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The work ethic, Luddites and Taylorism in Japanese management literature.

A number of recent themes have appeared in Japanese texts relating to aspects of American and western technological and cultural history. These comments may provide some insight into the differences between the U.S. and Japan in the direction of technological growth. The author is providing his understandings of comments written by an interpreter from Japanese to English about another's understanding of historical events that have been previously translated into Japanese.

The morality of contemplative idleness

Kaoru Ishikawa, one of Japan's leaders in the quality control movement has recently published a book, What is Total Quality Control?, which was translated by David Lu. Ishikawa, in addition to his main theme of total quality control, has speculated on some of the reasons why quality control was not the success in the U.S. that it was in Japan. Although not presented as a major theme of the book, these speculations are important for understanding the influence of culture on technology.

Ishikawa discusses religion as one of the 14 points of Japan's unique cultural background. In analyzing why a Japanese manufacturer will have inspectors as only one percent of the work force while an American company will have fifteen, he sees "Confucianism is divided into two strains. One is represented by Mencius, who said that man is by nature good. The other is represented by Hsuntzu, who said that man is by nature evil. I have studied Confucianism from several angles, and my belief is that, with education, anyone can become good in the best tradition of Mencius."

He continues, "The basic teachings of Christianity appear to say that man is by nature evil. (The translator disassociates himself from this statement.) This teaching has cast a shadow over the Western nations' management philosophy. It suggests that people, for example in the manufacturing division, cannot be trusted."

The translator, David Lu, could not accept this point of view, commenting that "Ishikawa's comment on the nature of Western civilization in this instance is off the mark. The old testament view of man is that he is created in the image of God and is good. Sin entered the world because of one man's disobedience, but it does not follow that man remains in a state of depravity. The act of redemption through Christ allows man to be regenerated and become a new man."

Considering these comments from a cultural, rather than religious viewpoint, the attitudes toward work in the western religious heritage is, at the very least, ambiguous. Manual labor has nearly always been considered demeaning and commerce was, at various times, not an accepted practice.

Mechanical labor was to the ancient Greeks an activity for slaves and other menials. A necessary evil, it was to be avoided in the search for enlightenment. It brutalized the mind and made man unfit for virtuous pursuits. The Hebrews and early Christians considered it painful drudgery. Looked upon as a punishment for sin, it had no worth of itself. Work could serve the ulterior ends of charity and ward off the evil thoughts of idleness, but it was merely to supply basic needs. In the monastery, pure meditation of divine matters was more important than even the intellectual work of translating and copying. The reward for such activity was heaven, a place where the devout would be free of all odious physical tasks.

Thus, physical work was to be avoided. Among certain medieval heretical sects, however, work gained favor as a painful and humiliating scourge of the flesh. Either way, it was either useless or penance. If the performance of task was odious and unworthy, the activities that gained profit from such tasks were sinful and very simply not condoned by "polite society."

Religious beliefs of medieval Christians did not permit economic growth. Church leaders contended that any act of commerce, was by its nature, evil; St. Augustine preached that business was in itself an evil. Profit was considered avarice, charging interest was usury, and buying wholesale to sell for retail was condemned by cannon law. The parable of Christ and the temple money changers served as a basis for civil law.

Just price, the principle of a minimal livelihood for each craftsmen, forced the banker, merchant and businessman into daily sin and a contradiction of the prevailing moral code. Strict statutes prohibited gaining an advantage over others.

To prevent such "advantages," civil laws were enacted. They included prohibiting the use of artificial light; designing of new tools; creating of new methods; employing wives, children or extra apprentices; underselling below the fixed price; working in secret; and advertising one's wares. Even praising one's wares to the determent of others was forbidden. The common European fairy tale of elves helping a harmless shoemaker would have been viewed as a serious moral and civil breach of ethics.

Yet the need for the goods and services provided only by manufacture and trade vexed medieval thinkers. While some contemplated the morality of a "just" interest rate, others regularly paid fines and collected profits. Despite a papal dictum of prohibition, merchants in Venice and Genoa grew rich on trade with the infidels of Syria and Egypt, who, likewise, had similar religious beliefs against commerce. Under the disapproving eyes of the Church, the rich grew richer. As controllers of the materials, tools and market, they reduced wages. The poor grew poorer and the working class grew resentful. The collective actions now recognized as union, strike and lockout occurred.

Flanders, for example, had a large textile industry. Laborer-artisans, depreciatingly called "Bluenails," were considered inferior and not allowed political rights. When the laborers organized, refusing to work and punishing fellows that did, they were imprisoned and fined.

The basis of medieval life was the brotherhood. Everyone belonged. Nobles had their orders; the artisans had theirs. But the merchant guilds ruled the cities and the merchants, not the artisans, ruled the guilds. Heavy sales taxes, the bane of the poor, were levied on peat, grain, beer and wine. In the shadow of the ideal promoted by the Church, the reality for the laborer was sharply different.

Thus, in the 14th century, long before factories and economic determinism, our culture developed a prejudice of the management profession as being sinful. Also found among our cultural stereotypes is the attitude toward physical work as being demeaning, particularly when required by others. The two components provide a basis for the view of unionism as a struggle against management. The labor-management dichotomy, borrowed from medieval society, could provide a case for Ishikawa's comments on religion.

Nightmare of management: Luddites

Alan Robinson, in the introduction to his edited readings on Japanese management tactics, Continuous Improvement in Operations: A Systematic Approach to Waste Reduction, used the term luddite rebellion in its common usage. That is, it "has come to represent the often difficult problem of introducing new technology or methods into the work place."

It would be foolish to deal with trivialities of events and motives in 1815 unless, as the author of this paper does, one agrees with Robinson's next statement: "Every manager should know the story of the Luddites, as it is an interesting one and contains some valuable lessons."

The Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance saw work rise from a bane to noble activity. Work became a natural right and duty. St. Thomas Aquinas praised work along with learning and contemplation as a source of grace. Martin Luther preached that conscientious performance of labor was man's highest duty.

Because of these new attitudes, the structure of society changed. The peasant class was predominant in the Middle Ages (about 90 percent of the population according to Ludd). As economic practicality in the form of a profitable wool trade and relaxed mores against avarice occurred, farming turned from small tenant operations to grazing lands, and the peasants were turned out to starve. The English highwayman, the food riot and the basis for a laborer work force was thus established. The artisan or laborer, such as the cropper, became the dominant force in society. The common mores and rules from the Middle Age merchant guilds that protected such craftsmen were still valid.

Now, instead of being tied to the land actively farming, more people began to live in small communities and work at crafts. Often they rented the building, tools and equipment, borrowed the materials and were paid for finished work. The merchant marketed the product for profit.

In spite of the social bans, labor-saving devices were introduced and resisted by laborers in the English cottage crafts as early as Elizabethan times. Legislation in 1551 suppressed the use of gig-mills. In 1638, the Royal Charter to the London weavers banned the use of engine looms. Then, during 1768, 500 sawyers assaulted a mechanical saw-mill.

Although machine breaking had been a time-honored technique of the artisan in response to merchant abuse since the Middle Ages, conditions in the English countryside from 1811 to 1816 set man against machine. The violent aspect of the worker against management struggle has been symbolized in the short reign of terror attributed to luddism. Today, to the student of management, the term luddite means a person who was determined to prevent progress by destroying machinery.

Although the luddites did destroy machinery, it was not, apparently, their purpose. The nature of the cottage system did not lend itself to the modern work stoppage. There was simply no one place to picket, no economic impact on an individual owner. The machine destroyers could not strike at the manager, could not affect the system. But they could destroy the symbol of the system, the machine.

The period was one of real and imagined insurrection, of famine and food riot and of lawlessness and thievery. Although activities of true luddism did occur, many acts for different purposes were ascribed to the cause.

Employers attempted to operate with unapprenticed workers, introduce lower piece wages and encourage easily made but shoddy non-traditional garments called cut-ups. As a background to such changes, the employers chose a period of depression and economic hardship.

Historically, the luddites were groups of textile workers from areas such Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire who organized, attacked the cottages of persons reputed engaged in such activities and destroyed the machines. Many other types of outlaws and revolutionaries used the cover of the luddite rebellion for personal or political profit. Seen as violators of the civil peace, luddites and pseudo-luddites were hunted as common outlaws. Having much public sympathy, it required the British Army to end their activity.

"General Ludd," although seen everywhere, never existed. Several notes signed "Ned Ludd" were found in 1812. It is believed that the name was adopted from a common tale about an angry youth named Ludlam who destroyed his father's weaving frame when scolded about the way his needles were squared. As luddite mobs formed, one person assumed the title of leader, or "General Ludd."

While never having a chance at ending the machine age, English mercantilism, or even the movement from skilled labor to machine-assisted work, the luddites represented the extent to which a person will act when one's income and way of traditional livelihood is threatened.

But while the motivation and activities of the luddites is interesting, there is another lesson in the response of government. In 1911, luddites were perceived to be everywhere and, indeed, during the summer not a night went by without an incident. Rumors were wild. Was there a movement to overthrow the government? Were the insurrectionists armed? No weapons were ever found.

The government assumed the worst and dispatched an army of 12,000 to patrol the affected districts. Penalties for suspected luddism were increased from short incarceration to hanging. Thus, the cities and countryside were patrolled by more troops than the 1808 British Expeditionary Force required to quell the French in Portugal. The ultimate penalty of hanging made other local citizens sympathetic to the luddite cause and unwilling to inform against them.

Certainly a comment on the many and varied violent responses to worker protest in all cultures is appropriate. American labor history includes the machine-gunning of striking copper miners' families and the forced exile of native-born American citizens to Mexico. These examples, along with other atrocities, show that the worker historically must have some trepidation about treatment by the authorities for labor grievances. Japan also, according to Robinson, had ziabatsu conglomerates (if that is not redundant) as recently as 1948, which possessed "their own secret police forces to oppress labor."

Scientific management and Taylorism

The scientific management concept spread throughout the world. Thompson states that "Shop Management" has been extensively reprinted and translated into French, German, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Lettish and Japanese.

Among the latter, Yasuhiro Monden, in writing of the Toyota production system, recognized that "It follows the Taylor system and the Ford system." Another Japanese innovator, Shigeo Shingo, one of the Toyota system inventors, says that he studied Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management in 1931 and was so impressed that he devoted his life to the practice of scientific management. Shingo mentions early Japanese teachers such as Ken'ichi Horikome, Toshiro Ikeda, and Yoichi Ueno.

Shingo commented, "Especially in the United States, the setting of standards for contract systems has led to the replacement of time study with time setting. It seems the American management has lost sight of the original goal of doing away with waste."

Ishikawa had a slightly different opinion, stating, "The Taylor method is one of management by specialists. It suggests that specialists and engineers formulate technical standards and work standards. All the workers have to do is simply do what they are told to do and follow the standards set for them. This method was probably a viable method fifty years ago, but it is certainly not applicable to today's Japan."

Taking Taylor out of the historical context of his time prevents an understanding of his role in reaction to a decadent style of management. Even one of his harshest critics, Friedman, recognized that "rationalization in its details, its spirit, its successive stages, its successes and failures, is not to be understood without placing it in the historical context of which it is an integral part."

From quite a different viewpoint than Friedman, this author sees the scientific management movement as a response to a hopelessly inefficient management system. From about 1850, the mill, whether as a model Lowell prototype or as foreboding as one in an Upton Sinclair novel, contained only bosses and workers. It was essentially planned and scheduled by the agreements and disagreements of the overseers. No real plan or provision for efficient production was made and, therefore, no reward for performance possible. Abuses of the overseers in the recruitment, payment and retention of laborers, particularly in those of immigrants, were common. Being "good," attending church on Sunday and being at the plant the rest of the week were the valued virtues.

If the physical and mental efforts of men, then, were to be bought and sold, who directed their methods at work? The craft skills of the individual brought technique to the work place. Even with the brutal excesses and inefficiencies of the overseer system, it became apparent to some that the effectiveness of applying one or another technique affected the quality and quantity of produced goods. It was merely a next step to gather the best techniques and require all to use them.

Frederick Winslow Taylor, of a somber and upper-class background, was apprenticed and trained as a machinist. Beginning his industrial career at Midvale Steel in 1878, he would be promoted from machinist to sub-foreman and, after receiving a mechanical engineering degree, he progressed to shop foreman, master mechanic and then chief engineer. From all of his practical experience, he recognized the procedures required for sustained production and formulated them into the scientific management philosophy.

In the harsh environment of the mill, Taylor's attitude about workers developed. Midvale had grown from a part-time one furnace shop into a business with over five-hundred employees in six buildings. The buildings were dilapidated and so dark that they were continuously lit by foul smelling kerosene lamps. The men were, to Taylor, just as hard as the plant. He knew they could work better, having recently done the same job, but they were adamant that they could not work any faster. Taylor detected the workers reacting with an organized slowdown, "soldiering," and violent cohesiveness toward any rate breakers. In response, he threatened the work force, fired anyone suspected of organizing, reduced pay for those workers on slowdown and fined anyone for deliberately breaking tools. It is to his later descriptions of these shop-floor lessons that critics applied the derogatory term Taylorism. In essence, it is the division of work into many small, meaningless activities, to be performed exactly as instructed.

But there was another side to Taylor and scientific management. Recognizing the necessity of organized, systematic efforts rather than the rule of thumb, he was smart enough to directly confront the evils and inefficiencies of the foreman system. Described as the "Military System of Management," a Taylor confidante, James Dodge expressed Taylor's disdain. In such a shop, the foreman is not required to account for his actions, but do whatever is necessary. The foreman receives no training, but is expected to know his duties. The superintendent attends to all relations outside the shop, depriving the foreman of any pertinent information about schedules or design problems. The worker is expected to acquire all of the knowledge needed outside the plant. Since no one can (or is expected to) set a rational plan for accomplishing work, no one does. Directions, rather than meaningful work assignments, become acts of criticizing, goading and driving. Although such criticism is echoed loudly through the shop, praise ends with the superintendent. Immediate money is the criterion and the motto is "You don't have to work here if you don't want to."

Taylor's concepts have never been fully installed. Midvale, in particular, became a disappointment to Taylor. After he left, the planning department was cut from eight men to one assistant, who was expected to set rates for the entire plant. Hoxie has commented that after inspecting 35 shops selected by Taylor and followers that, "In the course of the present investigation, no single shop was found which could be said to represent fully and faithfully the Taylor method ... and no two shops were found in which identically or even approximately the same policies and methods were established and adhered to throughout."

The basic plan or set of principles that Taylor spent his life developing consisted of:

* A large daily task -- Each man in the establishment, high or low, should daily have a clearly defined task laid out before him. This task should not in the least degree be vague or indefinite, but should be circumscribed carefully and completely, and should not be easy to accomplish;

* Standard conditions -- Each man's task should call for a full day's work, and at the same time the workman should be given such standardized conditions and appliances as will enable him to accomplish the task with certainty;

* High pay for success -- He should be sure of large pay when he accomplishes his task; and

* Loss in case of failure -- When he fails he should be sure that sooner or later he will be the loser by it.

The requirements for such a program involved fundamental changes in the attitude of the worker and in the attitude and organization of management. According to babcock, a Taylor system at Franklin Automotive required that, "Under this system a workman is not only told in detail how to do a job, but he is also furnished with everything necessary to accomplish it. This means that he must be furnished with stock, sharpened tools and proper jigs, and that he must lose no time because of improper appliances. In other words, all things must be in the best possible condition."

This, on first glance, seems easy and the rewards were very high, sometimes more than tripling output. But, as Hathaway comments to Taylor's On the Art of Cutting Metals, "After I had managed to get the belts, tools and driving mechanisms on a few of the machines in such a condition that something like the proper feeds and speeds could be used, I found that it was utterly impossible ... to insure such conditions be maintained continuously."

Thus, Taylor never quite saw the staff support to maintain production he requested. The concept, which he called functional foremanship, proved cumbersome and confusing. It would take a decade before the staff concept became popular. Taylor wanted only first-class employees. His experience with workers at Midvale apparently soured him so much that he wanted only those he could motivate. This would prove, by his own calculations, to be about one man in seven. He would teach that man how the job was to be done and, in return, would pay the man the highest rate around, about 50 to 60 percent above the prevailing wage. Taylor recognized and lectured that this made money for both the company and the man, but companies continually searched for ways around reducing the rate. Taylor considered such cutting of rates, even when they were set in error, to be a violation of worker trust. Taylor's plan for worker payment contained a cruel factor for the less skilled. Where his first-class man received a high enough bonus to draw men from all over to try, those unsuccessful at meeting the rates were paid much less than a basic wage. This was, according to Taylor, to induce the incapable and the slackers to find more suitable work. Thus, the plan was unpopular with the six in seven workers unable to make bonus and with employers who did not want to pay any such bonus. Taylor was convinced by clients to modify his views towards a task-and-bonus style plan that provided all workers a basic wage.

In order to determine the basis for bonus payment, Taylor devised elemental time study and used it at Midvale. He accounted for the difference in pace by a system of allowances and accounted for wasted motions by developing a motion pattern consisting of only those motions contributing to the task. This is essentially how time study is performed today. Time study, according to Taylor's naive view of motivation, would be the tool that would eliminate guesswork and provide a task time upon which worker and management could agree.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, America was rampant with inflation and the railroads wanted massive rate increases. The claim was made that railroads could save a million dollars a day if they used scientific management. This phrase suddenly thrust the Taylor system and its group of followers into the national headlines. The fame attracted unscrupulous fast-buck artists. At the same time scientific management was developing, a large number of schemes were also being devised that did not have the intention of the management principles. They ranged from pseudo-scientific systems of rate cutting to methods of eliminating union agitators by reading the bumps on a laborer's head. Taylor was infuriated and called these hoaxters jackals.

The new art and science of management practice was, it should be noted, based upon the concept that the process was the property of the company. The worker was to follow the company methods in achieving that process and improve by performing the prescribed method more accurately and rapidly. The management would investigate problems, initiate improvements and change the method as required. Hoxie was greatly concerned with the motives of the management and time study personnel. He found that when "Properly and fully applied, time study does substitute knowledge for ignorance in the setting of tasks. It thus opens the way for more reasonable judgments ..."

And, he warned, "A method, which in benevolent and intelligent hands makes better dealing possible, may be woefully abused by the ignorant and unscrupulous, and observation proves that time study for task setting is no exception ..."

Hoxie recognized that the education and ethical philosophy of the time-study man was critical in determining whether the efficiency was combined with "just and humane treatment of workers" or sought "at their expense physically, industrially and socially." Since the average time-study man was paid "little more than good mechanic's wages and has little voice in determining shop policies," Hoxie was justifiably skeptical of the ability of current rate-setters to perform as "the central figure in scientific management."

Taylor would have been the first to disavow Taylorism. The movement that he founded was based on real needs within the shops of an America at the time of its centennial. It was unappreciated by the big owners because it required investment in talent and planning. It was attacked by the unions because it did not encourage the worker bonding, which unions required for membership and dues. It was misunderstood and utilized by the very military-type managers it was meant to supersede.

The philosophy of scientific management has changed considerably over the years, but it is still based in the pragmatic attempt to systematically study and improve the workplace. It has modified classical techniques and added new ones. It has become a world-wide movement, transcending governmental systems, economic systems and even cultures.

The tremendous differences between the cultures of Japan and the U.S. cannot be understated. As Ishikawa and others point out, Japan has a very stable culture, while the U.S. has a very dynamic one. Japan has had a modern educational system since the Meiji Restoration and basic literacy since 1603. As a result, one might expect, rightfully so, the Japanese people seem to cherish position and group stability while western people desire personal improvement and freedom.

With doubts in the western mind as to the motivation behind change and the impact of such change, western culture has been unable to fulfill the scientific management goal of eliminating labor strife through scientifically determined work procedures. In Japan's crisis after the Pacific War, classical work analysis moved to Japan in the form of job methods training. The concepts of Taylor, Gilbreth and Gantt appeared in the writings of Shingo, Nakajima and Takahashi just as the concepts of Deming and Shewhart appeared in the writings of Ishikawa and Mizuno. It is interesting to review case studies of implementation in America and Japan and find both how very little has changed and how much opportunity for improvement exists.

As Casson said, "If you want to know how efficient you are, you must measure yourself against the standards of today, not of your grandfather."

James R. Stewart, Ph.D., P.E., is assistant professor of technology at Northern Illinois University. A senior member of IIE, he received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University and his M.S. from Oklahoma State. Stewart has 30 years experience as an industrial engineer in government and industry. Listed in Marquis' Who's Who in Government, his professional interests include product quality, productivity and quality of working life.

For further reading

Babcock, G., The Taylor System in Franklin Management, New York: The Engineering Magazine Company, 1918.

Casson, Factory Efficiency, London: The Efficiency Magazine, 1917.

Church, A., and Pratt, "The Principles of Management," American Machinist, Vol. 36, no. 22.

Dodge, J., "A History of the Introduction of A System of Shop Management," in C. Thompson, ed., Scientific Management, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914.

Friedman, G., Industrial Society., Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1955.

Gantt, H., "Five Steps to the One Best Way," in F.M. Feiker, ed., How Scientific Management Is Applied, Chicago: The System Company, 1911.

Hathaway, "The Planning Department, Its Organization and Function," in C. Thompson, ed., Scientific Management, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914.

Hoxie, R., Scientific Management and Labor, New York: Kelley, 1915.

Ishikawa, K., What Is Total Quality Control? Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Ludd, G., Readings In The History of Civilization, London: The Macmillan Co., 1966.

Lux, K., Adam Smith's Mistake: How a Moral Philosopher Invented Economics and Ended Morality, Boston: Shambhala, 1990.

Mills, C., White collar: The American Middle-Class, New York: Oxford University Press, 1951.

Robinson, A., Continuous Improvement In Operations: A Systematic Approach To Waste Reduction, Cambridge, MA: Productivity Press, 1991.

Shingo, S., Modern Approaches To Manufacturing Improvement: The Shingo System, Cambridge, MA: Productivity Press, 1989.

Taylor, F., "Time study, Piece Work, and the First-Class Man," Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, New York: ASME, 1911.

Taylor, F., "On the Art of Cutting Metals," in C. Thompson, ed., Scientific Management, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1907.

Thomas, M., The Luddites: Machine-Breaking in Regency England, New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Thompson, Scientific Management, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914.

Tilgher, A., Work: What It Has Meant To Men Through the Ages, New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1930.

Tuchman, B., A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, New York: Ballantine Books, 1978.
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Title Annotation:Management Improvement Opportunities
Author:Stewart, James R.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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