Thursday, February 18, 2010

The More You Do, the More You Can Do

A FRIEND RECENTLY marveled at how productive some people are, and after reflection, came to the conclusion that “the more you do, the more you can do.” I find that to be true myself, with some days being good, and other days bad regarding this — if you find me doing lots of work on this blog, be assured that I am likely doing plenty of other things too.

When I held down a normal job, I often noticed how it seemed that only a few people in a department did about 80% of the work, and wondered what the many other people did every day. [Disclaimer: I often was in the latter category of worker.] This obviously was a problem with many managers, who themselves seemed to do little actual work, but who did spend much time in devising systems to squeeze productivity out of the bulk of the workers. But during the twenty years of my experience, I noticed that these systems rarely worked, and average worker productivity actually went down, with any real productivity gains coming primarily from technology.

Management systems are social technology, and any technology works or fails depending primarily on how closely it reflects reality. Someone with no knowledge of the laws of flight cannot design a successful aircraft, but many management systems are designed by persons who do not have even an approximately true knowledge of human nature.

One problem is the failure to understand the legitimate variety in human behavior and aptitude. Many highly talented people (who do the 80% of the work) are often... different, and a failure to accommodate this kind of person can lead to the failure in an organization, often over trivial matters. Sometimes highly disciplined and competent persons can have an authoritarian (or rather, authoritative) attitude which can be off-putting to those who like to over-manage; this type of worker may resent the intrusion by a manager who is ignorant or incompetent. Also, some people just aren't suited to certain lines of work, and our educational system, which promotes credentials over aptitude, doesn't help.

The management systems, over time, greatly increased the amount of formal control over the workers, who in turn generally hated the new systems and the ever-changing rules. Managers spent their time devising, analyzing, and facilitating these new systems. But managers fail to recognize that slaves are notoriously unproductive. Couple this with the trend to pay managers according to the number of their subordinates and you get an unstable situation of relatively unproductive growth, which eventually leads to collapse.

At one time, the managers were actually the most productive lead workers, who directed their subordinates in the same work according to the best of the workers' abilities. This is an approximation of the natural master-journeyman-apprentence relationship, but this has been largely lost. Nowadays, you get professional managers with little or no actual knowledge of the field, who spend most of their time acting as intermediaries instead of a highly skilled workers.

Workers are often drawn into certain fields by considerations other than natural aptitude, because of money, status, perceived glamor, family or societal pressure, and so forth. By the time they actually enter the field, after extensive classroom training but little practical experience, they may end up being supremely incompetent and quite unhappy doing the actual job. Obviously a virtuous person does even unpleasant jobs to the best of their ability, but this is not a generous attitude to have towards others. Employers tend to be rather inflexible in assigning duties, and thereby tend to pigeon-hole workers into extremely narrow work slots. Ironically, the larger the organization, the harder it is for a worker to get reassigned to other duties, despite the vastly greater opportunities available: this is a great argument for decentralization, and for allowing large amounts of local control over employment decisions.

Holy Mother Church teaches that happiness and good work are closely related. A person who truly has a skill, who internalizes it as a virtue, will practice their skill as second nature, and will find pleasure in performing it. And when a person finds pleasure in their work, they will do more of it. A person who lacks this internalization, no matter how externally motivated they are to perform it, will not find happiness from the work itself, and so will likely be unhappy and unproductive, and no management system can ever correct that.


  1. Good analysis. Having been worker, and management in a lot of situations, I tend to agree. Unfortunately, companies tend to "one size fits all" or "assembly line" management, and as the church knows well, we are not all the same. An external "management style" that motivates some, demotivates others,
    the internal motivation is always best.