f r o m xT a y l o r xt oxT a y l o r
moving beyond the cult of efficiency
Frederick Winslow Taylor was a great man and still controversial to this day. I am not a Taylor basher although I have for years threatened to write a book called From Taylor to Taylor. This paper will have to do. There is no question that his ghost still looms large over both the global economy and our human-changing planetary ecology. What is interesting about his approach and mine is that we are complete opposites who meet in the middle. I believe, as Taylor did, that efficiency can be a great liberator. Where we differ, is that this is not true on the systems level. Efficient systems fail. efficient components and process - at the proper scale and governed by the appropriate rules - work.
Efficiency and effectiveness are Zen like: first you see the mountain then you do not - then you do. They tend to work at alternate levels of recursion. Seeing how this so so it to probe one of Nature’s deeper mysteries.
While an advocate for efficient methods in processes like construction for decades, I have fought the cult of efficiency as it has been applied to economics and social policy. The paradox is this. Our way of building housing is still a monument to waste and our commitment to a so-called rational, efficient economy is destroying life, yes, very efficiently. We have it backwards.
Thomas Princen explicates this point with great thoroughness in his book The Logic of Sufficiency.
I wonder what Taylor would say today about how his ideas and work have been applied. Did he intend them to be good engineering or the social paradigm they have become?
The aim of this paper is to sort these things out a bit. This is not a trivial exercise. Efficiency is a cult, now. It is the excuse for almost every excess. It makes people blind to what is happening right in front of their eyes. It has become the hidden design assumption of a myriad of social policies that serve some in the short term and attack life, systemically, at the heart of it capacity to sustain, regenerate and transform.
Who will challenge it?
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