4 Business Ideas That Changed the World: Scientific Management
In 1878, a machinist at a Pennsylvania steelworks noticed that his crew was producing much less than he thought they could. With stopwatches and time-motion studies, Frederick Winslow Taylor ran experiments to find the optimal way to make the most steel with lower labor costs. It was the birth of a management theory, called scientific management or Taylorism.
Critics said Taylor’s drive for industrial efficiency depleted workers physically and emotionally. Resentful laborers walked off the job. The U.S. Congress held hearings on it. Still, scientific management was the dominant management theory 100 years ago in October of 1922, when Harvard Business Review was founded.
It spread around the world, fueled the rise of big business, and helped decide World War II. And today it is baked into workplaces, from call centers to restaurant kitchens, gig worker algorithms, and offices. Although few modern workers would recognize Taylorism, and few employers would admit to it.
4 Business Ideas That Changed the World is a special series from HBR IdeaCast. Each week, an HBR editor talks to world-class scholars and experts on the most influential ideas of HBR’s first 100 years, such as disruptive innovation, shareholder value, and emotional intelligence.
Discussing scientific management with HBR senior editor Curt Nickisch are:
- Nancy Koehn, historian at Harvard Business School
- Michela Giorcelli, economic historian at UCLA
- Louis Hyman, work and labor historian at Cornell University
- Book: The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency, by Robert Kanigel
- Case Study: Mass Production and the Beginnings of Scientific Management, by Thomas K. McCraw
- Oxford Review: The origin and development of firm management, by Michela Giorcelli
- Book: The Principles of Scientific Management, by Frederick Winslow Taylor