« Reading Marx (and Smith) | Main | Happiness and control »

August 28, 2006



I think it's originally Hayek rather than Polanyi, or am I wrong?

I think I'll play the advocate for Taylorisation here. On your 1), it's worth remembering that in Hayek's theory at least, organisations have tacit knowledge as well as individuals. As any army knows, if you don't make people get together and tell each other what's going on, you pretty quickly get the sort of chaos that it's worth more than £300 to avoid.

On your 2), there's no substitute for good market research. JK Galbraith is very good on this point, noting that the best market research is not just passive research into what will sell; it's research into how you *make* something sell. On this point and your 3), I think I have to point to the empirical record - in what countries and in what historical periods have there been more and better consumer products brought to market? I think they match up well with the use of Taylorised management styles. It is certainly possible to go too far with the "management is measurement" McKinsey style but I don't think one should underestimate its large and genuine successes.


Well said. But how come that that knowledge isn't tacit? What determines what is and isn't tacit?

emmanuel goldstein

The distinction isn't as watertight as you make out, there've been lots of good arguments that *all* knowledge is reducible to knowledge-that, see Chomsky etc. Stanley and Williamson have a recent, and persuasive, argument for the conclusion; see http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~jasoncs/JPHIL.pdf (pdf)

If the distinction doesn't stand up, you need alternative reasons to explain the incommunicability of knowledge.


"In elevating communicable knowledge, the managerialist devalues non-communicable skills."

In the advanced (pathological?) form of this mentality, performance is measured entirely on criteria of process-compliance - presumably on the basis that the procedures are known to be good, so if everyone adheres to them a good job will be done (albeit not done *by* anyone identifiable). This approach doesn't so much fail to value excellence as actively devalue it - if the procedures are good we won't need to rely on heroes, ergo we don't want to rely on heroes, ergo we don't want heroes.

Orwell comes to mind:

"The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy"


[presumably on the basis that the procedures are known to be good, so if everyone adheres to them a good job will be done (albeit not done *by* anyone identifiable). ]

this is the central insight of the production line and if you are planning on living in a modern economy I wouldn't be too hard on it. More or less the entire modern world has been made possible by people who worked out how to replace individual craftsmanship with a process.



It's Polanyi; see, for example, his book Personal Knowledge. Hayek developed many complementary ideas, and certainly had some cross-pollination with Polanyi's ideas.


"the central insight of the production line"

And what happy places *they* are. ("It is not, truly speaking, the labour that is divided; but the men." Ruskin said that.) But it's a good analogy, and confirms my suspicion that management consultancies are agents of proletarianisation. Hence also the value placed on qualities such as 'flexibility' and 'team mentality' (which translate as 'willingness to be dicked about with').

andrew duffin

"It's not the necessary jobs that get saved, but the articulable ones."

Actually it is even worse than this. It's not so much the articulable ones (jobs) that are saved, but rather the articulATE people, who talk a good talk and know who to butter up - in other words, the good politicians - who survive.

These are almost never the people doing the most valuable and necessary work - if they were capable of that, they wouldn't be politicians.

Thus do organisations devour themselves and either fail (if private) or become simply nests of bureacrats (if public).


The average meeting in an average private organisation must be "worthwhile" in an investment sense (i.e. they return more than they cost) since if that were not true any private organisation would be quickly competed out of existence by organisations that do have worthwhile meetings. (note: This does not negate the fact that you, the participant of the meeting, or your particular area might not benefit from the meeting.) Another point - if the tacit information is worthwhile communicating, someone will invent a method to do so - using the example give of how to tie shoelaces, how about a diagram. If that's not good enough - how about a video, computer game and so on. Successful organisations find these innovative methods if they have to.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad