When Frederick Taylor wrote The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911, it made sense.
Taylor thought management could be rationalised. He invented the time and motion study. He taught managers to develop clear and repeatable workflow processes. Taylor saw industrial-era workers as machines. It took a while, but his ideas were picked up by people like Henry Ford. Industrial business owners made fortunes as they revolutionised their workplaces.
Scientific management helped the west win a world war and continued as a powerful influence well into the 1970s and 1980s. It lives on today in industrial workplaces. Maybe it still has a place in factories and sweat shops. Yet, as Helen Whitehead from the Reach Further website explains, it certainly doesn’t have a place in the knowledge economy.
You can’t hurry or streamline true knowledge work in the same way you can automate car manufacturing. This hasn’t stopped managers from trying.
Whitehead’s story mentions dehumanising digital surveillance technologies like keystroke logging and email monitoring as examples of digital taylorism. They are all nasty and ultimately counter-productive.
What often looks like slacking; long conversations in the tea room, café meetings and even leaving the office early for drinks with colleagues and customers can be as productive as slaving over a hot computer. Building relations, shooting the breeze and exchanging ideas are often important aspects of creative knowledge work. What’s more, it’s rich for an employer who expects staff to work unpaid overtime, accept business calls and deal with email at all hours of the day and night to object to personal phone calls. Make that rich and counter-productive.
American personal finance site Get Rich Slowly looks at ten of the best recession-proof jobs. It covers a range of industries including knowledge-based areas such as information technology, entertainment and engineering.
While Get Rich Slowly drew up the main list for North American readers, there’s good and bad news for New Zealanders. The author thinks America will boost agricultural employment in order to move away from importing food.
Maybe, but New Zealand produces high-quality food cheaper than anyone else and the exchange rate is dropping. So our agricultural exports should continue to do well in the coming years.
Education holds recession-proof potential
One career that pops up in the Get Rich Slowly story is education. For a long time teaching was underpaid and undervalued. But there’s a shortage of teachers in most countries and plenty of young people to educate.
There’s a wealth of information in the story including a number of alternative views. I’d be interested to hear what others think about recession-proof careers.
Girls and young women reject information technology careers. They don’t avoid technology because they fear failing. Nor is it because boys push them aside. They walk away because girls see technology as a lonely, boring dead-end career.
An American Association of University Women study in 2000 reported women are only 20 percent of the high-tech workforce. It says women will continue to choose to work elsewhere so long as:
Computer science courses remain tedious and dull.
Girl-oriented computer games and web sites remain passive pink playgrounds. Meanwhile action-packed boy software focuses on kill rates.
The stereotypical tech workplace is a sterile cubicle farm peopled by boring men who relate better to machines than humans.
When asked to elaborate on their fears girls say they fear studying technology will stunt their range of intellectual pursuits and interests. They also imagine that computer professionals lead a solitary, sedentary and antisocial life.
Of course cynics might note this proves the educational theories saying women are more intelligent than men.
In 2005 the BBC reported most schoolgirls enjoy technology and only four percent regarded computers as boring, but only 25 percent would consider a technical career.
The BBC story points out that in 2005, women made up just 21 percent of the IT workforce and “the proportion of IT workers who were female had declined steadily since the 1960s.”
Technology companies talk up their products and technologies. Let’s not mince words: they are hype merchants.
They hire professional public relations consultants and advertising agencies to whip up excitement on their behalf.
Sometimes they convince people in the media to follow suit and enthuse about their new gizmos or ideas.
Occasionally the media’s constant search for hot news and interesting headlines leads to overenthusiastic praise or a journalist swallowing a trumped-up storyline.
None of this will be news to anyone working in the business. What you may not know is that the IT industry’s shameless self-promotion has now been recognised and enshrined in Gartner’s Hype Cycle.
Gartner analysts noticed a pattern in the way the world (and the media) viewed new technologies. This is a huge initial burst of excitement rapidly followed by a sigh of disillusion and, eventually, a more balanced approach.
This observation evolved into the Hype Cycle represented graphically in the diagram. The horizontal axis shows time, while the vertical axis represents visibility.
In the first phase, Garter calls it the “technology trigger”, a product launch, engineering breakthrough or some other event generates enormous publicity.
At first only a narrow audience is in on the news. They may hear about it through the specialist press and start thinking about its possibilities.
Things snowball. Before long the idea reaches a wider audience and the mainstream media pays attention.
This interest gets out of control until things reach the second phase, which Gartner calls “the peak of inflated expectations”. At this point the mainstream media becomes obsessed – you can expect to see muddle-headed but enthusiastic TV segments about the technology.
You know things have peaked for sure when current affairs TV shows and radio presenters pay attention.
At this point people typically start to have unrealistic expectations. While there may be successful applications of the technology, there are often many more failures behind the scenes.
Trough of disillusionment
Once these disappointments become public, the Hype Cycle shifts into what Gartner poetically calls the “trough of disillusionment”. The mainstream press will turn its back on the story, others will be critical. Sales may drop. The idea quickly falls out of favour and seems unfashionable.
Occasionally ideas and technologies sink beneath the waves at this point, but more often they re-emerge in the “slope of enlightenment”. This is where companies and users who persisted through the bad times come to a better understanding of the benefits on offer. As a rule of thumb, most of the media has lost interest and may even ignore things, the good stuff just happens quietly in the background.
Finally, the cycle reaches the “plateau of productivity”. This occurs when the benefits of the idea or technology are now widely understood and accepted.