right? Promising.

Rob Dietz

That’s what I do.

Asher Miller

It’s called having a trust fund.

Jason Bradford

His big thing was outsourcing what you don’t like to do, or want to do, and essentially was paying somebody in Bangladesh.

Asher Miller

What privilege. Oh my god. Are you fucking kidding me? I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to wipe my ass. Let’s outsource that. Wow. Okay. Yeah. Incredible. And then of course, we need to get other apps like meditation apps that can help us calm down a little bit.

Rob Dietz

Well, so in terms of the legacy of Taylor, we talked about how it got taken up by businesses. You’re talking about how it’s been taken up in pop culture and in families. But I want to come back to business a little bit, and more specifically to business school. So Harvard actually started the first MBA program, but the guy that was in charge of that was having a lot of trouble. So I guess this guy, Edwin Gay, he wanted to start this program, but he couldn’t figure out what it would actually be about because, you know, he’s talking to business people and they’d say, you can’t really teach business, you’ve got to feel it. And so then he came across Taylor’s work, and he’s like, “Oh, this is the perfect hook for my business school because this we can teach!”

Jason Bradford

It makes me think, though. It’s like, I’m running businesses, small businesses. And there’s a lot of stuff I didn’t know that would have been nice to have some schooling in. The legal side of things, insurance, accounting, finance. So I think there is a role to teach people some of the basics like that, of course.

Asher Miller

Yeah, absolutely. And there were business schools, maybe not master’s programs yet, but you know, they’re teaching business before

Rob Dietz

And even management. I could see throwing some courses or resources on how to organize stuff.

Asher Miller

Making sure that employees aren’t unionizing

Jason Bradford

Right, there’s a lot of social dynamics you have to be aware of.

Rob Dietz

But it’s gotten pretty wild how much this has grown. I mean, nowadays, you got something like 200,000 MBA (Master of Business Administration) graduates every year. And it’s the most popular graduate program in the United States. And same with undergrad. Business is now the most popular major in all of the colleges.

Jason Bradford

And it didn’t use to be? This has grown?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. I mean, it wasn’t even a thing before basically the turn of the 20th century.

Asher Miller

Wow. But I also think there’s an – I don’t know what the stats are on this, but I think a really high percentage of CEOs, people at the very top levels in corporations, are all MBAs. I mean, it’s kind of like an expectation on some level in order to rise up in management and to get into sort of C-Suite executive levels.

Rob Dietz

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to people studying this, but it doesn’t strike me as like, the strongest course of study, right? Like, you see people getting a PhD in accounting, and it’s like, what exactly does that entail? I mean I see yours in biology, Jason. And you’re trying to understand how an ecosystem works better, or trying to understand how some part of the living world actually operates. And then it’s like, how do we add up these numbers better? It just… it strikes me as odd that that’s such a popular course of study.

Asher Miller

I think we should talk about, you know, why we even picked this as a watershed moment. Why do we see this as being so, so important? And I think there are a few reasons. I mean, one of them is, I don’t think you can understate how much it’s changed labor in our economy to have kind of this new managerial class that has emerged. Whether they’re being taught specifically Taylor stuff or not. I mean, I think that that’s probably gone out of vogue on some level. And there are other things that people are being taught. But this idea that there’s this new class of worker that sits on top of labor, right, and that manages them and serves as a buffer between sort of the capital class, the owners of business. And are being essentially richly rewarded for extracting the maximum out of these workers. I mean, you go back to looking at  the equations for, you know, for economic models, right, labor and land or whatever.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, land, labor, capital.

Rob Dietz

Productivity equation.

Asher Miller

It’s like, let’s maximize this labor component as much as possible. And we’ve clearly seen, a lot of this is pointed to in terms of technology. But we’ve seen this growing disparity between the growth and productivity and wages for labor, right? Like they’re actually – even if Brandeis early on thought, this is a way of increasing the wellbeing of laborers, you know, it’s actually been used as a way in the sense of all these gains going really effectively to the top.

Rob Dietz

Guys, you know what it reminds me of? Did you guys ever see that – I think it was out on YouTube, where Rutger Bregman, this Dutch author was interviewed by Tucker Carlson?

Asher Miller

Oh, yeah, I remember that.

Rob Dietz

It was great. So what he did is he totally confronted Carlson. He’s like, “You are a millionaire who is serving as the mouthpiece for billionaires. You basically spout Rupert Murdoch’s bullshit so that he can make more money.” And then Tucker Carlson, of course, flips out and cuts him off, and calls him a butthead or whatever. It’s a great clip, and I really appreciate that. Because, yeah, you’re right. Like you have this whole class of people now that’s like, they’re all getting enriched to a really insane level, but not as insane as the people employing them. All at the expense of the working class.

Asher Miller

You know, it’s not just the 1% or the 0.1%. It’s this population of people who, and I’m not going to, I don’t want to disparage them all. I mean, obviously, there are people who many of them I’m sure are well intentioned and they worked hard and all that stuff. But this has absolutely fueled inequality by benefiting people. People who go to these MBA programs have to, in a sense, justify themselves.

Jason Bradford

They pay a lot of money for them too.

Asher Miller

I’m sure there’s a lot of value that people get out of it, you know. The sort of veneer of science to this. And then the graduates feel like they have to – you know, it all feeds itself in a sense in terms of creating the system where there’s this bifurcation, right. And you have to have, especially with these enormous corporations where you have to manage so many workers.

Jason Bradford

I mean, this actually ties in really well with an episode we did last year on the overproduction of elites. Where we talked about sort of primary, secondary and tertiary jobs in the economy. And that this was only really possible to have so many tertiary jobs, so many of these jobs that are managerial, because of the complexity of our society which almost required it, but then the energy basis allowed it to get this out of whack. And so I really think that’s a really good tie into this. So you’re seeing the rise of this as the industrial revolution is growing and consolidating, and societies are getting more and more complex with trade and division of labor, etc.

Rob Dietz

And using more and more energy to do all of that.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and we talked about these sorts of tertiary jobs are the best paying.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And they’re the best paying.

Asher Miller

You know, like the primary jobs, right? The ones that we need, fundamentally need, we call them essential workers now, right? But they get paid the least. It’s is kind of bonkers. You know, the other thing to bring up in terms of, you know, how does this relate to Crazy Town is that there has been an increase in efficiency and productivity, right? I mean, even if a lot of Taylorism stuff is bullshit, you know, this focus on efficiency gain, on increasing productivity, it may have not translated too great, especially with the destruction of unions, which I think you can also attribute to the rise of the managerial class, right? You have these productivity gains, they don’t necessarily lead to gains in wages for labor, but they have led to cheaper products, right? And more consumption, right? Which is, again, just fueling this sort of Crazy Town thing of like, scraping every resource we can out of the earth, exploiting labor and creating all this pollution that’s gonna do us in.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, efficiency ends up being maybe our enemy in the long run.

Asher Miller

And if you think about it, I mean, we’ve taken it now to this place where we have now globalized supply chains, because you know, it’s cheaper to get labor somewhere else. You know what I mean? It’s because energy has been so cheap. And that has directly led us to deal with the kinds of shocks that we’re seeing now, with supply chains and pressures. When these supply chains kind of break down, they become brittle because it’s such a focus on efficiency.

Jason Bradford

Again, remember, we also had an episode where we talked about how you got to be careful when you talk about what you mean by efficiency. And here, what we’re talking about is optimizing for profit and financial gain, which, when you have a high cost labor system means you’ve got to reduce the cost of labor, reduce the amount of labor per unit of production, use technology, with energy to leverage less labor to get more.

Rob Dietz

Or outsource it.

Jason Bradford

Or outsource somewhere where labor is cheaper. So this is yes, labor efficiency, which is really about the financial rewards of doing so. And then the lock in of technology and energy dependency.

Rob Dietz

And when you start thinking that way, that’s when it’s easy to see people as cogs in a machine, right? You’re thinking of them as some kind of resource rather than people. And I think this, you know, we can kind of look at a culmination of this, at least today, maybe this will get worse, but with the Amazon warehouse scene. Have you guys heard of ADAPT?

Asher Miller

Adapt?

Jason Bradford

No.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that’s the associate development and performance tracker. Which is used at Amazon to review employee performance.

Asher Miller

Wait, is that app that they have to… is it like an app that they have to install on their phones or something?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Everyone is tracked. If they log off, that gets tracked. Basically, big brother is watching you there. And it’s so you don’t waste time with stuff like going to the bathroom or eating your lunch.

Asher Miller

They’ve got this algorithm, right, that looks at what is the optimal productivity of a worker. And if you’re not hitting those. . .

Jason Bradford

It’s like Taylorism. It is.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, the crazy thing is Usain Bolt was the employee that they used in the warehouse and he was like the employee of the month. He was going 100 meters in nine seconds.

Asher Miller

And he was wearing what’s called a Stadium Pal, which is this bag that you wear around your ankle. And you have basically like a catheter.

Rob Dietz

You joke, but employees have taken to peeing in bottles because they’re worried about getting fired if they don’t meet their quota.

Asher Miller

We’re laughing, but that shit is not funny. That’s insane.

Rob Dietz

Yeah plus the bottles. They have to buy them from Amazon.

Asher Miller

If they were smart they just put them back on the shelf to be shipped out.

Rob Dietz

Oh no, they could sell them for more. Your bottle comes prefilled.

Jason Bradford

That’s good fertilizer. I’ll take some of those. That’s great.

Rob Dietz

Alright, yeah, you better watch out. You’re gonna end up with a shipment of urine bottles.

Asher Miller

If Bezos is listening, that’s for sure. We’re being tracked.

Rob Dietz

Hey, guys, I got another really nice five star review that I want to share with you. This one comes from plmg62 Or possibly p-l-m-g-62.

Asher Miller

Oh, yeah.

Rob Dietz

Okay. Plmg says, “I enjoy the fact that through a healthy injection of scatological humor and unrelated pop culture references –

Asher Miller

He actually said scatological?

Rob Dietz

Yes.

Asher Miller

Okay.

Rob Dietz

“And unrelated pop culture references, Rob, Asher, and Jason make the myriad existential crises we face entertaining. Keep up the good work.”

Jason Bradford

Yay! Thank you.

Asher Miller

You had me at scatological.

Jason Bradford

Thanks.

Asher Miller

Thanks.

Rob Dietz

And if you want to help us out, like plmj62, please go to your favorite podcast app and leave us a five star rating. Hit that share button if you like an episode and get your family and friends listening to Crazy Town.

George  Costanza

Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.

Jerry Seinfeld

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Jason Bradford

When I was watching this Netflix series on Michael Jordan, and they call it The Last Dance, it was really more than just about Michael Jordan. It was about the team around him and also the coach, Phil Jackson. I found that character pretty amazing. And one of the things that I got out of it was how Phil adapted his treatment to the individual. And he really had this really strong personal relationship. And the other character stands out for me is Dennis Rodman. You remember that guy?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yes. He would belong here in Crazy Town.

Asher Miller

He belongs in North Korea with his buddy over there.

Jason Bradford

He was out there. And they had plenty of footage and examples of Dennis being pretty wild. Going to Vegas in the middle of season.

Asher Miller

He left in the middle of like the playoffs. Didn’t he just like disappear?

Jason Bradford

Yeah. He went to some wrestling performance with Hulk Hogan.

Rob Dietz

But he was incredible. Like, what a rebounder. He was like the high energy guy.

Jason Bradford

Well that was the thing. It was like on the court, he gave everything. And what Phil Jackson and the team that accepted was that we’ve got to give him space to be himself and take the breaks he needs. Because we know he’s gonna to tell us what he needs outside of basketball to be great at basketball. So anyway, I bring this up in the do the opposite to say that when you have a small enough team like that, and you have relationships that are close, and you’re all working for the same goal, incredible things can happen. But it’s about the flexibility that happens when you know and respect and care for one another, which seems really opposite of the sort of cog in the machine scientific management. That’s why I bring it up.

Rob Dietz

Well you know, Phil Jackson did not study business administration in college. He was at the University of North Dakota, and he actually studied religion, philosophy and psychology. So maybe those were actually good subjects for management.

Asher Miller

He’s got a real spiritual background.

Jason Bradford

And he’s a basketball player.

Asher Miller

He also was a professional basketball player.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, but I think his parents were like, preachers and stuff.

Asher Miller

Yeah, what you just said, Jason, I think is a key thing to think about in terms of doing the opposite, and it gets to scale. Right? So a lot of these challenges that we’re dealing with, we’ve talked about on so many different levels, you know. We’re looking at complex systems and the challenges that we’re facing, and our inability cognitively to understand the enormity of the climate crisis and things that we’re creating. It is just due to the fact that we’re not designed to operate at the scale that we’re operating at, you know. And that’s true, just in terms of like, how we work together as human beings. There’s another fascinating theory that was developed that came out of, you know, again, studying sort of labor and how people work. There’s a guy named Homer Hibarger, I think. I’m not sure how it’s pronounced. But he was studying this is like in the 1920’s, early 20’s, or something like that. He was trying to study how like illumination, I think he was hired by like a light bulb company or something, how that actually makes workers more productive.

Rob Dietz

Wait, how light bulbs make workers more productive?

Asher Miller

If you turn up the lights, basically, yeah.

Rob Dietz

I was gonna say yeah, if you’re stuck in the dark, it’s hard to get your job done.

Asher Miller

Well, we talked about Taylor how his eyes probably went to shit be he was sitting by candlelight or something like that, right? So he was doing these studies to see if you increase the lights, you know, they’d go up. And productivity did go up and actually being a true researcher unlike, our buddy Taylor here, he was actually like, “Well, I didn’t compare to this to other things.” So he tried a bunch of other stuff. Like he gave – and  these are women doing telephone relay stuff.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, he released several hives of stinging bees into the . . .

Asher Miller

No, he was trying to do nice things like give them breaks, you know. And when he gives them breaks, productivity went up, also. And then he gave more breaks and productivity went up even more. He eventually let them leave like an hour early every day. Productivity even went up again. Free lunch, all this stuff. And he couldn’t fucking figure out why this was going on. So they brought in this other guy, this Australian guy named Mayo to look at this. And basically, his theory was that it doesn’t matter what the interventions were, it was a fact that you brought this small team of women together, working together on something. Do you know what I mean? So there’s this like cohesion and connection between them that led to that productivity. It didn’t matter if it was a lights or the heat or the whatever.

Jason Bradford

Oh interesting.

Asher Miller

Which is, I think, really fascinating. I mean, there’s a dark side to that, which is like, you could on a managerial level of like trying to manipulate – I think they call this sort of like a humanistic approach to management. You can manipulate people to that way if you wanted to. But again, bring it down to the human scale, I think is really key.

Rob Dietz

Well, that’s very different, the idea of I’m going to manipulate people by using this information versus I’m going to trust them to make good decisions as a team. And that brings up the story of Jos de Blok, and I read about this in Rutger Bregman’s book, “Humankind.” We talked about Bregman a little bit ago with the Tucker Carlson interview. So Jos de Blok is like the contrarian CEO who doesn’t believe in management, essentially. It’s pretty fascinating. So he runs this health care organization in the Netherlands, it’s kind of about nursing and giving people care. It’s called Buurtzorg. I’m sure I’m butchering that pronunciation. But I think, just in reading some of his quotes, he seems like a contrarian sort of jokester in a way. But his company has won a shit ton of awards. And it was voted Employer of the Year, five times in the Netherlands. And he gets sought after by professors and people all over the world and gives these great interviews. But basically, it’s what you guys are talking about, he favors these small teams that are autonomous, they decide who’s on their team, they make decisions about how to give care. And what’s happened is the people receiving health care are happier and doing better, obviously, winning these employer of the year awards. The employees are happier and doing better. And it’s like, he’s basically saying, we got to get out of the way. Stop with this middle management. Let’s just get rid of it and trust people to make good decisions and they come up with great ideas.

Jason Bradford

That’s very interesting, because it reminds me of a different context. I have a friend Kinari Webb. And I’ve been reading her book, “Guardians of the Trees.” And she goes to Indonesia after the terrible tsunami, and she watches all these NGOs, who are these sort of bloated bureaucracies, where all these people come in from these rich countries and they think they know what to do. And they separate themselves from the population in trying to help out. She, on the other hand, starts an NGO that goes in to provide health care to these rural areas that are on the edge of these national parks. Which there’s incredible biodiversity in the Dipterocarp forests and orangutangs. And they’re cutting them down because if people get in an emergency, they have a medical problem, and they don’t have any cash. So they’re cutting trees down to go to some hospital.

Rob Dietz

They’re paying for services in logs, essentially.

Jason Bradford

Well, they need the cash and otherwise there’s not many other ways for them to get money. But they don’t want to do it. So she talks about how she trusted these poor, uneducated, from Western standards, people, and she did this radical listening, like I’m going to hear and understand what their life is about. I’m going to ask them questions. And then she’s going to ask them to problem solve collectively. And so it’s a  tremendous flip completely.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, because Taylor would have asked him questions and then broke out the stopwatch.

Jason Bradford

Right. So I find all this very interesting. Like trust that most people are going to want to do the right thing. And my friend Kinnari always says like, they’re all actually intelligent. Like, we look down at these people because they don’t have the education we do. But she trusts that they’re actually smart. That there’s a reasonable amount of average human intelligence out there and they can actually solve these problems.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and I guess I would say, even on a broader level, but it really does come down to the individual. I think we have to recognize that – and you talked about this earlier, Rob. I think  maybe the biographer of Taylor talked about how sort of Taylorism has become so seeped into our culture. That we sort of see it as normal and reasonable and rational to be thinking about how productive and efficient we are. We always do this to ourselves. I do this in my life. And I was actually just talking my wife about this. And she’s one of the most productive people I know. And she’s always kept these like lists going. And she’s going through this process right now, where she’s like, I’m going to cut these lists down basically. I’m not going to do these lists anymore, and I’m gonna try to create more space. Now, there’s a privilege to being able to do that that she recognizes. There are a lot of people that basically don’t have the freedom or flexibility to do that. But maybe it takes those of us who are in a position where we do have some flexibility to say, we’re measuring the wrong things here. Do you know what I mean? And you talked, Jason,  to about when we talk about efficiency, we’re talking about monetary labor efficiency, rather than energy or resource efficiency. I think even efficiency as a whole, or productivity, we should be thinking about sustainability, and quality.

Rob Dietz

Well, let’s keep the good stuff from Taylor in the pop culture. So you know, he’s all about Cheaper by the Dozen, right? But Yoast a Blokes teams are actually 12 people in his company. So let’s try that. Let’s try Better by the Dozen.

Melody Travers

Thanks for listening. We just gave you a whole bunch of do the opposite ideas so you can take action in your life and community. If that’s too much at this time in your life, do something real simple. Give us a five star rating on Spotify or any other podcast app, and hit the share button to let your friends know about Crazy Town.

Jason Bradford

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Rob Dietz

One, one moment. Two, two moments, ah, ah, ah. Three…