The social problems of an industrial civilization (1947)
By Elton Mayo
A quarter of a century after his death, Mayo’s name is still remembered and he himself is still the center of controversy. The vigor of the criticism directed against him demonstrates the importance of his views for the social scientist concerned with industrial behavior. By the 1950s, the stream of criticism had swelled to a flood. Writing towards the end of the decade, Landsberger was moved to remark “that among a large number of sociologists and economists, ‘taking a shot at Mayo’—and at human relations—seems to be a favored practice of several years’ standing.”
Since then there has been some reduction in frequency, but none in intensity. Mayo’s name has become synonymous with a narrow (and, to some, ethically questionable) view of social relations in industry; so much so that the terms “Mayoite” and “Mayoism” have passed into the pejorative language of social science. A recent appraisal of research needs in industrial relations in Britain tartly reproduces what is now the received wisdom concerning Mayo’s contribution and outlook.
From the middle of the 1950s, industrial sociologists and psychologists began to show that they could contribute to industrial relations. “Human relations” had a considerable following among British practitioners of industrial relations, but academics were initially skeptical. For especially as expounded by such writers as Elton Mayo, human relations concentrated on the primary work group and labour-management cooperation, ignoring or belittling most of the topics in which students of industrial relations were interested.
All of which suggests that Mayo’s work could only be of limited interest today; of little value perhaps except as a paradigm offering a rather threadbare interpretation of the social needs of the industrial worker. Viewed in this way, the best that might be said for him is that Mayo’s critics have found an analysis of his shortcomings an essential stimulus in clarifying their own views about the proper scope of industrial sociology.
There is of course much more than that to Mayo, as the reader of this volume will discover.
FOREWORD TO THE 1975 EDITION
Scientist and practical clinician, Mayo speaks with authority that has commanded attention in factories as well as among academics, however, their view of his contribution and the stream of critical articles had already appeared.
Mayo’s critics soon placed him in more ambiguous company. Clark Kerr, also writing in Fortune, saw Mayo’s solution to the problems of industrial conflict as too narrow and monolithic in its implications, threatening the freedom of the worker-citizen: society must devise a pluralist framework for the accommodation of conflict, as against “the all-embracing party of the Communists and the Fascists, the all-absorbing corporation of Elton Mayo, the all-absorbing union of Frank Tannenbaum, the all-absorbing church of T. S. Eliot.”
His erudition extends through psychology, sociology, physiology, medicine, and economics, and his experience comes from a lifelong, firsthand study of industry. . . . Mayo’s view gives promise of exerting through the field of business administration a significant influence on the future relations of U.S. management and labor.
Elton Mayo’s Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization was published on the eve of his retirement, after twenty-one years as Professor of Industrial Research at the Harvard Business School. His reputation was then at its peak. An article in Fortune ranked Mayo as a modern social thinker with Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey; it further hailed him as an academic whose views directly challenged the basic assumptions of the practical world of industry.
His first academic post was a Rockefeller Fellowship, held at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania; his first empirical investigation in America was concerned with the causes of high labour turnover in the mule spinning department of a textile mill near Philadelphia. Mayo subsequently used the course of this study to illustrate the shortcomings of conventional approaches, including his own, to questions of worker behavior. At the same time it enabled him to demonstrate to his own satisfaction that studies involving experimental changes in working conditions were both feasible and worthwhile. During this period, Mayo wrote a number of articles for the general reader, including some for Harper’s Magazine.
It was these that first aroused the interest of Dean Wallace B. Donham of the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, as a result of which Mayo was invited to Harvard as an associate professor of industrial research in the Business School.
The urgency of war (WWII) generated an active interest among government departments, top managers and union leaders in a number of ideas with which Mayo was closely identified. The most immediate effects were seen in the acceleration of plans for the training of supervisors, in particular under the Training Within Industry (TWI) programme. This 1940 programme dealt with elementary work study, methods of teaching, job instruction, safety and the importance of “human relations” in industry. It was widely adopted in the United States and at the end of the war, the Ministry of Labour sponsored its introduction to Britain. For many managers and supervisors it provided their first experience of adult training.
Less immediate in its effects, but more significant from the point of view of Mayo’s standing among social scientists was the emergence from wartime studies and experience of what came to be known as the “Human Relations School.”
This school was interdisciplinary in its origins and is generally described as such in its approach, though its underlying concern with the dynamics of group behavior make it more properly classed as social-psychological. The chief interests of its members in the industrial setting may be summarized as (i) the relations between productivity and “morale,” (ii) the nature of cooperation within work groups and between work groups and supervisors (especially the effects of participation in decision-making), (iii) the significance of leadership, especially leadership “styles” and procedures in selecting and appraising leaders. The industrial setting for these purposes was normally the “plant” “enterprise” or “organization.”
In “The Seamy Side of Progress” Mayo begins by outlining his version of the “unacceptable face of capitalism” Aesthetic protests about the environmental costs of industrialization have been matched by unheeded warnings (e.g. by Le Play and Dürkheim) about its socially-disruptive effects, especially the collapse of traditional communities and social codes. Mayo notes two principal consequences: (i) an increase in the number of “unhappy individuals” and (ii) a “wariness or hostility” between social groups. Growing material standards are accompanied by a “destruction of individual significance in living”.
As Dürkheim argues, established social contexts have all disappeared, except one—the political state. The organization of social life is necessarily left to the State—a task it cannot perform for the intimate daily life of its citizens. Industrial society therefore juxtaposes “an ineffective state authority” with “a disordered dust of individuals”
Mayo next contrasts the tremendous effort expended on technical and material progress and the failure of industrial societies to tackle the problems of co-operation. He describes the routines of collaboration in primitive society, not to recommend a return to them, but instead to point out their obsolescence in an industrial society characterized by continuous change. Modern industry is also a co-operative system, but it embodies a different principle of social organization— that of an adaptive society, as opposed to an established society. Mayo then advocates the need for the systematic study and acquisition of “social skills” in order to meet the requirements of an adaptive society, i.e. where change and adaptability are prime requirements. Previously apprenticeship provided a form of training in which technical and social skills developed side by side. Mayo sees the disjunction between technical and social skills as a possible cause of increasing psychoneurosis in modern society.
Three points should be noted: (i) skills are rooted in observation; logic and theory come later; (ii) the success of the natural sciences is due to their cautious pursuit of this rule; (iii) the social sciences have no usable skills at present. Mayo offers an example of a “simple social skill that can be practiced and that, as it develops, will offer insight and the equivalent of manipulative capacity to the student? This is “the capacity of an individual to communicate his feelings and ideas to another, the capacity of groups to communicate effectively and intimately with one another”
Mayo then advances clinical examples, drawn from his own experience, to support his contention that the lack of social skill is “the outstanding defect that civilization is facing today.” Mayo’s chief aim is to demonstrate its inadequacy as a source of the social skills industrial society so badly needs. The divorce between economic theory and the realities of economic practice demonstrates the irrelevance of classical doctrines to the scale and technical complexity of modern industry; and its indifference to the consequences of the success or failure of individual firms for the well-being of entire communities.
In an examination of economic theory, Mayo fastens on Ricardo to exemplify the shortcomings of its view of man and society. Ricardo, he argues, “bases his studies and his logic upon three limiting concepts. These are:
- Natural society consists of a horde of unorganized individuals.
- Every individual acts in a manner calculated to secure his self-preservation or self-interest.
- Every individual thinks logically, to the best of his ability, in the service of this aim.
Mayo examines the grounds for each of these propositions and concludes that the first two hold good under certain limited conditions. He finds the third more questionable, indeed “positively misleading”, and cites the Bank Wiring Room Study as contrary evidence.
Individuals are ruled by a sovereign state as harmful, in that they “foreclose on and discourage any investigation of the facts of social organization”. He concludes: “The forms of democracy are not enough; the active development of social skill and insight must make these dry bones live.”
Mayo’s brusque approach was fortified by his conviction that the social sciences were at such a primitive stage of development that they had very little to contribute other than “to talk endlessly about alleged social problems.” They also lacked the basic intuitive skills grounded in “direct experience of fact and situation”, which are achieved by the students in the natural sciences through the laboratory method.
His chief conclusion is that modern society has undervalued existing social forms and put an altogether disproportionate emphasis on the State as the embodiment of authority and the means of social unity. It is clear that Mayo is skeptical about the capacity of the State to promote “spontaneous co-operation”, which he values; or its capacity to reduce conflict, especially class conflict, which in his view is actively promoted by party politics.
Mayo’s more extreme critics saw his mistrust of politicians and his skepticism about the power of formal procedures to resolve conflict as evidence of a total disbelief in politics and government. They coupled this with his discussion of the habitual social order of traditional societies and concluded that he had a preference for the social organization of the Middle Ages; or at best for preindustrial America where “community” was still meaningful.
Mayo’s emphasis on the contemporary failure to study the social aspects of industrialization, and to develop social skills to match the technical skills of a rapidly changing society, drew attention to the possible contributions of sociology to industry and industrial management.
His own gradual progression from a psychological/physiological approach to one with more of a sociological perspective was widely believed to demonstrate the desirability of this development. His subsequent critique of the shortcomings of economic theory as a basis for the explanation of behavior in industry provided further confirmation. The first point to note, therefore, is that it was chiefly on the basis of Mayo’s work that the case for the sociological study of industrial behavior was advanced. It also paved the way for the introduction of sociology into business school courses and management education generally.
In the current report, published twelve years later, Mayo’s emphasis changes, not to exclude the individual, but to stress the importance of groups and methods of understanding the behavior of groups, whether formally organized and recognized by management or self-constituted, informal organizations. The significance and even the existence of the latter are generally overlooked by management and often even by workers themselves. The report brings to the fore the problem of securing group collaboration in the essential activities of industry. It also points out the increasing significance of this problem, which results from rapid technological progress and the ensuing frequent changes in the human associations of the worker while he is at work.
This progressive destruction of old, technical skills receives inadequate attention by management. The difficulties are, of course, intensified by the progressive destruction of neighborhood life and by the constant loosening of the stabilizing influences which surround us in what Mayo refers to as an established society. These again result in large part from the impact of applied science on the lives men lead in industry and of significant developments such as the automobile on their lives when they are not at work.
Here also Mayo gives us instances where industrial administrators have succeeded in making factory groups so stable in their attitudes of group co-operation that men in the groups explicitly recognized that the factory had become for them the stabilizing force around which they developed satisfying lives. This accomplishment was achieved in spite of technological changes within the plant and social chaos in the community outside. Thus Mayo shows us for the first time in the form of specific instances that it is within the power of industrial administrators to create within industry itself a partially effective substitute for the old stabilizing effect of the neighborhood. Given stable employment, it might make of industry (as of the small town during most of our national life) a socially satisfying way of life as well as a way of making living.
This seems a far cry from the existing warfare between labour and management and the growing hatreds and prejudices which distress us. Yet unless we can regain in this heterogeneous industrial civilization the capacity to live our daily lives in something like mutual understanding that provides for individual differences, unless we can learn how to adapt our civilization to constant change, we shall not maintain essential stability in the domestic scene, nor become an effective force for peace in the international field. Surely our current situation at home can hardly impress Mr. Stalin as an indication that we will be a lasting influence for peace abroad. We show few signs of having solved the problems of an adaptive civilization competent to deal with constant technological and social change.
An adaptive society cannot be controlled by any but adaptive persons. And this again implies a need for greatly improved concepts of training and education, and equally improved methods. Personal adaptability is not achieved except by experience and education. Routine training sufficed for an established” society; it cannot fulfil the requirements of a world created by modern science and technology.
Representative government does not work satisfactorily or for the general good in a society that exhibits extreme differences in the material standards of living of its various social groups. This prerequisite is especially true when the more lowly classes work very hard for a maintenance that is actually insufficient for their organic and social needs. History abounds in instances: the France of the later eighteenth century or England of the early nineteenth. Wisdom dictates a sufficiently high standard of material living throughout a society as a prerequisite of democratic institutions. England recognized this need during the war when she assured to every child, whatever its social or financial status, an adequate supply of the necessaries of life.
Representative government cannot be effectively exercised by a society internally divided by group hostilities and hatreds. There is grave danger that sheer ignorance of administrative methods in the political and industrial leaders of the democracies may give rise to increasing disabilities of co-operation. Stanley Casson points out that stasis—the inability of functional groups to co-operate and a consequent mutual hostility —has been the historic destroyer of great civilizations.
But what is the real implication of the word democracy about which the Anglo-Saxon civilizations discourse so endlessly? The difference between English-speaking democracy and all other forms of government is important and profound. All other forms of government are monophasic; democracy alone is polyphasic. Other forms of government, from imperial Rome to the debased fascism of Mussolini, could be represented in an engineering blueprint—authority concentrated at the top, lesser authorities functioning down the scale only by permission or a delegation of authority from the top. “The great Leviathan of Hobbes, the plenitudo potestatis of the canonists, the arcana imperii, the sovereignty of Austin, are all names of the same thing—the unlimited and illimitable power of the law-giver in the State, deduced from the notion of its unity.
It makes no difference whether it is the State or the Church that is being considered.” In the democracies there is no such final concentration of authority at the top; theoretically the locus of authority moves from place to place according to the demand of the situation. Democratic forms of government are immeasurably superior to all other forms, from monarchy to communism. Whereas all other forms are medieval and rigid—authority central, whether termed King or the Law—the democratic form approximates abandonment of the human and social field (outside of medicine) to silly “isms” and haphazard guess.
And, if it were necessary, the atomic bomb arrives at this moment to call attention both to our achievement and to our failure. We have learned how to destroy scores of thousands of human beings in a moment of time: we do not know how systematically to set about the task of inducing various groups and nations to collaborate in the tasks of civilization.
It is not the atomic bomb that will destroy civilization. But civilized society can destroy itself—finally, no doubt, with bombs —if it fails to understand intelligently and to control the aids and deterrents to co-operation.
His general characterization of the change from a pleasant country village to slum and chaos runs as follows:
I suppose one might have persuaded oneself that all this was but the replacement of an ancient tranquility, or at least an ancient balance, by a new order. Only to my eyes, quickened by my father’s intimations, it was manifestly no order at all. It was a multitude of uncoordinated fresh starts, each more sweeping and destructive than the last, and none of them ever worked out to a ripe and satisfactory completion. Each left a legacy of products— houses, humanity or what not—in its wake. It was a sort of progress that had bolted; it was change out of hand, and going at an unprecedented pace nowhere in particular.
His general finding is that in simpler communities, where the chief occupation is agriculture or fishing or some primary activity, there is a stability of the social order that has ceased to characterize highly developed industrial centers. In these simpler communities every individual understands the various economic activities and social functions, and, in greater or less degree, participates in them. The bonds of family and kinship (real or fictitious) operate to relate every person to every social occasion; the ability to cooperate effectively is at a high level. The situation is not simply that the society exercises a powerful compulsion on the individual; on the contrary, the social code and the desires of the individual are, for all practical purposes, identical. Every member of the group participates in social activities because it is his chief desire to do so.
Le Play’s finding with respect to the modern and characteristically industrial community is entirely contrary. He finds in such communities extensive social disorganization: the authority of the social code is ignored, the ties of kinship are no longer binding, the capacity for peace and stability has definitely waned.
In these communities, he says, individuals are unhappy; the desire for change—“novelty”—has become almost passionate, and this of itself leads to further disorganization. Indeed, Le Play feels that the outstanding character of an industrial community is a condition of extensive social disorganization in which effective communication between individuals and groups has failed, and the capacity for spontaneous and effective co-operation has consequently failed also. These observations were made by a trained engineer—himself a competent technician. His own country, France, and, for that matter, every industrial society chose to ignore his warnings.
Remarkably similar observations were made toward the end of the nineteenth century in France by Emile Dürkheim, founder of the French school of sociology. In his study of suicide published in 1897, he showed that, in those parts of France where technical industry had developed rapidly, a dangerous social disunity had appeared that diminished the likelihood of all individual or group collaboration. He says that the difference between a modern and technically developed center and the simple, ordered community is that in the small community the interests of the individual are subordinated, by his own eager desire, to the interests of the group.
The individual member of this primitive society can clearly anticipate during infancy and adolescence the function that he will fulfil for the group when adult. This anticipation regulates his activity and thinking in the adolescent period and culminates in a communal function and a sense of satisfaction when he is fully grown. He knows that his activities are wanted by his society, and are necessary to its continued life. He is throughout his life solidaire with the group.
Pareto had turned to sociology from a distinguished career in economics, when he became convinced that the frontiers of that discipline needed to be redrawn on a narrower basis. Scientific economics should focus on logical action in society, e.g. where the relation between means and ends in real life corresponds to the relationship as seen by the individual actor, and where the action is determined by reasoning. In contrast to this “logical conduct”
Pareto observed that men’s actions in real life could more often be classed as “non-logical” or non-rational. This side of human behavior was to be dealt with by a scientifically-based sociology and psychology, which would complement the areas covered by a properly-demarcated economics. At the same time, the explanation of “induced unbalance in the worker” needed to be advanced along several dimensions—psychological and sociological, as well as physiological.
During the nineteenth century, the rapid development of science and industry put an end to the individual’s feeling of identification with his group, of satisfaction in his work. Dürkheim develops this in some detail: no longer is the individual solidaire with a geographical locality and with the people in it. He leaves the family for school and education. It is unimportant whether this involves geographical movement or no; the significant modern innovation is that the family tie is weakened and, more often than not, no new or developing group relation is substituted for it. An improved standard of general education is a wholly admirable achievement; but to improve such a standard at the cost of personal and group relationship is of doubtful value.
After this first disruption, Dürkheim points out, yet another is customary; the individual is compelled to remove himself again from developing group associations in order to find work. The quest may not be immediately successful, and the social disruption grows. In extreme instances, we may find individuals who have during the nineteenth century, the rapid development of science and industry put an end to the individual’s feeling of identification with his group, of satisfaction in his work. Dürkheim develops this in some detail: no longer is the individual solidaire with a geographical locality and with the people in it. He leaves the family for school and education. It is unimportant whether this involves geographical movement or no; the significant modern innovation is that the family tie is weakened and, more often than not, no new or developing group relation is substituted for it. An improved standard of general education is a wholly admirable achievement; but to improve such a standard at the cost of personal and group relationship is of doubtful value.
After this first disruption, Dürkheim points out, yet another is customary; the individual is compelled to remove himself again from developing group associations in order to find work. The quest may not be immediately successful, and the social disruption grows. In extreme instances, we may find individuals who have Dürkheim concedes that the successive creation of larger economic units by the coalescence of smaller units has enabled civilization to give its citizens greater material comfort. But he echoes Le Play’s insistence upon the compensating disadvantage; step by step with our economic progress there has been a destruction of individual significance in living for the majority of citizens.
“What is in fact characteristic of our development is that it has successively destroyed all the established social contexts; one after another they have been banished either by the slow usury of time or by violent revolution, and in such fashion that nothing has been developed to replace them.” This is a clear statement of the issue the civilized world is facing now, a rapid industrial, mechanical, physicochemical advance, so rapid that it has been destructive of all the historic social and personal relationships. And no compensating organization; or even study of actual social or personal relationships, has been developed that might have enabled us to face a period of rapid change with understanding and equanimity. Dürkheim is of the opinion that the French Revolution operated to destroy the last traces of what he calls the secondary organization of society— that is to say, those effective routines of collaboration to which, far more than to any political agency, the survival of the historic societies has been due.
He points out that a solitary factor of collective organization has survived the destruction of the essentials of French society. This is the political State. By the nature of things, he says, since social life must organize itself in some fashion, there becomes manifest a tendency for the State to absorb into itself all organizing activity of a social character. But the State cannot organize the intimate daily life of its citizens effectively. It is geographically remote from the majority, and its activity must be confined to something of the nature of general rules. The living reality of active, intimate collaboration between persons must forever lie outside the sphere of political control. The modern industrial society consequently moves always in the direction of an ineffective State authority facing “a disordered dust of individuals.”
But the implication of such opinion does not detract from the value of Le Play’s or Durkheim’s observations. The real importance of these studies is the clear demonstration that collaboration in an industrial society cannot be left to chance—neither in a political nor in an industrial unit can such neglect lead to anything but disruption and catastrophe. Historically and traditionally our fathers worked for social co-operation—and achieved it. This is true also of any primitive society. But we, for at least a century of the most amazing scientific and material progress, have abandoned the effort—by inadvertence, it is true—and we are now reaping the consequences.
Every social group, at whatever level of culture, must face and clearly state two perpetual and recurrent problems of administration. It must secure for its individual and group membership:
(1) The satisfaction of material and economic needs.
(2) The maintenance of spontaneous co-operation throughout the organization.
Our administrative methods are all pointed at the materially effective; none, at the maintenance of co-operation. The amazing technical successes of these war years show that we—our engineers —do know how to organize for material efficiency. But problems of absenteeism, labour turnover, “wildcat” strikes, show that we do not know how to ensure spontaneity of co-operation; that is, teamwork. Indeed, had not the emergency of war been compelling and of personal concern to every least worker, it is questionable whether the technicians could have achieved their manifest success.
The problem of co-operation is far more difficult of solution with us than in a simple or primitive community. And most certainly we shall not solve it by ignoring it altogether. In a simple society, the extent of change from year to year, or even from century to century, is relatively small. Traditional methods are therefore brought to a high degree of perfection; almost from birth disciplined collaboration is drilled into the individual. But any study of such simple societies, whether by anthropologists or sociologists, possesses small relevance to the problems that so sorely beset us now. In these days of rapid and continuous change, the whole conception of social organization and social discipline must be radically revised. And, in this, the so-called “radicals” the attitudes and ideas of his companions. Both of these are of immense importance to successful living.
Dr. Pierre Janet, in fifty years of patient, pedestrian, clinical research, has shown that sanity is an achievement and that the achievement implies for the individual a balanced relation between technical and social skills.
Technical skill manifests itself as a capacity to manipulate things in the service of human purposes. Social skill shows itself as a capacity to receive communications from others, and to respond to the attitudes and ideas of others in such fashion as to promote congenial participation in a common task. The established society by its apprenticeship system developed technical and social skills simultaneously in the individual; psychoneurosis, the consequence of insufficient social discipline and practice, seems to have been less prevalent in successful established societies. In these days, education has gone over—often extravagantly—to the development of technical skills and the appropriate scientific bases for such skills. This would be excellent were it not for the fact that the universities have failed to develop an equivalent study of, and instruction in, social skill. Students are taught logical and lucid expression; they are not taught that social skill begins in the art of provoking, and receiving, communications from others. The attitudes and ideas thus communicated, by no means wholly logical, will serve to form the basis of a wider and more effective understanding.
It is no longer possible for an industrial society to assume that the technical processes of manufacture will exist unchanged for long in any type of work. On the contrary, every industry is constantly seeking to change, not only its methods, but the very materials it uses; this development has been stimulated by the war. In the established societies of no more than a century ago, it was possible to assume a sufficient continuity of industrial processes, and therefore apprenticeship to a trade was the best method of acquiring skill, both technical and social. The technical skill required by industry in these days has developed in two directions. On the one hand, a much higher type of skill is required—that, namely, which is based upon adequate scientific and engineering knowledge and is consequently adaptable or even creative. On the other hand, the skill required of the machine-hand has drifted downwards; he has become more of a machine tender and less of a mechanic.
Now this is not the place to discuss whether the latter change is altogether desirable, however admirable the former. But it is altogether proper to point out that no equivalent effort to develop social or collaborative skill has yet appeared to compensate or balance the technical development.
The skills acquired by the individual during apprenticeship were, we have already said, of two kinds: on the one hand, mechanical and technical; on the other, social. Furthermore, these skills were in balance in respect of the situations he encountered. What was demanded of him technically did not require social skills of the order necessary to adjust to constantly changing work associates. Stability of techniques went hand in hand with stability in companionship.
Put in ordinary language, the apprentice learned to be a good workman, and he also learned to “get on with” his fellows and associates. This second acquisition was clearly understood to be an essential part of his training; many colloquial phrases existed to describe it, such as, for example, “getting the edges rubbed off”, “learning to take the fences” , and so on—homely similes that recognized the value for society of such experience. Unfortunately this important social discipline e was never clearly specified as a necessary part of the individual’s education, and consequently, when the tempo of technical change was accelerated, no one posed a question as to the consequence for individuals and society of a failure to maintain and develop social skill. In the universities, we have explicit and excellent instruction in the physicochemical sciences and engineering: but we have provided no instruction or experience to replace or develop the social aspect of the apprenticeship system. It is no longer true that every individual will have a continuity of daily association with others that will allow him slowly to acquire a skill of communication and of working with them. It is more than probable that, in any part of the modern industrial scheme, an individual’s personal associates will constantly change.
We live in a constant flux of personal associations, as of technical procedures. And it may well be that many individuals do not sufficiently continue association anywhere with anyone to develop, as formerly, a social skill. It was m situations such as this that Dürkheim discovered personal dissatisfaction, Planlessness, and even despair. And it was here also that Le Play found deterioration in the sense of social obligation, a decay alike of the group life and of capacity for active collaboration in a common venture.
But the remedy cannot be a return to simple apprenticeship and the primitive establishment. It is certain that the passage from an established to an adaptive society is one we have to make; we have put our hands to the plough and cannot turn back. We have undertaken to transform an economy of scarcity into an economy of abundance, and the technicians are showing us the way. We are committed to the development of a high human adaptability that has not characterized any known human society in the past, and it is our present failure in this respect that finds reflection in the social chaos which is destroying civilized society.
Can this present failure be translated into future success? The way forward is not clear, but certain starting points can be discerned: we are in need of social skills, skills that will be effective in specific situations. When a man has developed a skill, it means that the adjustment of his whole organism, acting as a unit and governed by his thinking and nervous system, is adequate to a particular point in the situation which he is handling. No verbal statements however accurate can act as substitute.
Now a skill differs from general knowledge in that it is manifested at a particular point as a manipulative dexterity acquired by experience in the handling of things or people, or complexes of either, or both. And a study is not a science unless it is capable of demonstrating a particular skill of this kind. The first really important training of a student of physics, chemistry, or medicine is in the clinic and laboratory; it is thus that he develops intuitive familiarity with the materials of his study and manipulative capacity with respect to these materials. Only upon the basis of skill thus acquired can he build a systematic logic and slowly acquire the further insight that a developed science gives him.
The chemist must be equipped to handle material substances in skilled fashion; the physician must be able to assess the condition of organic functions and also to assess in a more general way the condition of the individual patient he studies.
Almost every civilized language except English has two commonplace words for knowledge, knowledge-of-acquaintance and knowledge-about. This distinction, simple as it is, nevertheless is exceedingly important; knowledge-of-acquaintance comes from direct experience of fact and situation, knowledge-ab out is the product of reflective and abstract thinking. “Knowledge derived from experience is hard to transmit, except by example, imitation, and trial and error, whereas erudition (knowledge-about) is easily put into symbols—words, graphs, maps. Now this means that skills, although transmissible to other persons, are only slowly so and are never truly articulate. Erudition is highly articulate and can be not only readily transmitted but can be accumulated and preserved.” The very fact that erudition (logic and systematic knowledge) can be so easily transmitted to others tends to prejudice university instruction in the social sciences heavily in its favour. Physics, chemistry, physiology have learned that far more than this must be given to a student. They have therefore developed laboratories in which students may acquire manipulative skill and be judged competent in terms of actual performance.
In such studies the student is required to relate his logical knowledge-about to his own direct acquaintance with the facts, his own capacity for skilled and manipulative performance. James’s distinction between the two kinds of knowledge implies that a well-balanced person needs, within limits, technical dexterity in handling things, and social dexterity in handling people; these are both derived from knowledge-of-acquaintance. In addition to this, he must have developed clinical or practical knowledge which enables him to assess a whole situation at a glance. He also needs, if he is to be a scientist, logical knowledge which is analytical, abstract, and systematic—in a word, the erudition of which Dr. Alan Gregg speaks; but it must be an erudition which derives from and relates itself to the observed facts of the student’s special studies.
Speaking historically, I think it can be asserted that a science has generally come into being as a product of well-developed technical skill in a given area of activity. Someone, some skilled worker, has in a reflective moment attempted to make explicit the assumptions that are implicit in the skill itself. This marks the beginning of logical-experimental method. The assumptions once made explicit can be logically developed; the development leads to experimental changes of practice and so to the beginning of a science. The point to be remarked is that scientific abstractions are not drawn from thin air or uncontrolled reflection: they are from the beginning rooted deeply in a pre-existent skill.
In the complex business of living, as in medicine, both theory and practice are necessary conditions of understanding, and the method of Hippocrates is the only method that has ever succeeded widely and generally. The first element of that method is hard, persistent, intelligent, responsible, unremitting labour in the sick room, not in the library: the complete adaptation of the doctor to his task, an adaptation that is far from being merely intellectual.
The second element of that method is accurate observation of things and events, selection, guided by judgment born of familiarity and experience, of the salient and recurrent phenomena, and their classification and methodical exploitation. The third element of that method is the judicious construction of a theory—not a philosophical theory, nor a grand effort of the imagination, nor a quasi-religious dogma, but a modest pedestrian affair … a useful walking-stick to help on the way. . . . All this may be summed up in a word: The physician must have, first, intimate, habitual, intuitive familiarity with things; secondly, systematic knowledge of things; and thirdly, an effective way of thinking about things.
Scientific method, then, has two parts, represented in medicine by the clinic and the laboratory. The two are interdependent, the one unfruitful without the other. The characteristic of the clinic is careful and patient attention to a complex situation any part of which may suddenly discover unanticipated importance; that of the laboratory is experiment and logical construction. In the nineteenth century the former of these was termed observation and much was made of its necessity. In recent years the emphasis has passed to logical or mathematical construction after careful experiment. This would be admirable were it not for the fact that the need for selection before experiment seems frequently to be forgotten. It is not any laboratory experiment plus mathematical construction that leads to scientific advancement. Among the most notable discoveries of recent years are radar and penicillin.
Both of these began in the observation by a careful worker of a phenomenon irrelevant to his immediate preoccupation—the one a wireless operator at sea, the other a laboratory biologist. And in both instances, the observation aroused the curiosity and imagination of the scientist—to the lasting benefit of humanity and civilization. It is probably wise that the emphasis for students should fall upon the systematic setup of an experiment and logical-mathematical construction. But the origin of science in first-hand observation may not be forgotten without consequence in experimental futility, illustrations of which may be seen all about us.
Observation—skill—experiment and logic—these must be regarded as the three stages of advancement. The first two are slow and far from dramatic; but they are necessary to the third. “The second-handedness of the learned world is the secret of its mediocrity. . . . The main importance of Francis Bacon’s influence does not lie in any peculiar theory of inductive reasoning . . . but in the revolt against second-hand information of which he was a leader.
In the course of centuries, the sciences have by this slow and ready method erected an imposing structure of knowledge, knowledge which is related at all points to the appropriate skills. The problems that they study, the methods that they use, are to some extent understood by those in charge of administrative activities.
When one turns from the successful sciences—chemistry, physics, physiology—to the unsuccessful sciences—sociology, psychology, political science—one cannot fail to be struck by the extent of the failure of the latter to communicate to students a skill that is directly useful in human situations. Since the student body of to-day will provide the administrators of to-morrow, this failure is a grave defect. Chemistry and physics are thoroughly conversant with the materials of their study; they work in skilled fashion upon such materials every day.
Economics and psychology cannot be said to be entirely innocent of skills, but such skills as they communicate seem to be at least partly dictated by a desire to give impressive imitations of physical science rather than by a determination to begin work by a thorough, painstaking acquaintance with the whole subject matter of their studies. Indeed, a newspaper quotes a psychologist of some note as having said that he knew less about human beings than any headwaiter. If this were true—and it probably was not—it would be an ignominious confession of incompetence. Nevertheless the comment of a colleague is eminently just; namely, that in the area of social skill there seems to be a wide gulf between those who exercise it—the actual administrators—and those who talk about it.
The fact that the United States has developed a successful series of tests for technical skills does not provide any extenuation for psychology. Within its narrow limits, this is useful and, indeed, excellent. But the general effect is to concentrate attention on technical problems and to blind us to the importance of the problems of human co-operation—social skill. This blindness has unquestionably contributed to the advent of calamity.
The so-called social sciences encourage students to talk endlessly about alleged social problems. They do not seem to equip students with a single social skill that is usable in ordinary human situations. Sociology is highly developed, but mainly as an exercise in the acquisition of scholarship. Students are taught to write books about each other’s books. Of the psychology of normal adaptation, little is said, and, of sociology in the living instance, sociology of the intimate, nothing at all. Indeed, in respect of those social personal studies that are becoming more important year by year, no continuous and direct contact with the social facts is contrived for the student. He learns from books, spending endless hours in libraries; he reconsiders ancient formulas, uncontrolled by the steady development of experimental skill; the equivalent of the clinic, or indeed of the laboratory, is still to seek.
The successful sciences are of humble birth; each had its lowly origin in a simple skill. Some centuries of hard and unremitting labour have enabled chemistry and physics to achieve structures of knowledge that are most imposing. In doing this, they have not strayed into other paths, no matter how entrancing the prospect.
The social sciences are impressed by this achievement, there is no doubt of that; but the unfortunate effect has been to encourage too much jerry-building of imposing facades in the social area. The pedestrian step-by-step development of a simple unquestionable skill, if it exists, is concealed by these elaborate fronts. It is kindness to suppose that the pretentious facades are perhaps only camouflage and that somewhere behind them real work is going on.
The result is that those graduates of brilliant achievement who lead the procession out of the universities are not well equipped for the task of bringing order into social chaos. Their standard of intellectual achievement is high; their knowledge-of-acquaintance of actual human situations is exceedingly low. They dwell apart from humanity in certain cities of the mind—remote, intellectual, preoccupied with highly articulate thinking. They have developed capacity for dealing with complex logic, they have not acquired any skill in handling complicated facts. And such a student of society is encouraged to develop an elaborate social philosophy and to ignore his need of simple social skills. Discursive and uncontrolled reasoning is preferred to observation. Yet patient observation is what the world most needs, observation that holds its logical tools in abeyant readiness.
The social skills students develop at universities, in athletics or clubs or other activities, are not closely related to their studies. The two are more often considered as in opposition; the one to be achieved at the expense of the other. Consequently, the development of a student’s social skills may be restricted to association with fellow students in activities at least by implication frowned upon by many university authorities. This social restriction may prevent the development of whole-hearted participation with others in the general educational aims of the institution.
Association of student and student without full participation in the broad purposes of the university develops a lower order of social skill than that which the apprentice learns at his trade. It leads often to social group exclusiveness and discrimination. This artificial and narrow experience has limited use in later life, for maturity demands a highly developed, and continuously developing, social skill. In these respects the environment of a small college may be more helpful to students than that of a large university. But nowhere have scientific studies developed training in social skills adequate to the rapidly changing needs of an industrial civilization.
Our international troubles are unquestionably due to the fact that effective communication between different national groups was not accomplished even at Geneva. League of Nations discussions were conducted in generalized terms which sometimes seemed to lead to intellectual understanding and agreement.
But in no instance was this understanding based upon an intimate acquaintance of either side with the actual situation of the other. Indeed, it is questionable whether any attempt was made to gain such understanding. On the contrary, an effort was often made to “find a formula,” a logical statement which should conceal the fact that neither side had any insight into the actual situation of the other. Within the various nations also as our industrial civilization has developed, there has been an increasing difficulty of direct communication between specialized groups. The outstanding instance of this defect is the group of acute issues between managements and workers.
The consequences for society of the unbalance between the development of technical and of social skill have been disastrous. If our social skills had advanced step by step with our technical skills, there would not have been another European war: this is my recurrent theme.
For the moment, however, I must return to consideration of the effect upon students, the group from which to-morrow’s administrators will be drawn, of the type of social education I have been describing. It was indeed the appearance in universities of students brilliantly able but unhappy and ineffective that first called attention to the more general problem. Certain subjects seem to possess a fatal attraction for these unhappy individuals—philosophy, literature, sociology, law, economics, and—God save us all— government. Such students may be poorly equipped in respect of manipulative technical skills, but this is not the proper basis of diagnosis; they are always almost devoid of social skill, and this is diagnostic.
The personal histories are monotonously iterative of circumstance that prevented active experience in early life of diverse social groups and different social situations. In a word, they have little or no knowledge-of-acquaintance of social life, and it is only in such experience that skill in communication can have origin. The number of such persons increases in all countries that are urban and industrialized: the phenomenon is not peculiarly American. Pierre Janet, for example, describes the French counterpart. After commenting that the disability affects, for the most part, persons of native ability and at least some education, he continues:
They can ordinarily comport themselves like other people, chatter or complain of their disabilities to intimate friends; but directly action becomes important and by consequence involves the manipulation of reality, they cease to be able to do anything and tend to withdraw more and more from their avocation, the struggle with other people, external living and social relationships. Indeed their lives are highly specialized and utterly meaningless—without active relationship either to things or to people . . . such minor interests as they retain are always given to those matters that are farthest from material actuality: sometimes they are psychologists; before all things philosophy is the object of their devotion; they become terrible metaphysicians. The spectacle of these unfortunates makes one ask sadly whether philosophical speculation is no more than a malady of the human mind.
Elsewhere Janet remarks that their difficulties are chiefly with, first, decision and action, and second, association with other people. And their only conception of a remedy is to indulge in metaphysical discussions that “last all night and get nowhere.”
Since such persons are for practical purposes devoid of both manipulative and social skills, they have no method of determining the respective values of alternate logical possibilities. Argument, however rational, that is unrelated to a developing point of contact with the external world remains—however logical—a confusion of indeterminate possibilities. Some of these persons—able, unhappy, rebellious—rank as scholars.
The fact that I came to know them personally made no difference to their platform attitude to me or to the university: but on other occasions they would talk freely to me in private. This enabled me to place on record many observations, the general tenor of which may be summarized as follows:
- These men had no friends except at the propagandist level. They seemed incapable of easy relationship with other people; on the contrary, the need to achieve such relationship was for them an emergency demanding energetic effort.
- They had no capacity for conversation. In talk with me they alternated between self-history and oratory which reproduced the compelling topic—revolution and the destruction of society.
- All action, like social relationship, was for them emergency action. Any idea of routine participation in collaborative effort, or of the “ordinary” in living, was conspicuously absent from their thinking. Everything, no matter how insignificant, was treated as crisis, and was undertaken with immense and unreasoned “drive”
They regarded the world as a hostile place. Every belief and action implied that society existed not to give but to deny them opportunity. Furthermore, they believed that hostility to be active, not merely inert; they regarded everyone, even their immediate associates, as potentially part of the enemy forces arrayed against them. In every instance the personal history was one of social privation—a childhood devoid of normal and happy association in work and play with other children.
The glamour of the university’s historic name has perhaps already inspired an unadmitted panic in such a student; the subsequent discovery that his previously developed social skills are of small use in the new situation throws him back into self-centered preoccupation. These latter cases are often quite easy to help; indeed sometimes one interview will suffice. There is a foundation of social knowledge of-acquaintance and skill to build upon; encouragement to bring into use a skill he actually possesses may become manifest in a sudden recovery of confidence. There are many such cases: in a certain sense, the disability is primarily in the situation rather than in the individual; a too sudden and too complete change of surroundings, especially when one is young and insufficiently experienced or older and somewhat “set” in work routines, is apt to be seriously disturbing.
Variants of this last situation are extremely common in the industry of our time; and it is unfortunate that adversity of circumstance usually affects individuals and groups no longer young enough to show the remarkable resilience of youth in recovery.
Some years ago, a supervisor of factory work involving considerable technical skill was promoted from his departmental work in a mid-western city to be general supervisor of such work in perhaps a score of similar plants in the East. Now situations of this kind in industry can be remedied, and, to my knowledge, have been remedied by a skilled interviewer. Such an interviewer is trained to listen with attention and without comment (especially without criticism or emotion) to all that such an unfortunate has to say, and to give his whole attention to the effort of understanding what is said from the point of view of the speaker. This is a very simple skill, but it can have the most astonishing effects in industrial situations. We have seen many individuals, apparently prey to obsession, after a few such interviews, or many, according to need, return to work with the declaration that they have “talked it off.” And in some instances the capacity for sane judgment of the situation seems to be wholly restored.
Another type of industrial situation, characteristic of our time, is in urgent need of careful observation. Scientific advance and changes of business organization are constantly reflected in changes of industrial method that may abolish trades or avocations which have been a means of livelihood for generations in a family.
This was for them a personal calamity of the first magnitude; as former pillars of society they did not lapse easily into revolutionary attitudes. And they drifted downwards toward unemployment as their savings became exhausted, and toward profound personal depression. Their attitude to themselves and to society might be described as a complete loss of confidence. In some degree this echoes that aspect of the European situation which led the German people to hail Hitler as deliverer.
In stating these facts, I must not be supposed to be arguing for the placing of any limitation upon scientific advance, technical improvement, or, in general, change in industrial methods. On the contrary, I am entirely for technical advancement and the rapid general betterment of standards of living. But, if our technical skills are to make sudden and radical changes in methods of working, we must develop social skills that can balance these moves by effecting social changes in methods of living to meet the altered situation. We cannot live and prosper with one foot in the twentieth century and the other in the eighteenth. In the last hundred years, civilized society has completely changed its postulates.
Whereas human society in the eighteenth century, and for that matter the nineteenth, trained its adolescents to economic and social service by some form of apprenticeship, in these days the slow acquisition of both technical skill and capacity for collaboration by the process of “living into” a prescribed set of traditional routines is no longer appropriate to the modern world. Knowledge-of-acquaintance, with its derivatives of technical and social skill, is as important as ever it was. But, whereas in an established society the emphasis is upon established skills, the emphasis for us is upon adaptable skills. Those of us who began life in the Victorian era will remember the importance then attached to “established society”; for the present and the future, if we survive at all, the “adaptive society” will be the ideal.
The head rollers of Pennsylvania have been caught between the upper and the nether millstone. Trained for an established society, they are living in a society that places a higher value upon adaptability. This fact need not be interpreted to mean that their situation is hopeless. Indeed, the urgency of the war need has led to study of the means by which the country can multiply, and speedily, the number of skilled workers in this or that industry where the existing supply is obviously inadequate. And, whether we look at developments here or in other lands, we find that, immediately intelligent attention at the top of an organization has been given to training within industry, the workers have loyally and capably responded to the urgent need. And this applies not only to men; during the war, in England and here, girls formerly in beauty parlors, in restaurants, in domestic service, were successful in jobs that were thought to require a long and masculine apprenticeship.
It is true that this result cannot be effectively accomplished without what I have called intelligent attention at the top. But it is worthy of remark that, in respect of the acquisition of new technical skill”, the workers of the community have never let us down. The advent of the typewriter, the automobile, the aeroplane, has not revealed wide incapacity to learn a new technical skill anywhere in the population. The problem of the adaptation of, for example, superseded tin mill workers in our changing society is not insoluble; indeed changes induced by the war suggest that it may not even be so difficult as it might seem on first inspection. But there will be no solution and there will be increasing discontent until the social consequences of this major change in the structure of our society are clearly stated and responsibly in the charge of those who have sufficient skill and understanding.
Now it is evident that our high administrators have, in these days, accepted responsibility for training workers in new technical skills; it is equally evident that no one has accepted responsibility for training them in new (adaptive) social skills. In the universities the acceptance of responsibility, and especially social responsibility, apparently presents a terrifying prospect to certain of the more timid academics. Yet it is doubtful whether any group that disclaimed responsibility ever achieved a skill worthy of the name.
The physician accepts responsibility for his patient, the chemist accepts responsibility for the success or failure of the methods he devises. And so through the long list of scientific endeavors, although the percentage of failure may be higher than that of success, we find that the acceptance of responsibility of one or other kind is the invariable accompaniment of the development of usable skill. What is sometimes called skill in the use of words, in argument, in the development of uncontrolled logics is not analogous: studies of this type have gone through the same weary cycle of disputation and the quotation of authorities for a thousand years; there has been little, if any, development of them in terms of actualities of life.
Current texts on politics still quote Aristotle, Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and the books of other authors. What chemist finds need of quoting Thales and the alchemists? His claims are based on his own skill and his capacity for experimental demonstration. In sociology and political science there does not seem to be any equivalent capacity for the direct demonstration of a usable skill in a particular situation at a given time. And I do not think there can be until these studies take responsibility for what happens in particular human situations—individual or group.
A good bridge player does not merely conduct postmortem discussions of the play in a hand of contract; he takes responsibility for playing it. The former will help a beginner if, but only if, he attempts the latter. Sociology will be the Cinderella of the sciences until such time as she dons the crystal slippers and walks into adventure. Social skills (that is, our ability to secure co-operation between people) had advanced step by step with our technical skills, there would not have been another European war.
H. Carr has said that in recent years the “chronic divorce” between economic theory and practice has become more marked than ever. And he pictures economic theory “limping bewildered and protesting” in the train of economic practice. Chester Barnard, himself an executive of great experience, finds that effective leadership in industry, that is, successful administration, “has to be based on intuitions that are correct, notwithstanding doctrines that deny their correctness”
The rabble hypothesis
The divorce of economics from sociology suggests a question as to the original clinical or practical adequacy of economic theory to the facts it studied. Science begins in the clinic and is effectively developed in the laboratory. In the clinic one uses relatively simple logics to examine complicated fact; in the laboratory clinically developed skill has suggested the isolation of certain aspects of the complex fact for separate study and, when successful, this may result in the development of highly complicated logic. The one method informs and develops the other—simple logic and complex fact, simplified fact and complex logic. But, even when the laboratory has come to aid the clinician with highly developed techniques of examination, it is nevertheless the clinician who has finally to piece together the various scraps of detailed information thus obtained and, guided both by scientific training and by experience, to determine the diagnosis and treatment in the particular instance—i.e., the patient.
Economics, like other human studies, would seem to have been over-eager to arrive at laboratory methods and to have ignored the need for continuous detailed study of all the various aspects of actual industrial situations. Yet this clinic-laboratory relationship is the essential of scientific method.
One has to realize, with respect to common economic practice and its relation to social and political urgencies, that the actual industrial situation has changed immensely since the early part of the nineteenth century. Carr, in the book I have already quoted, asserts that in the days of the classical economists the industrial system was made up chiefly of small industries and businesses. His implication is that the whole theory of competition and the value of competition was based upon such an actual society. A former colleague, the late Philip Cabot, was accustomed to talk of his early life in New England as having been lived in such a society. He used to declare that the mills and industries of New England fifty or sixty years ago were essentially small organizations.
They employed perhaps a few hundred people, and the life of any such business was rarely more than two generations of proprietorship or at most three. Cabot attributed this to the fact that the organizing ability of a father did not usually survive two generations of success. He pointed out, however, that the cessation of such a business did not create a problem for the community in which it was situated. By the time that a particular organization ceased to operate, some local rival had developed and was prepared to employ the skilled workmen, if indeed it had not already done so. Consequently there was no local community problem of widespread unemployment following a shutdown. In these days, the general situation is altogether different.
During the economic depression of the early thirties, many manufacturing organizations accustomed to employ thirty or forty thousand people found themselves faced with a much diminished demand for products. Instances can be quoted where the roster of employees fell to ten thousand or even less. And this did not mean a stony disregard of human welfare: in many cases a company struggled for years to retain as many of its employees as it could without facing economic disaster itself. But in the then existing situation such attempts were doomed to failure; and in certain industrialized areas, within a period of months, many thousands of workers were inevitably “released”. A situation such as this cannot compare with the characteristic nineteenth-century situation of which Carr and Cabot speak.
The so-called release of twenty or thirty thousand persons in two or three suburbs of a large city inevitably becomes a community problem of the first magnitude. And a problem of this kind cannot be left to “individualism” or “enlightened self-interest”; that nineteenth-century track is closed. Cabot was accustomed to say that, instead of expecting the life of a particular business to come to an end in two or three generations, we have, by improving industrial organization, conferred upon such businesses a “species of immortal life” which must be maintained by the community at its peril.
All this indicates that a primary assumption of nineteenth century economic theory is no longer tenable. Even one hundred years ago, it was probably easy to believe in the essential relevance and propriety of the principle that the pursuit of individual interest is the basis of economic organization. But, although this assumption is still voiced by economic and political theorists, it is perfectly clear that business and political practice are based nowadays upon a vitally different conception of human society. This divergence between theory and practice is perhaps the source of at least part of the confusion that prevails in politico-economic discussions of the present. Whereas the economic theorist of the university still assumes individual interest as a sufficient basis for theory and the development of economic insight, the administrator with actual experience of handling human affairs bases his action upon a contrary, but empirically derived, assumption. This leads to endless confusion, not only in the public mind, but also in the writings of economists themselves. The practical economist stands on firmer ground but is troubled by a lack of clinical experience and by an uneasy allegiance to economic theory.
The conception of a ‘natural and essential order of human societies.” This is the basic conception of the Physiocrats, the idea that man must learn to live according to nature, especially according to human nature, and that governments and authorities generally must give up the idea of devising endless laws and regulations. They must learn to let things alone—laisser-faire. The ideas of the Physiocrats were strongly developed by the so-called liberal school of economists, sometimes known as the Manchester School, in England. For a long time the Physiocratic phrase, laisse faire, laisse passer, served as its motto. Gide gives the principles of this liberal school:
- Human societies are governed by natural laws which we could not alter, even if we wished, since they are not of our own making.
Moreover, we have not the least interest in modifying them, even if we could; for they are good, or, at any rate, the best possible. The part of the economist is confined to discovering the action of these natural laws, while the duty of individuals and of governments is to strive to regulate their conduct by them. These laws are in no wise opposed to human liberty; on the contrary, they are the expression of relations which arise spontaneously among men living in society, wherever these men are left to themselves and are free to act according to their own interests. When this is the case, a harmony is established among these individual interests which are apparently antagonistic; this harmony is precisely the natural order of things, and is far superior to any artificial arrangement that could be devised.
- The part of the legislator, if he wishes to insure social order and progress, must therefore be limited to developing individual initiative as fully as possible, to removing whatever might interfere with such development, and to preventing individuals from meddling with one another. Therefore the intervention of governments ought to be reduced to that minimum which is indispensable to the security of each and of all—in a word, to the policy of “let alone.”
These principles give us in a few words the essential theoretic background of the economic and political thinking of the nineteenth century. There is much in this conception of human cooperative activity which is still important and still to be commended.
The nineteenth century tried to base business organization generally on the presumption that some such motive dominated the human scene; in this, Carr was right. But, whereas Carr implies that to some extent this principle “worked” as the basis of industrial organization, we shall probably be nearer the facts if we consider that it failed completely.
The origin of the misapprehension upon which the whole of economic theory is based must be traced to David Ricardo. He it was who first tried explicitly to use this narrow conception of “the relations which spontaneously arise among men living in a society” as a sufficient abstraction for the development of a science.
We (i.e., mankind) have been turned out of Paradise. We have neither eternal life nor unlimited means of gratification. Everywhere we turn, if we choose one thing we must relinquish others which, in different circumstances, we would wish not to have relinquished. Scarcity of means to satisfy given ends is an almost ubiquitous condition of human behavior”
He continues: “Here, then, is the unity of subject of Economic Science, the forms assumed by human behavior in disposing of scarce means.” This is a perfectly legitimate abstraction, provided it is worked out with a becoming rigour of logic and experiment, provided the process of inquiry remains uncomplicated by confused irrelevancies—whatever their human importance. Moreover, this is in some degree the abstraction had in mind by Quesnay in his Tableau Economique, by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations, as well as by Ricardo in his Principles. The study of markets, of demand and supply, of prices, of production at the margin, and of economic rent, is indispensable and will remain so to the extent to which “the forms assumed by human behavior in disposing of scarce means” remains one of the characters of society. The contribution of the economist to any theory of social equilibrium is thus valuable, and economics has developed many special skills for the advantage of those who practice them. The general confusion arises not merely in economic abstraction but also in the lack of other social studies necessary to any general concept of social equilibrium.
He bases his studies and his logic upon two limiting concepts. These are:
- Natural society consists of a horde of unorganized individuals.
- Every individual acts in a manner calculated to secure his self-preservation or self-interest.
- Every individual thinks logically, to the best of his ability, in the service of this aim.
1 – Natural society as horde
In Ricardo’s time, the influence of Hobbes, and beyond Hobbes that of Rousseau and the theory of a social contract, were still very strong. This theory, which still finds expression in unexpected places, regarded the life of natural man as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The exchange of this type of natural living for social living involved, it was thought, the deliberate limitation of natural desires but secured for man as compensation all the advantages of co-operative activity. After Ricardo’s time, this doctrine was roundly condemned by T. H. Green as an intellectualist fiction parading as description of primitive society. More recently the field studies of modern anthropology have made the theory untenable. But for Ricardo and his contemporaries there was every reason for the presupposition and little against it.
Moreover, in certain situations of which Ricardo was aware, the description does apply now and at all times. If extreme emergency shatters the routines of co-operation in a specific social group, if no leader appears providentially to devise co-operative means of meeting the crisis, then the society will disintegrate temporarily into a horde of individuals each seeking desperately the means of self-preservation. This perhaps exaggerates that aspect of human affairs with which economics is specifically concerned. But scarcity of a necessary commodity is emergency or crisis—perhaps the most usual, perhaps the most serious—so that the findings of modern anthropology cannot lead us to discard Ricardo wholly and out of hand.
2 – The individual and motives of self-preservation.
Clearly then the presupposition of scarcity lends support to the conception of competition for limited means of subsistence— especially perhaps in markets that are impersonal and in foreign trade and the exchanges. If there is no leadership and no social organization to order the distribution of necessary commodities, the principles discovered by the logic of economics will apply.
The disorganization of a specific society and the lack of organization between societies are thus indicated as exceedingly important human problems by the findings of the economists. These are problems that nowadays are thrust urgently upon our attention.
- Every individual thinks logically in the service of this aim.
This is, of course, fallacy if it be interpreted to mean that the thinking of every individual is continuously logical, according to his capacity. But it is not wholly fallacy, for as a postulate it is true within the narrow limits of the validity originally claimed for it. That is to say, the thinking of an individual is never so continuously logical as when he is faced with an emergency or crisis in which his customary routines are clearly useless. The human value of capacity for systematic thinking, considered as a natural fact, is chiefly an emergency value.
The statements of academic psychology often seem to imply that logical thinking is a continuous function of the mature person—that the sufficiently normal infant develops from syncretism and non-logic to logic and skilled performance. If one examines the facts with care, either in industry or in clinic, one finds immediately that this implication, so flattering to the civilized adult, possesses only a modicum of truth. Indeed, one may go further and say that it is positively misleading. This may be illustrated from a variety of industrial investigations.
It is at least evident that the economists’ presupposition of individual self-preservation as motive and logic as instrument is not characteristic of the industrial facts ordinarily encountered. The desire to stand well with one’s fellows, the so-called human instinct of association, easily outweighs the merely individual interest and the logical reasoning upon which so many spurious principles of management are based.
Indeed, certain facts offered for consideration in the preceding chapter also support this claim. It was pointed out that only students who have failed to develop the ordinary skills of human association overthink their personal situations to the point of trying to resolve every successive moment by logical thinking rather than by social routine where possible. For these individuals their very lack of acquaintance with group routines transforms every ordinary social situation into emergency and crisis.
If one observes either industrial workers or university students with sufficient care and continuity, one finds that the proportionate number actuated by motives of self-interest logically elaborated is exceedingly small. They have relapsed upon self-interest when social association has failed them. This would seem to imply that economics, strictly defined, is not merely study of the forms assumed by human behavior in disposing of scarce means—another condition must be fulfilled, the condition, namely, that the situation is socially disorganized.
This would make it seem that extensive social disorganization or lack of organization, international and intranational, must be postulated before the so-called laws of economics apply. In other words, our studies of economic fact are upside down; we have, as it were, an extensive pathology, but no physiology.
All the essay proves is that the “proper area” of economic study, though it has something of the importance he claims for it, is nevertheless too restricted by hypothesis to be used as sufficient basis for industrial studies or for so-called economic planning. In other words, the pathology of disorganization requires supplementation by direct observation of organization. And, until such inquiries are better developed, all assertions that “there is no reason to suppose that uniformities are to be discovered” in human valuations must be regarded, not as observation of social fact, but as inference from the hypothesis that mankind is an unorganized rabble. Now it may be that the variables are many and the mutual dependence exceedingly complex; but the rabble hypothesis will not bear a moment’s inspection.
For many centuries the rabble hypothesis, in one or other form, has bedeviled all our thinking on matters involving law, government, or economics. From this theory is evolved the conviction of need for a Leviathan, a powerful State, which by the exercise of a unique authority shall impose order on the rabble. So that in these days many of our liberals and our lawyers have come to enunciating doctrines that are only with difficulty distinguished from the pronouncements of a Hitler or a Mussolini. Indeed, the major difference seems not to be logical, but rather of the nature of a humane assurance that the liberal concept of state administration will permit greater freedom of speech and action than the National Socialism of Germany.
Historians know that this theory really stretches back to the Byzantium of Justinian, to Pope Innocent IV, to the Middle Ages. . . . The dangers of anarchy under feudalism made the mass of men blind to the dangers of autocracy. . . .
. . . The great Leviathan of Hobbes, the plenitudo potestatis of the canonists, the arcana imperii, the sovereignty of Austin, are all names of the same thing—the unlimited and illimitable power of the lawgiver in the State, deduced from the notion of its unity. It makes no difference whether it is the State or the Church that is being considered. . . . But this as a factual description of organized society is completely spurious.
. . . What we actually see in the world is not on the one hand the State, and on the other a mass of unrelated individuals, but a vast complex of gathered unions, in which alone we find individuals, families, clubs, trade unions, colleges, professions and so forth. . . .
… It would appear a more reasonable maxim to get a theory of law and government not by laying down an abstract doctrine of unity but by observing the facts of life as it is lived, and trying to set down the actual features of civil society. What do we find as a fact?
Not, surely, a sand-heap of individuals, all equal and undifferentiated, unrelated except to the State, but an ascending hierarchy of groups, family, school, town, county, union, church, etc. . . .
. . . For in truth the notion of isolated individuality is the shadow of a dream. … In the real world, the isolated individual does not exist; he begins always as a member of something and … his personality can develop only in society, and in some way or other he always embodies some social institution. I do not mean to deny the distinctness of individual life, but this distinction can function only inside a society. In all his writings one finds a deeply humane concern for certain tendencies of the modern world before 1914; it may indeed be claimed for him that he foretold the troubled times we have lived through since that fateful year. But one finds also evidence of his possession of simple but effective social skills, informed by unusual erudition, which enabled him to put his knowledge at the service of other people in the daily round. Those passages that I have quoted show that he is talking of the actual society about him and not of a Ricardian postulate of doubtful value. He is concerned with fact and not with inference from a questionable assumption.
A contrary claim must be made for exponents of the rabble hypothesis. They seem to be, almost exclusively, persons remote from the active world of affairs—academics, writers, lawyers.
This is still true; those who support most keenly the Ricardian view, who mistake its postulates for facts of observation, are students of law, government, and philosophy. Very few, if any, have taken responsibility for the life, work, and welfare of their brother humans. They have small knowledge-of-acquaintance of various social situations, a negligible equipment of social skill, and are consequently able to ignore the facts of human organization, and the extreme importance of these facts for him who would direct the work and thought of others. There is a recent book which is not in this category, probably the most important work on government and administration published in several generations. It is not surprising that this difficult but interesting study has been ignored by political science schools.
He is also endowed with unusual capacity for reflective and logical thinking. More nearly than any of the other authors of whom I have written, he fulfils the three Henderson requirements of leadership in such a field of inquiry: … he must have first intimate, habitual, intuitive familiarity with things; secondly, systematic knowledge of things; and, thirdly, an effective way of thinking about things. …
Barnard prefaces his book with a short account of his attempt to discover, by extensive reading, an adequate statement of the universal characteristics of human organization: and he records his disappointment. He could discover no treatise that discussed organization as he had come to know it in his daily administrative work. More than this, such treatises as were supposed to discuss the topic seemed to be entirely ignorant of the actualities of executive practice.
. . . Always, it seemed to me, the social scientists—from whatever side they approached—-just reached the edge of organization as I experienced it, and retreated. Rarely did they seem to me to sense the processes of co-ordination and decision that underlie a large part at least of the phenomena they described. . . . And beyond this again these writers apparently did not even recognize the extreme importance of organization as the principal structural aspect of society itself.
. . . Mores, folkways, political structures, institutions, attitudes, motives, propensities, instincts, were discussed in extenso; but the bridge between the generalizations of social study on the one hand and the action of masses to which they related on the other was not included.
Barnard then points out that the long history of thought concerning the nature of the state and of the church has obstructed intelligent inquiry into the facts of formally organized human co-operation. Legists, canonists, historians, political scientists have for centuries been preoccupied with the question of the origin and nature of authority. An eminent contemporary historian asserts that European civilization was a product of imperium (the Roman Empire) and ecclesia (the Church) in action upon gentes, the Franks, Saxons, Celts, and other tribal organizations.
Whether we look at Justinian—representing imperial Byzantium and Rome—or at Innocent IV, we find the two equally assured that the source and base of any formal organization is the supreme authority. Any human organization for a human purpose— municipality, university, business institution, army—is supposed to derive what authority it has from a superior and unitary authority; its “personality,”on the view of these authorities, is fictional and derivative. This, Barnard points out, as Figgis had before him, is still the legal theory, and, as such, it is not only inconsistent with the democratic theory that government is based on spontaneous co-operation but also has the effect of preventing inquiry into, and the development of understanding of, the essential facts of social organization. On the other hand, legalist theories of the state “utterly failed, even when spun out into their endless applications in judicial decisions, to explain the most elementary experience of organized effort”
1 The historic controversy over the source and nature of authority has operated to give legists and canonists illusions of knowledge and thus actually to discourage investigation.
Next to the question of authority as source of learned confusion, Barnard places “the exaggeration of the economic phases of human behavior which the early formulation of economic theory made far too convenient.”
Adam Smith and his successors have, by their theories, greatly diminished the “interest in the specific social processes within which economic factors are merely one phase”; these writers, he claims, have “greatly overemphasized” economic interests.
2 This is conjoined with a false emphasis upon the importance of “intellectual, as compared with emotional and physiological, processes” in the determination of behavior. Consequently in the current thought of many, man is still an ‘economic’ man carrying a few non-economic appendages. His own experience in an organization, Barnard points out, has been quite otherwise:
. . though I early found out how to behave effectively in organizations, not until I had much later relegated economic theory and economic interests to a secondary—though indispensable—place did I begin to understand organizations or human behavior in them. …
3 Once again it is evident that knowledge-of-acquaintance and the intuitions that result from intimate and sustained familiarity are more trustworthy than elaborate logics uncontrolled by developed skill and responsibility.
Nowhere is the difference between knowledge of the facts and inference from words more apparent than in Barnard’s discussion of authority as it is actually exercised in an organization. Gone are the thunders and lightning on the secret top of Horeb or of Sinai, gone also philosophical discussions of unity and indivisibility. Authority is a convenient fiction which “is used because from the standpoint of logical construction it merely explains overt acts.”
1 The person who exercises so-called authority is placed at an important point in the line of communication— from below upwards, from above down, if one thinks in terms of an organization chart. It is his business to facilitate a balanced relation between various parts of the organization, so that the avowed purpose for which the whole exists may be conveniently and continuously fulfilled. If he is unsuccessful in this, he will have no actual authority in the organization—however important may be his title. An “approximate definition” of authority is that it “is the character of a communication (order) in a formal organization by virtue of which it is accepted by a contributor or ‘member’ of the organization as governing the action he contributes . . . under this definition the decision as to whether an order has authority or not lies with the persons to whom it is addressed, and does not reside in ‘persons of authority’ or those who issue these orders”
2 Barnard is careful to specify a “zone of indifference”: not all the communications of a day are critical for the sustenance of authority. But this apart, it remains true that “the efficiency of organization” depends upon “the degree to which individuals assent to orders” “Thus authority depends upon a co-operative personal attitude of individuals on the one hand; and the system of communication in the organization on the other.”
Authority therefore in actual exercise demands a capacity for vision and wise guidance that must be re-achieved daily:
Since the co-operation of others is a vital element in it, social understanding and social skill are involved equally with technical knowledge and capacity. Under the influence of economic theory, we have a system of education that trains young men in technical understanding and technical skill; we do nothing whatever to develop social insight or to impart social skill. Indeed we provide an education that operates to hinder the development of such skills.
And the general public, business leaders, and politicians are left with the implication that mankind is an unorganized rabble upon which order must be imposed. It was this delusion that encouraged Hitler’s dreams of grandeur.
The social organization of the Celts or of the Germanic peoples was tribal, “based on kinship groups, such as the sept or clan”. This organization, although it ranks as primitive, “possesses virtues which many more advanced types of society may envy”. Such societies know no loyalties outside their own group; the desire of every individual member to co-operate in communal activities is spontaneous and complete. The tradition of the Roman State is explicit and logical, it rests upon the authority of the imperium: the tradition of the gentes is non-logical and not expressed, it rests upon the cooperative attitude of every member of the tribe.
Jenks, writing in 1897, tries to show that, as civilization develops, the state is compelled to take over the organizing function of the clan. “Before the State comes the Clan. But the relations between the two stages are often misunderstood.” And he proceeds to show that the State cannot be regarded as a mere enlargement of the Clan. He remarks that “there is no . . . identity of principles between the State and the Clan. The success of the State means the destruction of the Clan”.
3 The change to a new principle of social organization is dictated in the first instance, he says, by military necessity, that is to say, by emergency. “The armies which swarm into the Roman Empire, the armies which invade Britain, are leagues of clans.”
In the three centuries which have succeeded the era of Tacitus, the most famous of the old clans have disappeared or have been swallowed up in larger organizations. The new groups bear names that are military and descriptive—the Frank, a warrior, the Saxon, a swordsman, the Alamann, a stranger.
The new organism is not a mere enlargement of the old; it is based on entirely different principles. The leader is no longer an hereditary chief, he is chosen for his military prowess: social organization is no longer based on kinship but on proved efficiency. But “the principle of selection for personal merit has wider results than the overthrow of a Clan nobility. It is responsible for what is, perhaps, the most vital difference between the Clan and the State.” And Jenks is thus led to enunciate the vital difference: “The Clan is a community of groups; the State is a community of individuals.” This statement is frequently repeated throughout his book; it may indeed be said that from it he develops his central theme—the necessary mutual hostility of state and clan.
“The struggle between the State and the Clan is really the key to the internal politics of the Middle Ages; and its existence contributes to medieval history that curious dualism, with its inconsistencies and its oddities, which is to many students the chief charm of the period.” The State begins its existence as a union of warrior tribes, united by the spur of military necessity. Once this union is established, some form of internal order and system becomes necessary, so the State progressively takes over the tasks of “keeper of internal peace, dispenser of Justice, administrator of the affairs of the land”. Its progress to recognition by all as the supreme authority does not, however, continue unchecked. In feudal times, and especially among the post-Carolingian Franks, the social organization is disrupted; it becomes a collection of fiefs, the internal organization in each territorial division strongly resembling the earlier tribal system.
“In the years of anarchy, the Clan had gained on the State.” But the “inherent military weakness” and inefficiency of the Clan in the face of heathen invasion leads to the restoration of the state and to its reinforcement as against clan organization. The rival principles of social organization as culminate in the final victory of the state.
“No doubt that, as far as efficiency, pure and simple, is concerned, the principles of the State are sounder than the principles of the Clan”. But “gentile (gens « the Clan) ideas spring from instincts deep-rooted in humanity, and they cannot be entirely neglected, which consideration leads him to conclude that “if gentile ideas do not make for efficiency, at least they make for stability.”
Actually, and despite all of the Jenks argument, the problem for civilization is not that of rivalry between state and clan, between efficiency and stability, but the inclusion of the two in a complex social pattern. Intelligent understanding and active co-operation are alike vital to civilized order and activity.
The organization must be effective (accomplish the “objective of the system”) and also efficient (satisfy individual motives), 4 he is enunciating a principle that may be applied widely to any society as a whole. The social organization of any group must secure for its members, first, the satisfaction of their material needs, and second, the active cooperation of others in the fulfilment of many and diverse social functions. These are not ranked here as first and second in order of importance; both are important and must be simultaneously effected. But an inspection of primitive cultures might lead one to suppose that, of the two, the latter—the need to co-operate continuously—is more vital to the communal life. For the rituals of any primitive tribe are almost wholly devoted to the promotion of co-operative harmony, to discipline that enhances the certainty of unity in work; the tribe apparently assumes implicitly that, if co-operation be assured, the material needs of the group will inevitably be satisfied.
Now there cannot be co-operation without organization. Any industrial organization is at once a way of working—which must be technically expert and effective—and also a way of living for many people—a co-operative system which must be efficient, satisfactory as a way of living. Our civilization has been immensely successful in respect of material and technical accomplishment, an utter failure as a co-operative system. Not only have we failed to secure continuous co-operation within the nation or as between nations; we have also committed ourselves to doubtful theories, at best of limited application, which seem to regard this failure as a civilized achievement. We have an economics that postulates a disorganized rabble of individuals competing for scarce goods and a politics that postulates a “community of individuals” ruled by a sovereign State. Both these theories foreclose on and discourage any investigation of the facts of social organization. Both commit us to the competitive and destructive anarchy that has so far characterized the twentieth century. Now it is certain that economic studies have had many uses, and it may be that the time given to political science in universities has not been wholly wasted; but, for so long as these topics are allowed to be a substitute for direct investigation of the facts, the total effect will be crippling for society.
What I have tried … to make clear is this: that we are divided from our adversaries by questions of principle, not of detail; that the principle is concerned . . . with the very nature of the corporate life of men and therefore with the true nature of the State. . . ”
1 He goes on to claim that, for so long as “the doctrine of State omnipotence remains unconquered”, free institutions cannot develop freely. For the true function of State organization is to provide a “framework under which the perennial social instincts of men can develop.”
2 And he repudiates as a “scientific monstrosity” the idea of an “omnipotent State facing an equally unreal aggregate of unrelated individuals.”
This conception of an all-powerful State and a rabble of unrelated individuals is implied by economic theory, expressly stated by law and political science. It has given us a Mussolini and a Hitler, and has confused the whole course of democratic politics.
The Axis powers have pressed these theories of law and politics beyond their ultimate logical conclusion to actual application. Perhaps this will give pause to academic expositions of the sovereign State and induce reflection, perhaps even some investigation of the actual human facts. The democracies have succeeded in developing toward a co-operative commonweal—if, indeed, they have succeeded—because of the unexpressed but actual resistance of democratic peoples to tyrants, divine right, and the State Absolute. Time and again in history our ancestors have refused to give allegiance to authority imposed from above and have cast their vote for free expression from below as the sole source of genuine leadership. This has maintained the possibility of progressive development and has kept democracy upon the pilgrims’ way undisturbed by the lures or byways of political theory. Parliamentary representation and periodic elections are a partial safeguard of this development—but only partial. Not yet, even in the democracies, are we rid of the danger of political tyranny.
Mr. Harold Butler reports a mountain guide’s sage observation, “We have overthrown the power of the aristocracy and the power of the Church. Now we shall have to overthrow the power of the politicians, and that will be a hard fight.” The forms of democracy are not enough; the active development of social skill and insight must make these dry bones live.
Economic theory in its human aspect is woefully insufficient; indeed it is absurd. Humanity is not adequately described as a horde of individuals, each actuated by self-interest, each fighting his neighbour for the scarce material of survival. Realization that such theories completely falsify the normal human scene drives us back to study of particular human situations. Knowledge-acquaintance of the actual event, intimate understanding of the complexity of human relationships, must precede the formulation of alternatives to current economic abstractions. This is the clinical method, the necessary preliminary to laboratory investigation. Only when clinically tested by successful treatment can a diagnosis be safely developed toward logical elaboration and laboratory experiment.
He had helped to transform a horde of “solitaries” into a social group. In May, 1924, he placed the control of rest periods squarely in the hands of the workers in an alley with no one to say them nay.
This led to consultation, not only between individuals, but between alleys throughout the group—and to a feeling of responsibility directly to the president. And the general social changes effected were astonishing—even in relationships outside the factory. One worker told us with great surprise that he had begun taking his wife to “movies” in the evenings, a thing he had not done for years. Another, equally to his surprise, gave up a habit of spending alcoholic weekends on bootleg liquor. In general the change was complex, and the difficulty of assigning the part played in it by various aspects of the experiment impossible to resolve.
The efficiency experts had not consulted the workers; they regarded workers’ statements as exaggerated or due to misconception of the facts and therefore to be ignored. Yet to ignore an important symptom—whatever its character—on supposedly moral grounds is preposterous. The “expert” assumptions of rabble hypothesis and individual self-interest as a basis for diagnosis led nowhere. On the other hand, careful and pedestrian consideration of the workers’ situation taken as part of a clinical diagnosis led us to results so surprising that we could at the time only partly explain them.
In matters of mechanics or chemistry the modern engineer knows how to set about the improvement of process or the redress of error. But the determination of optimum working conditions for the human being is left largely to dogma and tradition, guess, or quasi-philosophical argument. In modern large-scale industry the three persistent problems of management are:
- The application of science and technical skill to some material good or product.
- The systematic ordering of operations.
- The organization of teamwork—that is, of sustained cooperation.
The last must take account of the need for continual reorganization of teamwork as operating conditions are changed in an adaptive society.
The first of these holds enormous prestige and interest and is the subject of continuous experiment. The second is well developed in practice. The third, by comparison with the other two, is almost wholly neglected. Yet it remains true that if these three are out of balance, the organization as a whole will not be successful. The first two operate to make an industry effective, in Chester Barnard’s phrase, the third, to make it efficient. For the larger and more complex the institution, the more dependent is it upon the whole-hearted co-operation of every member of the group.
At every point in the programme, the workers had been consulted with respect to proposed changes; they had arrived at the point of free expression of ideas and feelings to management.
Experience where improved conditions for one team of mule spinners were reflected in improved morale not only in the experimental team but in the two other teams who had received no such benefit.
This interesting, and indeed amusing, result has been so often discussed that I need make no mystery of it now. I have often heard my colleague Roethlisberger declare that the major experimental change was introduced when those in charge sought to hold the situation humanly steady (in the interest of critical changes to be introduced) by getting the co-operation of the workers. What actually happened was that six individuals became a team and the team gave itself wholeheartedly and spontaneously to co-operation in the experiment. The consequence was that they felt themselves to be participating freely and without afterthought, and were happy in the knowledge that they were working without coercion from above or limitation from below.
They were themselves astonished at the consequence, for they felt that they were working under less pressure than ever before: and in this, their feelings and performance echoed that of the mule spinners.
It was speedily discovered that the question-and-answer type of interview was useless in the situation. Workers wished to talk, and to talk freely under the seal of professional confidence (which was never abused) to someone who seemed representative of the company or who seemed, by his very attitude, to carry authority. The experience itself was unusual; there are few people in this world who have had the experience of finding someone intelligent and eager to listen without interruption to all that he or she has to say. But to arrive at this point it became necessary to train interviewers how to listen, how to avoid interruption or the giving of advice, how generally to avoid anything that might put an end to free expression in an individual instance. Some approximate rules to guide the interviewer in his work were therefore set down. These were, more or less, as follows:
- Give your whole attention to the person interviewed, and make it evident that you are doing so.
- Listen—don’t talk.
- Never argue; never give advice.
- What he wants to say.
- What he does not want to say.
- What he cannot say without help.
As you listen, plot out tentatively and for subsequent correction the pattern (personal) that is being set before you. To test this, from time to time summarize what has been said and present for comment (e.g., “Is this what you are telling me?” Always do this with the greatest caution, that is, clarify but do not add or distort. It predated the Rogerian Triad by more than a decade.
Remember that everything said must be considered a personal confidence and not divulged to anyone. (This does not prevent discussion of a situation between professional colleagues. Nor does it prevent some form of public report when due precaution has been taken.)
It must not be thought that this type of interviewing is easily earned. It is true that some persons, men and women alike, have natural flair for the work, but, even with them, there tends to be an early period of discouragement, a feeling of futility, through which the experience and coaching of a senior interviewer must carry them. The important rules in the interview (important, that is, for the development of high skill) are two. First, Rule 4 (that is, for the development of high skill) are two. First, Rule that indicates the need to help the individual interviewed to articulate expression of an idea or attitude that he has not before expressed; and, second, Rule 5 which indicates the need from time to time to summarize what has been said and to present it for comment. Once equipped to do this effectively, interviewers develop very considerable skill. But, let me say again, this skill is not easily acquired. It demands of the interviewer a real capacity to follow the contours of another person’s thinking, to understand the meaning for him of what he says.
I do not believe that any member of the research group or its associates had anticipated the immediate response that would be forthcoming to the introduction of such an interview programme.
Such comments as “This is the best thing the Company has ever done,” or “The Company should have done this long ago”, were frequently heard. It was as if workers had been awaiting an opportunity for expressing freely and without afterthought their feelings on a great variety of modern situations, not by any means limited to the various departments of the plant. To find an intelligent person who was not only eager to listen but also anxious to help to expression ideas and feelings but dimly understood—this, for many thousand persons, was an experience without precedent in the modern world.
In a former statement I named two questions that inevitably presented themselves to the interviewing group in these early stages of the study:
(1) Is some experience which might be described as an experience of personal futility a common incident of industrial organization for work?
(2) Does life in a modern industrial city, in some unrealized way, predispose workers to obsessive response?
And I said that these two questions “in some form” continued to preoccupy those in charge of the research until the conclusion of the study. After twelve years of further study (not yet concluded), there are certain developments that demand attention. For example, I had not fully realized in 1932, when the above was written, how profoundly the social structure of civilization has been shaken by scientific, engineering, and industrial development. This radical change—the passage from an established to an adaptive social order—has brought into being a host of new and unanticipated problems for management and for the individual worker. The management problem appears at its acutest in the work of the supervisor.
No longer does the supervisor work with a team of persons that he has known for many years or perhaps a lifetime; he is leader of a group of individuals that forms and disappears almost as he watches it. Now it is difficult, if not impossible, to relate oneself to a working group one by one; it is relatively easy to do so if they are already a fully constituted team. A communication from the supervisor, for example, in the latter instance has to be made to one person only with the appropriate instructions; the individual will pass it on and work it out with the team. In the former instance, it has to be repeated to every individual and may often be misunderstood.
But for the individual worker the problem is really much more serious. He has suffered a profound loss of security and certainty in his actual living and in the background of his thinking. For all of us the feeling of security and certainty derives always from assured membership of a group. If this is lost, no monetary gain, no job guarantee, can be sufficient compensation. Where groups change ceaselessly as jobs and mechanical processes change, the individual inevitably experiences a sense of void, of emptiness, where his fathers knew the joy of comradeship and security. And in such situation, his anxieties—many, no doubt, irrational or ill-founded—increase and he becomes more difficult both to fellow workers and to supervisor. The extreme of this is perhaps rarely encountered as yet, but increasingly we move in this direction as the tempo of industrial change is speeded by scientific and technical discovery.
Scientific method has a dual approach—represented in medicine by the clinic and the laboratory. In the clinic one studies the whole situation with two ends in view: first, to develop intimate knowledge of and skill in handling the facts, and, second, on the basis of such a skill to separate those aspects of the situation, that skill has shown to be closely related, for detailed laboratory study.
When a study based upon laboratory method fails, or partially fails, because some essential factor has been unknowingly and arbitrarily excluded, the investigator, if he is wise, returns to clinical study of the entire situation to get some hint as to the nature of the excluded determinant. The members of the research division at Hawthorne, after the twelfth experimental period in the test room, were faced by just such a situation and knew it. The so-called interview programme represented for them a return from the laboratory to clinical study. And, as in all clinical study, there was no immediate and welcome revelation of a single discarded determinant: there was rather a slow progress from one observation to another, all of them important—but only gradually building up into a single complex finding. This slow development has been elsewhere described, in Management and the Worker; one can however attempt a succinct resume of the various observations, more or less as they occurred.
Officers of the company had prepared a short statement, a few sentences, to be repeated to the individual interviewed before the conversation began. This statement was designed to assure the worker that nothing he said would be repeated to his supervisors or to any company official outside the interviewing group. In many instances, the worker waved this aside and began to talk freely and at once. What doubts there were seemed to be resident in the interviewers rather than in those interviewed. Many workers, I cannot say the majority for we have no statistics, seemed to have something “on their minds,” in ordinary phrase, about which they wished to talk freely to a competent listener.
And these topics were by no means confined to matters affecting the company. This was, I think, the first observation that emerged from the mass of interviews reported daily. The research group began to talk about the need for “emotional release” and the great advantage that accrued to the individual when he had “talked off” his problem. The topics varied greatly. One worker two years before had been sharply reprimanded by his supervisor for not working as usual: in interview he wished to explain that on the night preceding the day of the incident his wife and child had both died, apparently unexpectedly. At the time he was unable to explain; afterwards he had no opportunity to do so. He told the story dramatically and in great detail; there was no doubt whatever that telling it thus benefited him greatly. But this story naturally was exceptional; more often a worker would speak of his family and domestic situation, of his church, of his relations with other members of the working group—quite usually the topic of which he spoke presented itself to him as a problem difficult for him to resolve. This led to the next successive illumination for the inquiry. It became manifest that, whatever the problem, it was partly, and sometimes wholly, determined by the attitude of the individual worker. And this defect or distortion of attitude was consequent on his past experience or his present situation, or, more usually, on both at once.
This type of case led the interviewing group to study carefully each worker’s personal situation and attitude. These two phrases “emotional release” and “personal situation” became convenient titles for the first phases of observation and seemed to resume for the interviewers the effective work that they were doing. It was at this point that a change began to show itself in the study and in the conception of the study.
It is estimated that such cases did not number more than an approximate two per cent, of the twenty thousand persons originally interviewed. Probably this error of emphasis was inevitable and for two reasons: first, the dramatic changes that occur in such instances seemed good evidence of the efficacy of the method, and, second, this type of interviewing had to be insisted upon as necessary to the training of a skilled interviewer. This last still holds good; a skilled interviewer must have passed through the stage of careful and observant listening to what an individual says and to all that he says. This stage of an interviewing programme closely resembles the therapeutic method and its triumphs are apt to be therapeutic. And I do not believe that the study would have been equipped to advance further if it had failed to observe the great benefit of emotional release and the extent to which every individual’s problems are conditioned by his personal history and situation.
Indeed, even when one has advanced beyond the merely psychotherapeutic study of individuals to study of industrial groups, one has to beware of distortions similar in kind to those named; one has to know how to deal with such problems. The first phase of the interview programme cannot therefore be discarded; it still retains its original importance. But industrial studies must nevertheless move beyond the individual in need of therapy. And this is the more true when the change from established routines to adaptive changes of routine seems generally to carry a consequence of loss of security for many persons.
A change of attitude in the research group came gradually. The close study of individuals continued, but in combination with an equally close study of groups. it was realized that these facts did not in any way imply low working morale as suggested by such phrases as “restriction of output” On the contrary, the failure of free communication between management and workers in modern large-scale industry leads inevitably to the exercise of caution by the working group until such time as it knows clearly the range and meaning of changes imposed from above. The enthusiasm of the efficiency engineer for the organization of operations is excellent; his attempt to resume problems of cooperation under this heading is not. At the moment, he attempts to solve the many human difficulties involved in whole-hearted co-operation by organizing the organization of organization without any reference whatever to workers themselves. This procedure inevitably blocks communication and defeats his own admirable purpose.
The existence and influence of the group—those in active daily relationship with one another— became the important fact. The industrial interviewer must learn to distinguish and specify, as he listens to what a worker says, references to “personal” or group situations. More often than not, the special case, the individual who talks himself out of a gross distortion, is a solitary—one who has not “made the team.”
The usual interview, on the other hand, though not by any means free from distortion, is speaking as much for the working group as for the person. The influence of the communication in the interview, therefore, is not limited to the individual but extends to the group.
The important fact brought to the attention of the research division was that the ordinary conception of management-worker relation as existing between company officials, on the one hand, and an unspecified number of individuals, on the other, is utterly mistaken. Management, in any continuously successful plant, is not related to single workers but always to working groups. In every department that continues to operate, the workers have— whether aware of it or not—formed themselves into a group with appropriate customs, duties, routines, even rituals; and management succeeds (or fails) in proportion as it is accepted without reservation by the group as authority and leader. This, for example, occurred in the relay assembly test room at Hawthorne.
Management, by consultation with the girl workers, by clear explanation of the proposed experiments and the reasons for them, by accepting the workers’ verdict in special instances, unwittingly scored a success in two most important human matters—the girls became a self-governing team, and a team that co-operated whole-heartedly with management. The test room was responsible for many important findings—rest periods, hours of work, food, and the like: but the most important finding of all was unquestionably in the general area of teamwork and co-operation.
The interviewers’ experience showed that an articulate complaint only rarely, if ever, gave any logical clue to the grievance in which it had origin; this applied at least as strongly to groups as to individuals. Whereas economists and industry generally tend to concentrate upon the complaint and upon logical inferences from its articulate statement as an appropriate procedure, the interviewing group had learned almost to ignore, except as symptom, the—sometimes noisy—manifestation of discomfort and to study the situation anew to gain knowledge of its source. Diagnosis rather than argument became the proper method of procedure.
The insight gained by the interviewing group, on the other hand, cannot be described as substituting irrational for rational motive, emotion for logic. On the contrary, it implies a need for competent study of complaints and the grievances that provoke them, a need for knowledge of the actual facts rather than acceptance of an outdated theory. It is amusing that certain industrialists, rigidly disciplined in economic theory, attempt to shrug off the Hawthorne studies as “theoretic.” Actually the shoe is on the other foot; Hawthorne has re-studied the facts without prejudice, whereas the critics have unquestioningly accepted that theory of man which had its vogue in the nineteenth century and has already outlived its usefulness.
In summary, certain entirely practical discoveries must be enumerated.
First, the early discovery that the interview aids the individual to get rid of useless emotional complications and to state his problem clearly. He is thus enabled to give himself good advice—a procedure far more effective than advice accepted from another. I have already given instances of this in discussing “emotional release” and the influence on individual attitude of personal history and personal situation.
Second, the interview has demonstrated its capacity to aid the individual to associate more easily, more satisfactorily, with other persons—fellow workers or supervisors—with whom he is in daily contact.
Third, the interview not only helps the individual to collaborate better with his own group of workers, it also develops his desire and capacity to work better with management. Someone, the interviewer, representing (for the worker) the plant organization outside his own group, has aided him to work better with his own group. This is the beginning of the necessary double loyalty—to his own group and to the larger organization. It remains only for management to make wise use of this beginning.
Fourth, beyond all this, interviewing possesses immense importance for the training of administrators in the difficult future that faces this continent and the world. It has been said that the interviewer has no authority and takes no action. Action can only be taken by the proper authority and through the formally constituted line of authority. The interviewer, however, contributes much to the facilitation of communication both up and down that line. He does this, first, by clearing away emotional distortion and exaggeration; second, his work manifestly aids to exact and objective statement the grievance that lies beyond the various complaints.
Work of this kind is immensely effective in the development of maturity of attitude and judgment in the intelligent and sensitive young men and women who give time to it. The subordination of oneself, of one’s opinions and ideas, of the very human desire to give gratuitous advice, the subordination of all these to an intelligent effort to help another express ideas and feelings that he cannot easily express is, in itself, a most desirable education. As a preparation for the exercise of administrative responsibility, it is better than anything offered in a present university curriculum.
It is no doubt necessary to train young men and women to present their knowledge and ideas with lucidity. But, if they are to be administrators, it is far more necessary to train them to listen carefully to what others say. Only he who knows how to help other persons to adequate expression can develop the many qualities demanded by a real maturity of judgment.
Finally, there remains the claim made above that the interview has proved to be a source of information of great objective value to management. The persistent problems of modern large scale industry have been stated as:
- The application of science and technical skill to a material product. The systematic ordering of operations.
- The organization of sustained co-operation.
When a representative of management claims that interview results are merely personal or subjective—and there are many who still echo this claim—he is actually telling us that he has himself been trained to give all his attention to the first and second problems, technical skill and the systematic ordering of operations; he does not realize that he has also been trained to ignore the third problem completely. For such persons, information on a problem, the existence of which they do not realize, is no information. It is no doubt in consequence of this ignorance or induced blindness that strikes or other difficulties so frequently occur in unexpected places. The interview method is the only method extant that can contribute reasonably accurate information, or indeed any information, as to the extent of the actual co-operation between workers—teamwork—that obtains in a given department, and beyond this, the extent to which this co-operation includes management policy or is wary of it.
For twenty years foremen had been carefully instructed in Company C that the supervisors’ duty had two parts—the one, technical competence the other, capacity to handle human situations. In other words, the director of training instructed supervisory candidates not only in the technical details of their jobs, but also in the methodical handling of human relationships on the job. Instruction in the latter of these was simple and probably the better for being so. Foremen were taught the very great importance of three elementary rules or methods of approach to human problems. These were:
- Be patient.
- Avoid emotional upsets.
Upon this foundation the communication system of Company C had been built. But, if foremen must be patient and listen, their work must give them time to do so. This led to the second finding.
Second: Management had arranged that foremen should have the aid of certain qualified technical assistants. These assistants took over many of the routine technical responsibilities of the foreman, thus giving him the time he required for the human responsibilities involved in team leadership. This insistence upon adequacy of communication from below upwards to supplement the usual communication from above down had brought certain benefits in its train. Put otherwise, the improvement of communication brought to light many problems that had never been specified in the other plants.
The assistant foreman and the leading hand both believe, and clearly state, that the achievement of group solidarity is of first importance in a plant, and is actually necessary for sustained production. Their interest, however, is by no means limited to sustained production. On the contrary, both expressed frequently to us pride in the human aspect of their administration. They were alike confident that absenteeism and labour turnover would not become problems in their group.
This fortunate situation has come into being largely as a result of the activities of the leading hand, supported always by the assistant foreman. The leading hand says that he does “odd jobs” and it is evident that he gives most of his time to facilitating the work of others. His chief activities are, first, helping individual workers; second, the adjustment of technical difficulties; and, third, acting as a medium of relationship for the group with the outside world. For this group the “outside world” means inspectors, time-study men, and even the departmental foreman.
The latter two activities I need not discuss in this place, but the kind of aid the leadman gives the individual worker is of great importance. He begins by listening to a new employee, introduces him to his new companions, and tries to get him congenial work aware of the new demands that changing industrial conditions are making of management in respect of the human problems of administration. In these days, he says, people have “many more things on their minds” than they used to have, and that “strong-arm methods don’t work”. He gave many examples taken from his own group to illustrate this. And it is remarkable that many members of his group were dissatisfied elsewhere in the plant and would have become “labour turnover” if some company official had not induced them to try working in the department under discussion. It is also remarkable that workers in this department, when conversing with us, tended to say “we “ whereas workers elsewhere in the plant always said “I.”
Now a group such as this last must characterize modern industry if it is to continue successfully its present line of development. In a group such as this, the characteristic divisions of our former established society count for little or nothing. Amongst individual members are included coloured people, some Californians, men and women of Oklahoma and Arkansas (and there is ordinarily great difficulty of association for Californians with “Okies” and “Arkies”), and many others. We have indeed been surprised throughout this country during the war—East, Mid-west, and California—by the ease with which coloured people, and others, are absorbed into a working group if and when they have clearly “made the team” We are not prepared at this stage to make any generalizations upon a basis of so few instances: but, as a tentative observation, the fact must give us pause.
In Philadelphia a labour turnover of approximately 250% shrinks to an approximate 5%, production increases, wastage diminishes, absenteeism ceases to be an acute problem. And in California, twenty years later, a leadman can hold his workers and maintain production in the midst of a scene of indescribable human chaos—thousands of workers every week entering and leaving factory employment despite the most stringent Federal regulations.
These observations do not diminish the gravity of the problems created by the change from an established to an adaptive society. But the fact that the eager human desire for cooperative society still persists in the ordinary person and can be utilized by intelligent and straightforward management means that these problems can be faced directly and hopefully. Even though progress may be slow, the way is open for us to learn how to handle with success the social problems posed by an adaptive industrial civilization.
The short historic interval between world wars makes one wonder whether the League of Nations did not in some inept fashion actually provoke the conflict despite its admirable intention. Stanley Casson, writing in 1937 and using his historic studies as guide, declared in that year that civilization was “not on the brink of collapse.” but had already collapsed. As with Rome, the form persisted for a brief period after the collapse had occurred.
Our world as it exists to-day, he says, cannot be called civilized. What we are watching is “a steadily increasing disintegration of all the co-operative efforts of mankind, and an uprush of true barbarism” to bring. … For, if political isolationism and aggressive nationalism are to exploit science and its applications, not for the benefit of mankind but in order to prepare in secret for mutual destruction, they are very likely to succeed; and mankind. . . . may become extinct. . . . The possibilities of injury by physical, chemical and biological methods are frightful beyond any hitherto imagined”. Nor can “the decent sense of ordinary men” be trusted to prevent such happenings. For we have seen “an almost complete collapse of previous ethical standards” and “scores of millions of highly educated and intelligent people . . . led into hate and hysteria by the methods of the scientific advertiser and propagandist.”
Nevertheless the theory that the meeting in conference of a sufficient number of eminent specialists drawn from widely different fields will in some fashion produce the first-hand knowledge required is still widely held, even in universities. Yet such eminent persons, when summoned to Geneva, were merely worried and perplexed by impassioned argument and declamation; they had no notion of any method by which non-logical and noisy troubles could be resolved.
The difference between a good observer and one who is not good is that the former is quick to take a hint from the facts, from his early efforts to develop skill in handling them, and quick to acknowledge the need to revise or alter the conceptual framework of his thinking. The other—the poor observer—continues dogmatically onward with his original thesis, lost in a maze of correlations, long after the facts have shrieked in protest against the interpretation put upon them.
The almost frenzied cultivation of technical skill at the cost of human discouragement has not been able wholly to defeat the desire of individuals for association in work with others.
Such evidence as we have supports the claim of J. N. Figgis that this desire is deep-seated in humanity and sure to find some form of expression. But in developing an adaptive society that shall be able to offer a high standard of material comfort to its least citizen, we have utterly failed to take steps that shall ensure the eager and spontaneous participation of everyone in the effort.
Indeed our high technical civilization remains abysmally ignorant of methods by which this necessary co-operative attitude may be provoked. Instead industry has all too frequently converted a readiness to participate into an attitude of wariness, suspicion, hostility, and hatred. So civilization faces the latter part of the twentieth century divided into groups with few bonds of general unity, mutually suspicious, ready at any moment to develop mutual hatreds at the touch of an irresponsible orator or politician.
Yet it is true that the larger the industrial organization the more dependent is it, not only upon technical advance, but also upon the spontaneous human co-operation of every least member of the group. Industrial civilization of the present is improvidently living on its capital, upon the store of human goodwill and self-abnegation that many centuries of established routines of living have left us. In a recent paper in the Harvard Business Review, he points out that in the industrial situations we have studied we have constantly found, often in the lower levels of administration, “men of extraordinary skill in the direction of securing co-operative effort.”
The importance of this administrative function “is too little recognized.” Indeed “a greater proportion” of such men remain at the lower levels of management because technical competence wins recognition and promotion whereas skill in handling human relations does not.
Yet were it not for these men, he claims, “The unleashed forces of modern technology would spin themselves out to doom and destruction”. So these men go unnoticed and unrewarded; no provision is made for their replacement when the supply shall fail. And no university calls attention to the fact that material provision is only one of the duties of civilization, the other being the maintenance of co-operative living. Of these two duties it may be said that in any society at a given time the neglected factor becomes the more important. This is our situation now; our theory of civilization acts on the assumption that if technical and material advancement is maintained, human co-operation will somehow be inevitable.
Morale, the maintenance of co-operative living, is commonly spoken of as an imponderable, an intangible; and these epithets serve to justify the idea that the study of such matters is beneath the notice of the engineer, the economist, the university. Yet the instances I have presented do not seem to support this contemptuous dismissal. Intelligent handling of the situation—not sentimental, but simply intelligent—resulted in major changes of a definitely measurable order in Philadelphia, at Hawthorne in the test room, in Company C, in the leadman’s working centre in California. Production increased, wastage diminished, absenteeism and labour turnover diminished—would not such changes in specific instances be taken as triumphs for systematic study in any other area of inquiry? The fact is that those who refer to such matters as imponderable are themselves ignorant of methods by which they can systematically set about the task of improving the co-operative morale in a working department, and are irked by any implication that this is a proper duty of the administrator.
Such men therefore rely upon a confident, or even jolly, manner, upon knowing everyone’s first name and using it, upon expedients such as saying “Good morning” to everyone they meet. And it is these same persons who express contempt for “sentimental” methods. This, as a substitute for intelligent inquiry and understandings would be comic in an isolated instance; but, when twentieth-century civilization can, in general, show nothing better, the comic element recedes and tragedy takes its place.
There is not much time left us; society, within the nation and without it, is breaking down into groups that show an ever-increasing hostility to each other; irrational hates are taking the place of co-operation. This, historically, has been the precursor of downfall for many valiant civilizations. There is no reason to suppose that our own fate will be otherwise, if we do not at once state explicitly the problem and struggle to develop a better elite than we can at present show in public, private, or academic life.
Social life resembles biological in at least one aspect; when normal process ceases, pathological growth begins. It is a short step from friendship or tolerance to distrust and hatred when the normal social relationships disintegrate.
At the moment, the outlook for the present and future of civilization is sombre. In saying this, I am not thinking of the war; the democracies have been fortunate in the discovery of military leaders and first-class soldiers to follow their lead who together have taught Germans and Japanese that civilization will not tolerate aggression, tyranny, and soulless brutality.
I am thinking, rather, of the kind of leadership—political, industrial, and scientific—we tolerated before the outbreak of the war. France is perhaps an object lesson. A society divided into hostile camps, its leaders venal and contemptuous of humanity, mutual hatred rather than co-operation the mainspring of action, personal reputations dependent on material possession rather than any human quality—what wonder that such a society fell apart instantly at the advent of an aggressor and went down in defeat.
Across the English Channel, most fortunately for civilization, the first touch of adversity had the opposite effect. Senseless opposition was abandoned, the exponents of imbecile hatreds were suppressed. An eminent Frenchman, in conversation last year, insisted that “England and civilization were saved by three things.”
First, by the boys who flew Spitfires and the men and women workers that made and repaired them. Second, by two physicists working in a laboratory—radar. Third, by Mr. Winston Churchill and an England that could make an instantaneous and united response to his call for blood, tears, and sweat.
Those scientists and philosophers who are well-equipped to make the third step named above—to make explicit the logic implicit in a developed skill—are without the first-hand knowledge of the facts or the skill that alone can guide them. And those others who, as administrators, may be exercising a rudimentary skill seem at the moment to be handicapped by an inability to express in articulate and logical form the implications of the rudimentary skill they exercise. We have failed to train students in the study of social situations; we have thought that first-class technical training was sufficient in a modern and mechanical age. As a consequence we are technically competent as no other age in history has been; and we combine this with utter social incompetence.
This defect of education and administration has of recent years become a menace to the whole future of civilization. For, just as the will to co-operate is deep-seated in humanity, so also is the readiness to fear and hate an alien or merely another group.
The very strength of the co-operative spirit of the leadman’ s group seemed to carry with it as corollary or consequence an attitude of doubt or even hostility to other persons in the works. The group was renowned for “keeping to itself.” And the relative chaos outside the works served not only to strengthen the group morale but also to accentuate its feeling of difference.
War-time California is, no doubt, an extreme instance, but will serve to illustrate a type of human-social problem that will recur and will demand wise administrative handling in the adaptive society of the future. In the established society of our fathers, easily aroused hostility was characteristic of the relationship between national or local groups but was not too difficult to handle. In the modern technical civilization this same latent hostility has infiltrated the society itself and demands intelligent attention as compared with conventional or routine handling. For the administrator himself in these days is frequently a victim of the emotional doubt or opposition.
Modern civilization is greatly in need of a new type of administrator who can, metaphorically speaking, stand outside the situation he is studying. The administrator of the future must be able to understand the human-social facts for what they actually are, unfettered by his own emotion or prejudice. He cannot achieve this ability except by careful training—a training that must include knowledge of the relevant technical skills, of the systematic ordering of operations, and of the organization of co-operation.
Throughout this book I have maintained that the third—cooperation—is the most important now and in the immediate future. This for no other reason than that it is to-day ignored in universities, in industries, and in political statements.
Beyond the family, men also bind themselves variously to neighborhood, club, school, party, work association, state, church, and nation. But just as destructive sentiments can rise even from the cohesive unity of family life to warp and distort individual behavior, so these other institutions still farther removed from the individual can generate and absorb all kinds of antagonisms and frustrations. We know that industry, despite the intrinsic co-operation demanded by division of labour, and has also held some of the fiercest conflicts of modern society.
We have failed to develop at an equal step the strategy of co-operation; we have allowed ourselves the easier path, the strategy of hate, which leads inevitably to the City of Destruction. Political leaders, group leaders of all types, have gained followers and momentary support by braying out fear and blame and hate to an extent that remains unrecognized in the popular literature of our time. Indeed many of our so-called “liberal” leaders are almost wholly occupied with devil-hunting, with absurd attempts to fasten the blame for this or that condition upon some persons or groups outside the field of their own immediate acquaintance. Even the universities are not free from this hate-exploitation or from their own private and personal group antagonisms. To blame a person or persons is far easier than to study carefully, and in full detail, a situation. Yet it is only the latter study that can avail to lead us out of the chaos of misery and malice that has overtaken our once proud civilization.
There seems to be little general understanding, that is, articulate understanding, of the two phases—centralized control and normal democratic control—of either administration or government. As a people changes and develops, its government must change and develop also. This change is effected by the advent of a crisis, more or less critical, that demands immediate attention.
Such a crisis may be a small affair, affecting only some minor group within the organization; and it may be that routine methods will suffice to its control. But, when the crisis is general and affects a nation, the central democratic authority is expected to assume powers for the time being as arbitrary as those of any tyrant, and must do so. Otherwise the contrivance of an active organization to meet the crisis will be lacking. But when the emergency has passed, the central authority of a democracy, if wise, will relax its grip and will permit a measure of self-determination to return to the peripheral organizations in which development originates.
This phasic alternation has been the historic character of the development of the great democracies. Moments of dramatic success tend to be associated in popular thinking with military triumphs and the heroic method.
And the ruler is conceived after the pattern of the Hollywood actor as one who is wholly occupied in making dramatic decisions. So a business executive is conceived as one who passes the day thumping his desk and roaring orders to subordinates. This is not the administrative process and never has been. But Hitler and Mussolini were wholly deceived; their proper background was Hollywood.
As a civilization develops toward greater complexity, its methods of administration must develop toward greater complexity also. And the phasic alternation will characterize not only the whole society but also all the lesser organizations within it—great and small. Crises may affect a whole nation or merely a group within it. It is the duty of a central administration to watch the relations within and between its constituent groups and to aid, as best it can, the general co-operative development.
A society is a co-operative system; a civilized society is one in which the co-operation is based on understanding and the will to work together rather than on force. In any primitive group, although the will to work together is active and strong, fear and force nevertheless bulk larger than in a civilization. This fear is not merely pointed at other groups—even when other groups are the subject of suspicion or hostility—it is pointed also at the unknown natural forces that are always capable of defeating human intentions.
In taking up such a question as the modernization of a primitive society, we have accordingly to be observant of the many different levels of co-operative activity. At the lower levels of culture, fear and force are more nearly descriptive than will. At higher levels, understanding and a will to co-operate are dominant.
The problem of government, or administration, does not center upon organization to meet emergency; the real problem is that of the maintenance of spontaneous co-operation in times of peace. “Will, not force, is the basis of the State.” Affairs refuse to manage themselves.
No society can do without the man who is educated and, moreover, possessed of what is termed nowadays the know-how. It is this knowledge that keeps the wheels of industry and agriculture turning. A high official in the English Labour Cabinet, himself a man of education, told his trade-union supporters not many months ago that none of them was eligible for appointment to some reorganization board because none of them had the necessary knowledge of the principles of management. There was at once a howl of indignation, but when he courageously repeated his assertions some months later there is no record of any recrudescence of anger. Perhaps in the meantime the group had canvassed its members to discover which of them was willing to take, and capable of taking, the responsibility.
A great writer of classic times remarked that the primitive, small social organization comes into being for the sake of life itself but continues its development to promote a life directed towards better living. The small and primitive society is always facing the difficulty that other groups, small and large, near or remote, have alien methods of living and must therefore be regarded with doubt, suspicion, and hostility. Within the actively cooperating group, the individual experiences an assurance of personal and group security that goes far to maintain a collaborative attitude. But beyond this there is always the threat of danger. Anthropologists have done much in recent years to demonstrate this character of the small community. The more we study the history of ancient peoples in Mediterranean Europe, Asia, Africa, the more astounded are we by the high development of technical skill of many and various kinds in these ancient peoples. Yet all these cultural developments disappeared, humanly speaking; they are represented now merely by relics that are excavated and studied by the scholar.
Even the American continent can show its Mayan and other cultures. These cultures seem always to have collapsed, at least finally, as a result of invasion from without—a fact of observation that has led to many curious theories of an aging of the social organism. Yet it is obvious that the development of what is termed high morale and skill within a given group demands a balanced relation with other and outside groups for its perpetuation. This fact can be observed—in microcosm—even within an industrial organization. In a chaotic industrial situation, if one group possesses a high morale, if its members are actively co-operating among themselves, the effect is to make them doubtful or suspicious of other departments and the people in them.
I suppose that everyone responsible for a large-scale business organization has had some personal experience of this kind. One’s feeling of personal security seems to vary directly, and almost mathematically, with the area of active co-operation within which one lives and works.
From the Augustinian point of view, no easy realization of an ideal of merely material comfort can be sufficient; any present accomplishment must fall short of what is possible and be open to improvement. Scholars and the church began the arduous task by instruction in the Trivium—grammar, logic, rhetoric. This instruction was one of the most important contributions to general education ever made; it is still the important element in all education. The Trivium taught intelligent students to express their thoughts in articulate fashion and, having expressed them, to subject their thinking to rigorous logical criticism. This led to discussion, learned disputation, and the improved communication of ideas. And this again, in due time, led beyond the learned disputation of mere assertions to investigation of the facts about which assertions were made.
Finally the scientists and the adventure of systematic discovery appeared upon the scene; and, with the scientist’s advent, the modern period of rational skepticism may be considered to have begun. It is of some interest to note, however, that the scientist has wholly accepted one aspect of the teachings of the church: he does not make final assertions; he does not regard knowledge as ever complete; he is clearly aware that any discovery he may make is not only open to revision and restatement but that it inevitably opens up new areas for investigation. Discovery is an endless adventure. As this work proceeded, the early and simple apocalyptic doctrine of man’s duty became untenable.
When many persons began to doubt the reality of the other world, when also they ceased to believe in the authority of the clergy, the unfortunate effect was that the faith in universal human co-operation was disastrously weakened. The effect has been, according to another scholar, Sidney B. Fay, that “our tremendous material progress has not been accompanied by any corresponding advance in other fields.” … In moral and spiritual matters millions of men, having lost the strength and guidance which they used to draw from the teachings of the institutional church, are morally adrift or spiritually indifferent.
Put in other words this means that from the sixteenth century onwards we began a rapid descent from a real civilization towards the mere cultures—the types of social organization that change and pass, leaving only historic traces. The tendency to exaggerate the importance of technical and material discovery and to ignore study of the social and collaborative aspect was strengthened by the development, from 1752 onwards, of a gross misinterpretation □f Quesnay’s teachings and the doctrines of the French Physiocrats. Quesnay’s Tableau Economique and his Maximes were misinterpreted to mean that the only effective human motive was self-interest, that study of social organization was, strictly speaking, unnecessary.
A common purpose that shall unite the different nations in a single quest, a common ideal that shall reconcile the various groups within a particular geography—these have disappeared, leaving in their place only the ancient military type of unity that presents a hostile front to all who differ. And as the will to co-operate diminished, the sense of personal security diminished also.
In the modern world the sense of security must depend on intelligent organization that takes careful account of all the group interests involved. As investigators, we have often noticed that where co-operation is maintained between the individual and his group, the group and the union, the union and management, the personal sense of security and absence of discontent in the individual run high.
Management no doubt has in the past often failed to understand the importance of gaining the trust and confidence—the co-operation—of its workers by straight dealing and a real interest in their many and various problems. But managemenT is not the only offender. The unions themselves know far better how to organize for warfare against management than for peaceful co-operation with management. Yet, if any group essential to achievement of the purpose of an organization is thus excluded, the inevitable consequence is a feeling of personal insecurity in the union members themselves. Indeed, on looking over the whole field, one can assert that unions in the present are for the most part repeating the mistakes that management has made.
The military, the heroic, method of organizing for emergency is the easiest way to secure immediate co-operation. But the exclusion of a group—the management group—that is needed for complete organization of joint work implies hostility and leads in the individual worker either to a feeling of incomplete security or of active insecurity. By this road arrive those “wildcat” strikes that are the present plague of union organizers. The medieval ideal of the co-operation of all is the only satisfactory source of civilized procedure. Militant tactics are invariably the sign of imperfect organization, of imperfect understanding of the principles of organization. This criticism applies both to the international situation and to those situations where strikes or similar troubles afflict the even tenor of our way.
- The scientific and technical problems of supplying the community’s economic and material needs.
- The scientific and technical problems of effective communication and co-operation.
- Finally there is a contributory group of problems, namely: The problems involved in the systematic ordering of operations
Only by developing knowledge and practice in these three areas shall we be able to contrive an issue from our present discontents. The immense changes of the last two centuries have disturbed all the traditional social balances. Material and technical achievements have outpaced free communication between groups and the capacity for spontaneous co-operation. Study of the social facts is only now beginning—at a critical moment when the general ignorance of the facts of social organization has become alarming.
Owing to this general ignorance, the political leaders in many countries have introduced another unfortunate complication by relapsing on the ancient idea of compulsion by central authority. This has affected even those countries that nominally retain the forms of democratic government.
Now compulsion has never succeeded in rousing eager and spontaneous co-operation. In Byzantium it may have seemed to succeed for several centuries, owing in part to obvious external need, and in part to an apparently efficient civil service. But even in Byzantium the popular will to collaborate ultimately withered and died under the conditions of external and internal compulsion: and another culture disappeared. The will to survive and co-operate must come from within; will, not force, is the basis of the State.