Saturday, January 14, 2017

Frederick Taylor and Ray Dalio's Brain: "Working for an Algorithm Might Be an Improvement"

In December Izabella Kaminska's reports* on her time as a bicycle food delivery independent contractor got me thinking about "machine paced" work where even a cursory examination leads one to Frederick Taylor and his "Principles of Scientific Management".

Since everything in the literature seems to spring from Taylor, I thought I'd put a post together with the hook being Frank Woollard of Morris Motors and his work on production, management and automation in the early years of the 20th century rather than starting with Taylor.

And then I stuffed the idea in the link-vault.

Fortunately Elaine Ou writing at Bloomberg View yesterday did something much more creative, she comes at the topic with Bridegewater's Ray Dalio as the jumping off point.

From Bloomberg;
Bridgewater, the world's largest hedge fund, has been portrayed as a bizarre, Moneyball-type machine in which employees' every move is monitored and assessed, increasingly by computer algorithms.

Awful as that may sound, what if it's actually a step toward a happier and more prosperous world?
Granted, descriptions of the place -- including a recent Wall Street Journal article to which founder Ray Dalio has taken vociferous offense -- make it seem pretty dystopian. The firm, for example, amasses employee data to produce individual “Baseball Cards," with scores and ratings on dozens of attributes. That's great if the system turns you into a Honus Wagner card, but possibly demoralizing for anyone else.

Bridgewater isn’t alone. Offices around the country are deploying tools to continuously monitor and assess employee activity. Complaints about the dehumanizing nature of working for algorithmic bosses such as Uber and Amazon have inspired comparisons to “Taylorism,” a scientific management theory remembered primarily for its use of stopwatches and specialized slide rules (like the one pictured below).
Yet the theory's namesake, Frederick Taylor, didn’t set out to maximize efficiency at the expense of employees' sanity. Rather, he wanted to improve worker welfare. The Progressive movement was in its early days, and social and political activists wanted to stop industrialists from exploiting the working class. Taylor believed that his system for greater productivity would align the interests of employees and management.

Taylor emphasized the importance of linking pay to performance, but worried that workers would chase compensation to the point of fatigue and injury. The purpose of stopwatches and schedule micromanagement was not to push employees to their limits, but to pace them for long-term health. Taylor expected that the efficiency gained from scientific management would lead to higher wages, fewer working hours, and greater job satisfaction. The idea even helped inspire the creation of Harvard Business School's first MBA program in 1908....MORE
*Ha! We Were About To Publish A "Where In the World Is Izabella Kaminska" Post
 More On Izabella Kaminska's Adventures In Food Delivery and Deliveroo Responds

And the widely ref'd Dalio:
Bridgewater, World’s Largest Hedge Fund, Is Building An Algorithmic Model Of Ray Dalio's Brain

Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Really Didn't Like The Wall Street Journal Story on His Brain (he's also against fake news)