I am a patriot. I am proud of America and proud of our abilities in business and industry. My impression has always been that America has succeeded primarily because of our hard-working, intelligent, competitive nature. When critics have argued that America has fattened itself on the plunders of war, I've felt that this was an over-exaggerated bias ideal meant to vilify America. Of course there are sensationalists out there, but the text in this class is not of that category. They support the fact that America did gain an advantage because competitors suffered from disrupted economies resulting from WWII while also giving credit to intelligent American ingenuity.
America seems to have been fascinated with production from the beginning. One observer in the 1900's noticed that although "the skill and knowledge of Europeans ... was equal and sometimes superior to that of Americans," Americans differed in that they would excel in making "a process for making a product" while the European counterpart would aim to design the original product (Locke and Spender 3). During WWII America invested in technologies by importing scientists from all over the globe to solve problems like the formation of the atomic bomb and operational use of radar information (Locke and Spender 10 and 11). This was done to meet the "demand for more effective weapons ... [and this] stimulated technology and invention (qtd. in Locke and Spender 51)." Here Operational Research (OR) was formed through statically and mathematically formed techniques drawn from military operations of strategic planning, logistics, and operational problems. In the late 1940's business schools were founded and OR was considered the 'best practice' of the time (Locke and Spender 11-14).
Although the scientific ingenuity of mechanistic managerilism was clearly admirable for the use of liner problems that the military faced in WWII, in the 70's people began to wonder if OR was as beneficial to business as once thought (Locke and Spender 28). Fritjof Capra, physicist and systems theorist, said that "as our new century unfolds one of our biggest challenges is to build and nurture sustainable communities in our cultural and physical environment that we can satisfy our needs ... without diminishing future generations." Capra believes, unlike managerilist notions, that business should be viewed as connected systems that mimic natures metabolizing networks. He makes a good point. Johnson explains that "the modern obsession" of basing decisions entirely from quantitative information, causes damage "to the underlying system of relationships that sustain any human organization (Kliner 2).” Organizational Research's application to social systems, especially business, is proving to be flawed.
The complaint is that because these scientifically based practices fail to understand that the purpose of a business is to "sustainably supply the economic needs" of society as a whole, they enrich "a small elite caste of investor-capitalists who use financial markets and business institutions to trade the future of humanity and non-human life for unlimited personal financial gain (Johnson)." Under these assumptions any measures to increase a firm's target market value will be acceptable. Firms will even stoop to layoffs, revisions of labor contracts that reduce wages, terminating employee pension contracts, and drawing cash from employee pension funds (Johnson). As Locke and Spender put it, OR systems legitimize "predatory instincts done in the name of good science (Locke and Spender 2)."
This aversion to human sustaining systems and focus on quantifiable outcomes is something I can verify in my own life. I often feel affected by it at work and college. Our society satires the situation with highly popular zombie movies that compare the American worker to lifeless, life-eating creatures. We feel like our creativity is being wasted and our humanity is spent.
I remember a recent class assignment. I was part of a group composed of top business students. We had deadlines like all projects, but the goal of the class was to learn to solve problems in a group. Here I saw firsthand the lament of Professor Johnson when he said "Business schools mistakenly teach young MBAs to make decisions entirely from quantitative information, rather than from explicit, detailed knowledge of how a company conducts work (Kliner 2)." Even when paired with top students in a prestigious honors program, I suffered the effects of misdirected focus on the deadline, quantity, and production rather than benefiting from a process that sustained the long-term success of the group.
Let me give you another example. As a group in another class, I found myself part of a team that put focus on building strong relationships and solid communication habits. Although our meetings were more numerous and appeared to be more time-consuming, our quality of work was creative and at a very high level. Each assignment got easier to accomplish and students felt included, inspired, and successful. We set schedules with plenty of room for mistakes and even made time for two students who shared that certain days were necessary for family time. Our focus was on creating something accurate and beautiful while achieving the quantitative standards of the class. The difference between these experiences is that the focus in the second group began with the people, moved to the vision, and then considered the quantitative standard to achieve the goal. The project was approached as if an "A" grade goal was obvious. It became unnecessary to pressure each other about the grade, the deadline, to the amount of work required.
In conclusion, Confronting Managerialism and other texts shared in this class have helped expand my understanding of business. I realize that the criticisms of American industry and business are not meant to vilify, but to encourage life-sustaining habits that benefit society as a whole. By learning to think of business practices in a way that considers the environment and social impact within a network of interconnected relationships, we will be able to build sustainable communities. With this knowledge I will be able to become a better teammate and employee; learning to treat cohorts as members of a living system rather than easily removed parts of a machine.
Capra, Fritjof, perf. Fritjof Capra, The Systems View of Life. 2007. Web. 27 Jan 2013.
Johnson, Thomas H., and Anders Broms. Profit Beyond Measure: Extraordinary Results Through Attention to Work and People. The Free Press: 2000. Print.
Johnson, Thomas H. "When Accountants Come to Power."The NEP-HIS Blog. WordPress.com, 08 May 2012. Web. 27 Jan 2013.
Kleiner, Art. "What Are the Measures That Matter?." Strategy Business: Culture and Change. 09 Jan 2002: Issue 26. Print.
Locke, Robert R., and J.C. Spender. Confronting Managerialism: How the Business Elite and Their Schools Threw Our Lives Out Of Balance. New York, NY: Zed Books, 2011. 1-192. Print.
** For MGMT410, US Management Since 1945, Winter Term, 2013
** For MGMT410, US Management Since 1945, Winter Term, 2013