The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts


Frederick Winslow Taylor was to be found alongside workers, measuring their work and observing how they were doing it. It was the beginning of the 20th century. The second industrial revolution was well underway. Together with electricity, it contributed to establishing giant industrial corporations.

In this setting Taylor had observed that a lot of the work being done lacked efficiency. His observations allowed him to determine how this could be changed. He wanted to figure out how to noticeably increase individual productivity. It led to a new discipline called scientific management.

His work continues to influence how we work today. It is to be said, that it is not always for the better. This is not entirely due to his theories but to how and where they are implemented.

What he measured was visible output. That is physical work that depended on physical capacities. Work done on the factory floor. It is for example work done along a production line leading to a measured number of cars an individual contributed to.

Applying this type of approach to knowledge work may lead to counting the tasks one has achieved. For example, the number of tasks knocked off the to-do list.

However, the number of tasks achieved doesn’t easily compare with the number of cars leaving the assembly line. It may do so in parts, for repetitive tasks. It doesn’t do so with creative knowledge work.

With knowledge work, productivity comes with the ability to know how each task contributes to one’s objective.

A blog post is a task done.

Its productivity measures in thoughts created. Mine as well as yours. Its productivity could also be measured in implemented change, in intentions readers have, or in learnings we’ve all gathered. It’s a matter of choice and a matter of contributing to this choice one blog post after the other.

Distinguishing between task and productivity is what makes writing fun.


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