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InReview – Issue 58

The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency by Robert Kanigel; New York, NY: Viking , 1997. xi, 675. {Note: There is a new paperback edition published by the MIT Press, 2005]

Robert Kanigel is an author, journalist, and professor of science writing at MIT.

Robert Kanigel’s book explores the life of Frederick Winslow Taylor, the original champion of time-and-motion studies. In many modern management and manufacturing circles little is known about Taylor, the father of “scientific management” or “Taylorism,” as his principles came to be known, yet his impact is far reaching. In Kanigel’s words, “Today it is only a modest overstatement to say that we are all Taylorized, that from the assemblyline tasks limited to a fraction of a second, to lawyers recording their time by factions of an hour, to standardized McDonald’s hamburgers, to information operators constrained to grant only so many seconds per call, modern life has become Taylorized.” Peter Drucker suggested Taylor, alongside Darwin and Freud, was one of the most prominent figures “in the making of the modern world.”

Taylor’s life (1856–1915) coincided with the height of the Industrial Revolution, and Kanigel invites the reader on a journey that reveals the struggles and triumphs of this key period of history. The component processes of work and manufacturing are explored in vivid detail. Kanigel’s descriptions are so vivid that the reader can easily imagine standing next to Taylor as he pulls out his stop watch, barks out orders, and times all corresponding movements with an insatiable quest to improve efficiency. Taylor is portrayed as a “man on a mission” whose obsessive, driven personality created turbulence in both his personal and professional life. All of this, set against the backdrop of rapid industrialization and changing work life patterns, makes the book a fascinating read.

History can be a map for navigating the future, and Taylor’s life lessons are no exception. In a knowledge-based, competitive environment, how do we best motivate employees? What role should leadership play in making work meaningful? Does higher pay always lead to higher productivity? And how do we value “soft” leadership skills so important in today’s work environment? This book raises questions and offers modern-day lessons for today’s business leaders.

Reviewed by John Terrill

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Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company by Michael S. Malone. New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA), 2007. 352 pp.

Michael S. Malone, a Silicon Valley native and technology journalist, has written for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, and blogs for ABC.com.

Bill & Dave is a fascinating account of what is (or was) one of the most admired and respected companies in the world — not just for its products — but for its early corporate culture and management style that was unique in its day, and copied by many other companies since.

The book chronicles how Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started as a single-product company in a one-car garage, and grew it into a multibillion dollar global corporation. Malone looks at how the founders’ childhoods and unique life experiences shaped their personal characters and values, as well as the culture of the company that bears their names. Bill and Dave were friends from their Stanford years who had very different, yet complementary personalities. In spite of their differences, they learned to work together in an attitude of complete trust, and to instill in their company a set of values known popularly as the HP Way. Malone does not idealize Bill and Dave. He also chronicles their personal foibles. Numerous examples show how they learned from their mistakes, and re-invented themselves in response to growth, to changing customers needs, and to changes in the business climate — all while keeping their core set of guiding values in tact.

Though most of the book is devoted to the glory days of Hewlett and Packard, Malone also discusses HP under the later leadership of John Young and Lew Platt, the recent years under Carly Fiorina in which the HP culture was almost destroyed, and attempts to “fix” things under its current president, Mark Hurd.

As an HP employee from 1980-2000 in HP’s instrument and printer businesses, I found this book was of particular interest to me. I think the book could have been improved by including more about Agilent, the 1999 spin-off of its instrument business — HP’s core business during its first few decades. But overall, the book is eminently readable and highly recommended to anyone interested in business, technology, or ethics.

Reviewed by John Erisman

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