The Organization Man
The Organization Man
W. H. Whyte: Science in large bureaucracies
This is an overview of W. H. Whyte's study of how science is practised within a large bureaucratic setting. This is an excellent and insightful study because it is quite contrary to common illusions people seem to cherish about how scientists approach problem-solving in a group setting.
In order to understand Whytes descriptions it is necessary to introduce two new terms: "organization man", and "social ethic".
I will let him define these terms in his own words.
From his book The Organization Man (1956), the introduction:
This book is about the organization man. If the term is vague, it is because I can think of no other way to describe the people I am talking about. They are not the workers, nor are they the white-collar people in the usual, clerk sense of the word. These people only work for The Organization. The ones I am talking about belong to it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who have left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions. Only a few are top managers or ever will be. In a system that makes such hazy terminology as "junior executive" psychologically necessary, they are of the staff as much as the line, and most are destined to live poised in a middle area that still awaits a satisfactory euphemism. But they are the dominant members of our society nonetheless. They have not joined together into a recognizable elite—our country does not stand still long enough for that—but it is from their ranks that are coming most of the first and second echelons of our leadership, and it is their values which will set the American temper.
The corporation man is the most conspicuous example, but he is only one, for the collectivization so visible in the corporation has affected almost every field of work. Blood brother to the business trainee off to join Du Pont is the seminary student who win end up in the church hierarchy, the doctor headed, for the corporate clinic, the physics Ph.D. in a governmental laboratory, the intellectual on the foundation-sponsored team project, the engineering graduate in the huge drafting room at Lockheed, the young apprentice in a Wall Street law factory.
They are all, as they so often put it, in the same boat. Listen to them talk to each other over the front lawns of their suburbia and you cannot help but be struck by how well they grasp the common denominators which bind them. Whatever the differences in their organization ties, it is the common problems of collective work that dominate their attentions, and when the Du Pont man talks to the research chemist or the chemist to the army man, it is these problems that are uppermost. The word collective most of them can't bring themselves to use--except to describe foreign countries or organizations they don't work for--but they are keenly aware of how much more deeply beholden they are to organization than were their elders. They are wry about it, to be sure; they talk of the "treadmill," the "rat race," of the inability to control one's direction. But they have no great sense of plight; between themselves and organization they believe they see an ultimate harmony and, more than most elders recognize, they are building an ideology that will vouchsafe this trust.
It is the growth of this ideology, and its practical effects, that is the thread I wish to follow in this book. America has paid much attention to the economic and political consequences of big organization--the concentration of power in large corporations, for example, the political power of the civil-service bureaucracies, the possible emergence of a managerial hierarchy that might dominate the rest of us. These are proper concerns, but no less important is the personal impact that organization life has had on the individuals within it. A collision has been taking place-indeed, hundreds of thousands of them, and in the aggregate they have been producing what I believe is a major shift in American ideology.
Officially, we are a people who hold to the Protestant Ethic. Because of the denominational implications of the term many would deny its relevance to them, but let them eulogize the American Dream, however, and they virtually define the Protestant Ethic. Whatever the embroidery, there is almost always the thought that pursuit of individual salvation through hard work, thrift, and competitive struggle is the heart of the American achievement.
But the harsh facts of organization life simply do not jibe with these precepts. This conflict is certainly not a peculiarly American ' development. In their own countries such Europeans as Max Weber and Durkheim many years ago foretold the change, and though Europeans now like to see their troubles as an American export, the problems they speak of stem from a bureaucratization of society that has affected every Western country.
It is in America, however, that the contrast between the old ethic and current reality has been most apparent--and most poignant. Of all peoples it is we who have led in the public worship of individualism. One hundred years ago De Tocqueville was noting that though our special genius--and failing-lay in cooperative action, we talked more than others of personal independence and freedom. We kept on, and as late as the twenties, when big organization was long since a fact, affirmed the old faith as if nothing had really changed at all.
Today many still try, and it is the members of the kind of organization most responsible for the change, the corporation, who try the hardest. It is the corporation m an whose institutional ads protest so much that Americans speak up in town meeting, that Americans are the best inventors because Americans don't care that other people scoff, that Americans are the best soldiers because they have so much initiative and native ingenuity, that the boy selling papers on the street comer is the prototype of our business society. Collectivism? He abhors it, and when he makes his ritualistic attack on Welfare Statism, it is in terms of a Protestant Ethic undefiled by change-the sacredness of property, the enervating effect of security, the virtues of thrift, of hard work and independence. Thanks be, he says, that there are some people left--e.g., businessmen--to defend the American Dream.
He is not being hypocritical, only compulsive. He honestly wants to believe he follows the tenets he extols, and if he extols them so frequently it is, perhaps, to shut out a nagging suspicion that he, too, the last defender of the faith, is no longer pure. Only by using the language of individualism to describe the collective can he stave off the thought that he himself is in a collective as pervading as any ever dreamed of by the reformers, the intellectuals, and the utopian visionaries he so regularly warns against.
The older generation may still convince themselves; the younger generation does not. When a young man says that to make a living these days you must do what somebody else wants you to do, he states it not only as a fact of life that must be accepted but as an inherently good proposition. If the American Dream deprecates this for him, it is the American Dream that is going to have to give, whatever its more elderly guardians may think. People grow restive with a mythology that is too distant from the way things actually are, and as more and more lives have been encompassed by the organization way of life, the pressures for an accompanying ideological shift have been mounting. The pressures of the group, the frustrations of individual creativity, the anonymity of achievement: are these defects to struggle against--or are they virtues in disguise? The organization man seeks a redemption of his place on earth--a faith that wig satisfy him that what he must endure has a deeper meaning than appears on the surface. He needs, in short, something that will do for him what the Protestant Ethic did once. And slowly, almost imperceptibly, a body of thought has been coalescing that does that.
I am going to call it a Social Ethic. With reason it could be called an organization ethic, or a bureaucratic ethic; more than anything else it rationalizes the organization's demands for fealty and gives those who offer it wholeheartedly a sense of dedication in doing so--extremis, you might say, it converts what would seem in other times a bill of no rights into a restatement of individualism.
But there is a real moral imperative behind it, and whether one inclines to its beliefs or not he must acknowledge that this moral basis, not mere expediency, is the source of its power. Nor is it simply an opiate for those who must work in big organizations. The search for a secular faith that it represents can be found throughout our society--and among those who swear they would never set foot in a corporation or a government bureau. Though it has its greatest applicability to the organization man, its ideological underpinnings have been provided not by the organization man but by intellectuals he knows little of and toward whom, indeed, he tends to be rather suspicious.
Any groove of abstraction, Whitehead once remarked, is bound to be an inadequate way of describing reality, and so with the concept of the Social Ethic. It is an attempt to illustrate an underlying consistency in what in actuality is by no means an orderly system of thought. No one says, "I believe in the social ethic," and though many would subscribe wholeheartedly to the separate ideas that make it up, these ideas have yet to be put together in the final, harmonious synthesis. But the unity is there.
In looking at what might seem dissimilar aspects of organization society, it is this unity I wish to underscore. The "professionalization" of the manager, for example, and the drive for a more practical education are parts of the same phenomenon; just as the student now feels technique more vital than content, so the trainee believes managing an end in itself, an expertise relatively independent of the content of what is being managed. And the reasons are the same. So too in other sectors of our society; for all the differences in particulars, dominant is a growing accommodation to the needs of society—and a growing urge to justify it.
Let me now define my terms. By social ethic I mean that contemporary body of thought which makes morally legitimate the pressures of society against the individual. Its major propositions are three: a belief in the group as the source of creativity, a belief in "belongingness" as the ultimate need of the individual, and a belief in the application of science to achieve the belongingness.
In subsequent chapters I will explore these ideas more thoroughly, but for the moment I think the gist can be paraphrased thus: Man exists as a unit of society. Of himself, he is isolated, meaningless; only as he collaborates with others does he become worthwhile, for by sublimating himself m the group, he helps produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. There should be, then, no conflict between man and society. What we think are conflicts are misunderstandings, breakdowns in communication. By applying the methods of science to human relations we can eliminate these obstacles to consensus and create an equilibrium in which society's needs and the needs of the individual are one and the same.
Essentially, it is a utopian faith. Superficially, it seems dedicated to the practical problems of organization life, and its proponents often use the word hard (versus soft) to describe their approach. But it is the long-range promise that animates its followers, for it relates techniques to the vision of a finite, achievable harmony. It is quite reminiscent of the beliefs of utopian communities of the 1840s. As in the Owen communities, there is the same idea that man's character is decided, almost irretrievably, by his environment. As in the Fourier communities, there is the same faith that there need be no conflict between the individual's aspirations and the community's wishes, because it is the natural order of things that the two be synonymous.
Like the utopian communities, it interprets society in a fairly narrow, immediate sense. One can believe man has a social obligation and that the individual must ultimately contribute to the community without believing that group harmony is the test of it. In the Social Ethic I am describing, however, man's obligation is in the here and now; his duty is not so much to the community in a broad sense but to the actual, physical one about him, and the idea that in isolation from it—or active rebellion against it—he might eventually discharge the greater service is a little considered. In practice, those who most eager y subscribe to the Social Ethic worry very little over the long-range problems of society. It is not that they don't care but rather that they tend to assume that the ends of organization and morality coincide, and on such matters as social welfare they give their proxy to the organization.
It is possible that I am attaching too much weight to what, after all, is something of a mythology. Those more sanguine than I have argued that this faith is betrayed by reality in some key respects and that because it cannot long hide from organization man that life is still essentially competitive the faith must fall of its own weight. They also maintain that the Social Ethic is only one trend in a society which is a prolific breeder of counter-trends. The farther the pendulum swings, they believe, the more it must eventually swing back.
I am not persuaded. We are indeed a flexible people, but society is not a clock and to stake so much on counter-trends is to put a rather heavy burden on providence. Let me get ahead of my story a bit with two examples of trend vs. counter-trend. One is the long-term swing to the highly vocational business-administration courses. Each year for seven years I have collected all the speeches by businessmen, educators, and others on the subject, and invariably each year the gist of them is that this particular pendulum has swung much too far and that there will shortly be a reversal. Similarly sanguine, many academic people have been announcing that they discern the beginnings of a popular swing back to the humanities. Another index is the growth of personality testing. Regularly year after year many social scientists have assured me that this bowdlerization of psychology is a contemporary aberration soon to be laughed out of court.
Meanwhile, the organization world grinds on. Each year the number of business-administration majors has increased of the last year—until, in 1954, they together made up the largest single field of undergraduate instruction outside of the field of education itself. Personality testing? Again, each year the number of people subjected to it has grown, and the criticism has served mainly to make organizations more adept in sugar-coating their purpose. No one can say whether these trends will continue to outpace the counter-trends, but neither can we trust that an equilibrium-minded providence will see to it that excesses will cancel each other Out. Counter-trends there are. There always have in the sweep of ideas ineffectual many have pro It is also true that the Social Ethic is something of a mythology, and there is a great difference between mythology and practice. An individualism as stringent, as selfish as that often preached in the name of the Protestant Ethic would never have been tolerated, and in reality our predecessors co-operated with one another far more skillfully than nineteenth-century oratory would suggest. Something of the obverse is true of the Social Ethic; so complete a denial of individual will won't work either, and even the most willing believers in the group harbor some secret misgivings, some latent antagonism toward the pressures they seek to deify.
But the Social Ethic is no less powerful for that, and though it can never produce the peace of mind it seems to offer, it will help shape the nature of the quest in the years to come. The old dogma of individualism betrayed reality too, yet few would argue, I dare say, that it was not an immensely powerful influence in the time of its dominance. So I argue of the Social Ethic; call it mythology, if you will, but it is becoming the dominant one.
In the first part of this book I wish to go into some of the ideas that have helped produce the Social Ethic. I do not intend an intellectual history; my aim is the more limited one of suggesting how deep are its roots and that it is not a temporary phenomenon triggered by the New Deal or the war or our recent prosperity.
I will then pick up the organization man in college, follow him through his initial indoctrination in organization life, and explore the impact of the group way upon him. While I will speak of the corporation man more than any other, I wish to show the universality of the Social Ethic. I will turn, accordingly, to the research laboratory and academic life and argue that the inclination to the co-operative ideal has had just as important consequences in these areas also. To illustrate further the universality of the Social Ethic, I will take up its expression in popular fiction. This will bring me finally to what I consider the best place to get a preview of the direction the Social Ethic is likely to take in the future.
This is the new suburbia, the packaged villages that have become the dormitory of the new generation of organization men. They are not typical American communities, but because they provide such a cross section of young organization people we can see in bolder relief than elsewhere the kind of world organization man wants and may in time bring about. Here I will go into the tremendous effect transiency has had on the organization people and how their religious life, their politics and the way they take to their neighbors reveal the new kind of rootedness they are looking for. And, finally, the moral of it all as they explain it to their children—the next generation of organization people.
While the burden of this book is reportorial, I take a position and, in fairness to the reader, I would like to make plain the assumptions on which I base it. To that end, let me first say what I am not talking about.
This book is not a plea for noncomformity. Such pleas have an occasional therapeutic value, but as an abstraction, nonconformity is an empty goal, and rebellion against prevailing opinion merely because it is prevailing should no more be praised than acquiescence to it. Indeed, it is often a mask for cowardice, and few are more pathetic than those who flaunt outer differences to expiate their inner surrender.
I am not, accordingly, addressing myself to the surface uniformities of U.S. life. There will be no strictures in this book against "Mass Man"—a person the author has never met—nor will there be any strictures against ranch wagons, or television sets, or gray flannel suits. They are irrelevant to the main problem, and, furthermore, there's no harm in them. I would not wish to go to the other extreme and suggest that these uniformities per se are good, but the spectacle of people following current custom for lack of will or imagination to do anything else is hardly a new failing, and I am not convinced that there has been any significant change in this respect except in the nature of the things we conform to. Unless one believes poverty ennobling, it is difficult to see the three-button suit as more of a strait jacket than overalls, or the ranch-type house than old law tenements.
And how important, really, are these uniformities to the central issue of individualism? We must not let the outward forms deceive us. If individualism involves following one's destiny as one's own conscience directs, it must for most of us be a realizable destiny, and a sensible awareness of the rules of the game can be a condition of individualism as well as a constraint upon it. The man who drives a Buick Special and and lives in a ranch-type house just like hundreds of other ranch-type houses can assert himself as effectively and courageously against his particular society as the bohemian against his particular society. He usually does not, it is true, but if he does, the surface uniformities can serve quite well as protective coloration. The organization people who are best able to control their environment rather than be controlled by it are well aware that they are not too easily distinguishable from the others in the outward obeisances paid to the good opinions of others. And that is one of the reasons they do control. They disarm society.
I do not equate the Social Ethic with conformity, nor do I believe those who urge it wish it to be, for most of them believe deeply that their work will help, rather than harm, the individual. I think their ideas are out of joint with the needs of the times they invoke, but it is their ideas, and not their good will, I wish to question. As for the lackeys of organization and the charlatans, they are not worth talking about.
Neither do I intend this book as a censure of the fact of organization society. We have quite enough problems today without muddying the issue with misplaced nostalgia, and in contrasting the old ideology with the new I mean no contrast of paradise with paradise lost, an idyllic eighteenth century with a dehumanized twentieth. Whether or not our own era is worse than former ones in the climate of freedom is a matter that can be left to later historians, but for the purposes of this book I write with the optimistic premise that individualism is as possible in our times as in others.
I speak of individualism within organization life, This is not the only kind, and someday it may be that the mystics and philosophers more distant from it may prove the crucial figures. But they are affected too by the center of society, and they can be of no help unless they grasp the nature of the main stream. Intellectual scoldings based on an impossibly lofty ideal may be of some service in upbraiding organization man with his failures, but they can give him no guidance. The organization man may agree that industrialism has destroyed the moral fabric of society and that we need to return to the agrarian virtues, or that business needs to be broken up into a series of smaller organizations, or that it's government that needs to be broken up, and so on. But he will go his way with his own dilemmas left untouched, aware that they are am going to argue that he should fight the organization. But not self-destructively. He may tell the boss to go to hell, but he is going to have another boss, and, unlike the heroes of popular fiction, he cannot find surcease by leaving the arena to be a husbandman. If he chafes at the pressures of his particular organization, either he must succumb, resist them, try to change them, or move to yet another organization.
Every decision he faces on the problem of the individual versus authority is something of a dilemma. It is not a case of whether he should fight against black tyranny or blaze a new trail against patent 'stupidity. That would be easy-intellectually, at least. The real issue is far more subtle. For it is not the evils of organization life that puzzle him, but its very beneficence. He is imprisoned in brotherhood. Because his area of maneuver seems so small and because the trapping so mundane, his fight lacks the ,heroic cast, but it is for all this as tough a fight as ever his predecessors had to fight.
Thus to my thesis. I believe the emphasis of the Social Ethic is wrong for him. People do have to work with others, yes; the well-functioning team is a whole greater than the sum of its parts, yes--all this is indeed true. But is it the truth that now needs belaboring? Precisely because it is an age of organization, it is the other side of the coin that needs emphasis. We do need to know how to co-operate with The Organization but, more than ever, so do we need to know how to resist it. Out of context this would be an irresponsible statement. Time and place are critical, and history has taught us that a philosophical individualism can venerate conflict too much and co-operation too little. But what is the context today? The tide has swung far enough the other way, I submit, that we need not worry that a counter-emphasis will stimulate people to an excess of individualism.
The energies Americans have devoted to the co-operative, to the social, are not to be demeaned; we would not, after all, have such a problem to discuss unless we had learned to adapt ourselves to an increasingly collective society as well as we have. An ideal of individualism which denies the obligations of man to others is manifestly impossible in a society such as ours, and it is a credit to our wisdom that while we preached it, we never fully practiced it.
But in searching for that elusive middle of the road, we have gone very far afield, and in our attention to making organization work we have come close to deifying it. We are describing its defects as virtues and denying that there is--or should be--a conflict between the individual and organization. This denial is bad for the organization. It is worse for the individual. What it does, in soothing him, is to rob him of the intellectual armor he so badly needs. For the more power organization has over him, the more he needs to recognize the area where he must assert himself against it. And this, almost because we have made organization life so equable, has become excruciatingly difficult.
To say that we must recognize the dilemmas of organization society is not to be inconsistent with the hopeful premise that organization society can be as compatible for the individual as any previous society. We are not hapless beings caught in the grip of forces we can do little about, and wholesale damnations of our society only lend a further mystique to organization. Organization has been made by man; it can be changed by man. It has not been the immutable course of history that has produced such constrictions on the individual as personality tests. It is organization man who has brought them to pass and it is he who can stop them.
The fault is not in organization, in short, it is in our worship of it. it is in our vain quest for a utopian equilibrium, which would be horrible if it ever did come to pass, it is in the soft-minded denial that there is a conflict between the individual and society. There must always be, and it is the price of being an individual that he must face these conflicts. He cannot evade them, and in seeking an ethic that offers a spurious peace of mind, thus does he tyrannize himself.
There are only a few times in organization life when he can wrench his destiny into his own hands-and if he does not fight then, he will make a surrender that will later mock him. But when is that time? Will he know the time when he sees it? By what standards is he to judge? He does feel an obligation to the group; he does sense moral constraints on his free will. If he goes against the group, is he being courageous--or just stubborn? Helpful--or selfish? Is he, as he so often wonders, right after all? It is in the resolution of a multitude of such dilemmas, I submit, that the real issue of individualism lies today.
When this "social ethic" is applied to scientists, which it seems to be in large bureaucracies like the NIST, a social dynamic emerges which is quite contrary to how the mythical "scientist" is portrayed in popular culture. Whyte describes this in part 5 of his book.
Part 5: The Organization Scientist
The Fight against Genius
Suppose for a moment that you were given this mental exercise: without knowing anything about how scientists work today, you were to imagine what would happen if the Social Ethic were applied to science as it has been in the rest of organization life. The chances are that you would imagine, among other things, that: (1) scientists would now concentrate on the practical application of previously discovered ideas rather than the discovery of new ones; (2) they would rarely work by themselves but rather as units of scientific cells; (3) organization loyalty, getting along with people, ect. would be considered just as important as thinking; (4) well-rounded team players would be more valuable than brilliant men, and a very brilliant man would probably be disruptive. Lastly and most importantly, these things would be so because people believe this is the way it should be.
Well? Of the $4 billion currently being spent on research and development by government, industry, and the universities, only about $150 million - or less than 4 percent - is for creative research. The overwhelming majority of people engaged in research, furthermore, must now work as supervised team players, and only a tiny fraction are in a position to do independent work. Of the 600,000 people engaged in scientific work, it has been estimated that probably no more than 5,000 are free to pick their own problems.
And this is because people think it should be so. In the current orgy of self-congratulation over American technical progress, it is the increasing collectivization of research that is saluted. Occasionally the individual greats of the past are saluted, but it is with a subtle twist that manages to make them seem team researchers before their time. In the popular ideology, science means applying ideas; knowing how, not asking why.
So far only a few people have had the nerve to come out flatly against the independent researcher, but the whole tenor of organization thinking is unmistakably in that direction. Among Americans there is today a widespread conviction that science has evolved to a point where the lone man engaged in fundamental inquiry is anachronistic, if not fundamental inquiry itself. Look, we are told, how the atom bomb was brought into being by the teamwork of huge corporations of scientists and technicians. Occasionally somebody mentions in passing that what an eccentric old man with a head of white hair did back in his study forty years ago had something to do with it. But people who concede this point are likely to say that this merely proves that basic ideas aren't the problem any more. It's nice to have ideas and all that, sure, but it's American know-how that does something with them, and anyway there are plenty of ideas lying fallow. We don't really need any more ivory-tower theorizing; what we need is more funds, more laboratory facilities, more organization.
For the fact is that the parallels are being drawn too closely, and in a profoundly mistaken analogy The Organization is trying to mold the scientist to its own image; indeed, it sees the accomplishment of this metamorphosis as the main task in the management of research. It may succeed.
Let us ask a brutal question. How good are the corporate scientists? In the past industry has had many brilliant ones - Langmuir, Steinmentz, Carothers, and many others. But does it have them now? My colleague Francis Bello did a study of young scientists which yielded some very surprising figures. To get a representative group of young scientists, he set out to get nominations of the men under forty in both industry and universities who were thought to be among the most promising. He went first to the foundations and such government agencies as the Office of Naval Research and the Atomic Energy Commission, for it is their business to know who the top men are.
When the many duplications in the names nominated were eliminated, Bello found that he had the names of 225 young scientists. He had expected that the nominations would probably split between industry and the universities about half and half. To his amazement, however, he found that only 4 of the 225 names were of men in industry.
Fearing that the sample was too biased, Bello went directly to the leaders of leading corporation laboratories and asked them for nominations. He also asked the top academic scientists to think of scientists in industry and name any they thought top rank.
After all this effort, only thirty-five were forthcoming. Outside of some of their own subordinates, corporation research directors were hard put to think of anybody else in their field in industry worth naming and so were the university people. Most industrial scientists, Bello had to conclude, don't know one another, nor are they known by anybody else.
The chemical industry - the industry that had spent more money on research than any other - fared particularly badly. No scientist in Du Pont was named more than once, and except for American Cyanamid,no one in the leading chemical firms was named at all. As for discovery, Bello found that chemists could think of only one new chemical reaction discovered by an American chemical company during the last fifteen years.
It is to be expected that industry should spend far less of its time on fundamental research than the universities, and for the same reason it is to be expected that the most outstanding men would tend to stay in the universities. But when all this is said and done, the fact remains that industry has a disproportionately small share of top men.
Why? The failure to recognize the virtues of purposelessness is the starting point of industry's problem. To the managers and engineers who set the dominant tone in industry, purposelessness is anathema, and all their impulses incline them to be highly planned,, systematized development in which the problem is clearly defined. This has its values. If researchers want to make a practical application of previous discovery - if a group at GM's Technical Center want a better oil for a high-compression engine, for example - they do best by addressing themselves to the stipulated task. in pure research, however, half the trick is in finding out that there is a problem - that there is something to explain. The culture dish remained sterile when it shouldn't have. The two chemicals reacted differently this time than before. Something has happened and you don't know why it happened - or if you did, what earthly use would it be?
By its very nature, discovery has an accidental quality. Methodical as one can be in following up a question, the all-important question itself is likely to be a sort of chance distraction of the work at hand. At this moment you neither know what practical use the question could lead to nor should yew worry about the point. There will be time enough later for that; and in retrospect, it will be easy to show how well planned and systematized the discovery was all along.
Rationalize curiosity too early, however, and you kill it. In the case of the scientist it is not merely that he finds it difficult to foresee what it would prove at the cash register; the sheer act of having to address himself to this or, as management would put it, the $64 question, dampens his original curiosity - and the expectation that the company will ask him to do it is just as dampening as the actual demand. The result is a net loss, not postponement, for if the scientist is inhibited from seizing the idle question at the time, it is not easily recaptured later. Like the nice gestures we so often think of and so often forget to do, many a question that would have led to great discoveries have died as quickly as it was born; the man was too busy to pause for it.
By their own statements of policy the majority of corporations make it plain that they wish to keep their researchers' eyes focused closely on the cash register. Unlike GE or Bell Labs, they discourage their scientists, sometimes forbid them, from publishing the results of their work in the learned journals or communicating them in any way to scientists outside the company preserve. More inhibiting, most corporations do not let their scientists devote more than a fraction of their time following up problems on their own choosing, and this fraction is treated more as a sort of indulgence than an activity worth while in its own right. "It is our policy," one research director says, "to permit our men to have as much as 5 to 10 per cent of their time to work on anything they feel would be of interest." (Italics are mine.)
To some management people the desire to do "free" work is a downright defect - a symptom of maladjustment that demands cure, not coddling. When a man wants to follow his own hunch, they believe, this is a warning that he is not "company-oriented." The solution? Indoctrination. In "Personnel Practices in Industrial Laboratories" (Personnel, May 1953) Lowell Steele puts the issue squarely. 'Unless the firm wants to subsidize idle curiosity on the part of its scientists," he says, "it must aid them in becoming 'company-conscious.'" Company loyalty, in other words, is not only more important than idle curiosity; it helps prevent idle curiosity.
The administrators are perfectly correct. If they get scientists to be good company men like other normal people, they won't be bothered much by scientists' following their curiosity. The policy will keep out that kind of scientist. For what is the dominant characteristic of the outstanding scientist? Every study has shown that it is a fierce independence.
Thus, searching for their own image, management men look for the "well-rounded" scientists. They don't expect them to be quite as "well-rounded" as junior-executive trainees; they generally note that scientists are "different." They do it, however, in a patronizing way that implies that the difference is nothing that a good indoctrination program won't fix up. Customarily, whenever the word brilliant is used, it either precedes the word but (cf, "We are all for brilliance, but...") or is coupled with such words as erratic, eccentric, introvert, screwball, ect. To quote Mr. Steele again, "While industry does not ignore the brilliant but erratic genius, in general it prefers its men to have 'normal' personalities. As one research executive explained, 'These fellows will be having contact with other people in the organization and it helps if they make good impression. They participate in the task of "selling" research.'"
Management has tried to adjust the scientist to The Organization rather than The Organization to the scientist. It can do this with the mediocre and still have a harmonious group. It cannot do it with the brilliant; only freedom will make then harmonious. Most corporations sense this, but, unfortunately, the moral they draw from it is something else again.A well-known corporation recently passed up the opportunity to hire one of the most brilliant chemists in the country. The wanted his brilliance, but they were afraid he might "disrupt our organization." Commenting on this, a fellow scientist said, "He certainly would disrupt the organization. He is a man who would want to follow his own inclinations. In a laboratory which understood fundamental research, he wouldn't disrupt the organization because they would want him to follow his own inclinations, But not in this one."
Even when companies recognize that they are making a choice between brilliance and mediocrity, it is remarkable how excruciating they find the choice. Several years ago my colleagues and I listened to the management of an electronics company hold a post-mortem on a difficult decision they had just made. The company had been infiltrated by genius. Into their laboratory three years before had come a very young brilliant man. He did magnificent work and the company looked for even greater things in the future. But, though he was a likable fellow, he was imaginative and he had begun to chafe at the supervision of the research director. The director, the management said, was a rather run-of-the-mill sort, though he had worked loyally and congenially for the company. Who would have to be sacrificed? Reluctantly, the company made its decision. The brilliant man would have to go. The management was unhappy about the decision but they argued that harmonious group thinking (that was the actual word they used) was the company's prime aim, and if they had promoted the brilliant man it would have upset the whole chain of company interpersonal relationships. What else, they asked plaintively, could they have done?
Listening to some of industry's pronouncements, one would gather that it is doing everything possible to ward off the kind of brilliant people who would force such a choice. Here, in this excerpt from a Socony-Vacuum Oil Company booklet on broad company policy, is a typical warning:
No Room for Virtuosos
Except in certain research assignments, few specialists in a large company ever work alone. There is little room for virtuoso performances. Business is so complex, even in its non-technical aspects, that no one man can master all of it.: to do his job, therefore, he must be able to work with other people.
The thought is put out even more forcibly in a documentary film made for the Monsanto Chemical Company. This film, which was made to inspire young men to go into chemistry, starts off in the old vein. You see young boys dreaming of adventure in far-away places as they stand by the station in a small town and watch the trains roll by. Eventually the film takes us to the Monsanto laboratories. We see three young men in white coats talking to one another. The voice on the sound track rings out: "No geniuses here; just a bunch of average Americans working together."
This was no mere slip of the script writer's pencil. I had a chance later to ask a Monsanto executive why the company felt impelled to claim to the world that its brainwork was carried on by just average Americans. The executive explained that Monsanto had thought about the point and wanted to deter young men from the idea that industrial chemistry was for the genius type.
The Bureaucratization of the Scientist
That management is not only repelling talent but smothering it as well is told by management's own complaints. Privately, many of the same companies which stress team play criticize their young Ph.D.s for not being interested enough in creative work - or, to put it another way, are a bunch of good average Americans working together. "Practically all who are now Ph.D.s want to be told what to do," one research leader has complained. "They seem to be scared to death to think up problems of their own." Another research leader said that when his firm decided to let its chemists spend up to 25 percent of their time on "free" work, to the company's surprise hardly any of the men took up the offer.
Let's turn now from the corporation to academia, for here we can more clearly see the root of the problem.
Yet every one of the trends to be found in corporation research can be found in academic research, and with consequences far greater. There is the same bent to applied rather than fundamental research, the same bent to large team projects, the same bent to highly systematized planning, to committees and programs. Like his brother in management, the scientist is becoming an organization man.
But it is not the fact of bureaucratization itself that is the central problem. The central problem is the acceptance of it. In no field, except the arts, does the elevation of administrative values hold more dangers, yet in this respect science is not even fighting a holding action. To the contrary, the people in the foundations and the universities are reinforcing them, further molding the scientists to the organization image. Not purposely, no, but this makes it only the worse.
It is not that there has been an increase in the kind of people by nature suited to group work. The change has been in the environment of research, and its molding effect is felt by all. In degree, of course, there are great differences. The outstanding genius would not prostrate himself before the group; the mediocre would do it whether anyone asked him to or not. But in between these extremes lies the great bulk of our scientists, and they, just as much as the junior executives, have had to acclimate themselves to the organization way. And just like the junior executives, they have overcompensated. The principle feature of organized research - emphasis on methodology, research design, and planning by committee - are not of themselves wrong, but they have now become so venerated as to be destructive.
Planning by committee, for example. Increasingly, scientists are using committees not just to carry on or supervise research but to decide what it is that should be researched.
In stating the problem to be attacked, fund-givers overlook the fact that the first-rate man has a prior intellectual commitment. Occasionally this intellectual commitment will mesh accidentally with the project, but more often the project will divert him from his real interest. Recently, twenty top men in a particular field were brought together to hear the chairman of a great fund describe its plans for the future. One of the scientists recalls the feeling of unease that spread among them. "I knew most of them and I knew that about of eight of them were on the verge of some really important work. But the chairman gave no indication that he was at all interested in what they had done before. He talked about starting fresh; all his plans were for new projects, new questions. He meant very well, but we couldn't help but feel that the work he was going to finance would be in the long run a net subtraction."
In stating the problems, the committees are usurping the basic role of the scientist. How do they know that theirs is the problem to be attacked? In applied as well as basic science, many advances have succeeded because they by-passed the problems the majority thought were most pressing.
The Foundations and Projectism
Here is one activity where committee expertise is an obstacle. In a committee that must "produce" something, the members must feel a strong impulse toward consensus. But if that something is to be a map of the unknown country, there can hardly be consensus on anything except the most obvious. Something really bold and imaginative is by its nature decisive, and the bigger the committee, the more people are likely to be offended.
The bureaucratization can be reversed. For the man who wants to escape the mesh of organization, to ask his own questions, and to ask them for the sheer hell of it, the foundations are the last best hope. Alone of our big institutions, they do not have to yield to the pressures of immediacy or the importunings of the balance sheet. They have the money to invigorate individual research and they have the franchise. The job they have assigned themselves is not to support the status quo but to do what others cannot do or are too blind to do.
And how have the foundations responded to this challenge? They are not countering the bureaucratization of research; they are intensifying it.
They too are organization men. There are difficulties, they explain. The Ford Foundation argues that it just has to give its money to large-scale grants, and while it could give a bit more to individuals and still get rid of its money, it's not likely to get very enthusiastic about such a course. Not only financially, but philosophically, it would be a diversion; the "problem-solving," action approach is the foundation's basic strategy, and this puts something of a premium on on the virtues of well-directed, administered, coordinated projects. The foundation's officials are quite frank about it. "We'll plead guilty," Rowen Gaither, Jr., president f the foundation, said to me of the disparity. "We do try to take care of the individual, but it's hard in a foundation of this size. It's hard to support individuals without a staff of about one thousand, so we prefer to rely upon other institutions to provide this service for us."
Giving to individuals, to put it another way, costs too much. Carnegie and Rockefeller have devoted proportionately more to individual research, but their officers make much the same point.
One more note about the concept of a "Social Ethic" as identified by W. H. Whyte. In order to understand the concept it may be useful to contrast it with the "Protestant Ethic" that it has it has slowly replaced. Whyte describes the essence of the Protestant Ethic in chapter 2 of his book.
Chapter 2, The Decline of the Protestant Ethic
Let us go back a moment to the turn of the century. If we pick up the Protestant Ethic as it was then expressed we will find it apparently in full flower. We will also find, however, an ethic that already had been strained by reality. The country had changed. The ethic had not.
Here, in the words of banker Henry Clews as he gave some fatherly advice to Yale students in 1908, is the Protestant Ethic in purest form:
SURVIVAL OF FITTEST: You may start in business, or the professions, with your feet on the bottom rung of the ladder; it rests with you to acquire the strength to climb to the top. You can do so if you have the will and the force to back you. There is always plenty of room at the top.... Success comes to the man who tries to compel success to yield to him. Cassius spoke well to Brutus when he said, "The Fault is not in our stars, dear Brutus, that we are underlings, but in our natures."
THRIFT: Form the habit as soon as you become a money-earner, or money-maker, of saving a part of your salary, or profits. Put away one dollar out of every ten you earn. The time will come in your lives when, if you have a little money, you can control circumstances; otherwise circumstances will control you...
Note the use of such active words as climb, force, compel, control. As stringently as ever before the Protestant Ethic still counselled struggle against one's environment-the kin of practical, here and now struggle that paid off in material rewards. And spiritually too. The hard-boiled part of the Protestant Ethic was incomplete, of course, without the companion assurance that such success was moral as well as practical. To continue with Mr. Clews:
Under this free system of government, whereby individuals are free to get a living or to pursue wealth as each chooses, the usual result is competition. Obviously, then, competition really means industrial freedom. Thus, anyone may choose his own trade or profession, or, if he does not like it, he may change. He is free to work hard or not, he may make his own bargains and set his price upon his labor or his products. He is free to acquire property to any extent, or to part with it. By dint of greater effort or superior skill, or by intelligence, if he can retake better wages, he is free to live better, lust as his neighbor is free to follow his example and to learn to excel him in turn. If anyone has a genius for making and managing money, he is free to exercise his genius, just as another is free to handle his tools.... If an individual enjoys his money, gained by energy and successful effort, his neighbors are urged to work the harder, that they and their children may have the same enjoyment.
It was an exuberantly optimistic ethic. If everyone could believe that seeking his self-interest automatically improves the lot of all, then the application of hard work should eventually produce a heaven on earth. Some, like the garrulous Mr. Clews, felt it already had.
America is the true field for the human race. It is the hope and the asylum for the oppressed and downtrodden of every clime. It is the inspiring example of America-peerless among the nations of the earth, the brightest star in the political firmament-that is leavening the hard lump of aristocracy and promoting a democratic spirit throughout the world. It is indeed the gem of the ocean to which the world may well offer homage. Here merit is the sole test. Birth is nothing. The fittest survive. Merit is the supreme and only qualification essential to success. Intelligence rules worlds and systems of worlds. It is the dread monarch of illimitable space, and in human society, especially in America, it shines as a diadem on the foreheads of those who stand in the foremost ranks of human enterprise. Here only a natural order of nobility is recognized, and its motto, without coat of arms or boast of heraldry, is "Intelligence and integrity."
Without this ethic capitalism would have been impossible. Whether the Protestant Ethic preceded capitalism, as Max Weber argued, or whether it grew up as a consequence, in either event it provided a degree of unity between the way people wanted to behave and the way they thought they ought to behave, and without this ideology, society would have been hostile to the entrepreneur. Without the comfort of the Protestant Ethic, he couldn't have gotten away with his acquisitions--not merely because other people wouldn't have allowed him, but because his own conscience would not have. But now he was fortified by the assurance that he was pursuing his obligation to God, and before long, what for centuries had been looked on as the meanest greed, a rising middle class would interpret as the earthly manifestation of God's will.
But the very industrial revolution which this highly serviceable ethic begot in time began to confound it. The inconsistencies were a long while in making themselves apparent. The nineteenth-century inheritors of the ethic were creating an increasingly collective society but steadfastly they denied the implications of it. In current retrospect the turn of the century seems a golden age of individualism, yet by the 1880s the corporation had already shown the eventual bureaucratic direction it was going to take. As institutions grew in size and became more stratified, they made all too apparent inconsistencies which formerly could be ignored. One of the key assumptions of the Protestant Ethic had been that success was due neither to luck nor to the environment but only to one's natural qualities--if men grew rich it was because they deserved to. But the big organization became a standing taunt to this dream of individual success. Quite obviously to anyone who worked in a big organization, those who survived best were not necessarily the fittest but, in more cases than not, those who by birth and personal connections had the breaks.
As organizations continued to expand, the Protestant Ethic became more and more divergent from the reality The Organization was itself creating. The managers steadfastly denied the change, but they, as much as those they led, were affected by it. Today, some still deny the inconsistency or blame it on creeping socialism; for the younger generation of managers however, the inconsistencies have become importuning.
Thrift, for example. How can the organization man be thrifty? Other people are thrifty for him. He still buys most of his own life insurance, but for the bulk of his rainy-day saving, he gives his proxy to the financial and personnel departments of his organization. In his professional capacity also thrift is becoming a little un-American. The same man who will quote from Benjamin Franklin on thrift for the house organ would be horrified if consumers took these maxims to heart and started putting more money into savings and less into installment purchases. No longer can he afford the luxury of damning the profligacy of the public; not in public, at any rate. He not only has to persuade people to buy more but persuade them out of any guilt feelings they might have for following his advice. Few talents are more commercially sought today than the knack of describing departures from the Protestant Ethic as reaffirmations of it.
In an advertisement that should go down in social history, the J. Walter Thompson agency has hit the problem of absolution head-on. It quotes Benjamin Franklin on the benefits of spending. "Is not the hope of being one day able to purchase and enjoy luxuries a great spur to labor and industry? ... May not luxury therefore produce more than it consumes, if, without such a spur, people would be, as they are naturally enough inclined to be, lazy and indolent?" This thought, the ad says, in a meaningful aside, appears to be a mature after-thought, qualifying his earlier and more familiar writings on the importance of thrift."
"Hard work?" What price capitalism, the question is now so frequently asked, unless we turn our productivity into more leisure, more of the good life? To the organization man this makes abundant sense, and he is as sensitive to the bogy of overwork and ulcers as his forebearers were to the bogy of slothfulness. But he is split. He believes in leisure, but so does he believe in the Puritan insistence on hard, self-denying work--and there are, alas, only twenty-four hours a day. How, then, to be "broad gauge"? The "broad-gauge" model we hear so much about these days is the man who keeps his work separate from leisure and the rest of his life. Any organization man who managed to accomplish this feat wouldn't get very far. He still works hard, in short, but now he has to feel somewhat guilty about it.
Self-reliance? The corporations estates have been expanding so dynamically of late that until about now the management man could suppress the thought that he was a bureaucrat—bureaucrats, as every businessman knew, were those people down in Washington who preferred safety to adventure. Just when the recognition began to dawn, no one can say, but since the war the younger generation of management haven't been talking of self-reliance and adventure with quite the straight face of their elders.
That upward path toward the rainbow of achievement leads smack through the conference room. No matter what name the process is called-permissive management, multiple management, the art of administration-the committee way simply can't be equated with the "rugged" individualism that is supposed to be the business of business. Not for what they lack is the illusion that they will carry on in the lack of ambition do the younger men dream so moderately; great entrepreneurial spirit. Although they cannot bring themselves to use the word bureaucrat, the approved term—the "administrator"—is not significantly different in its implications. The man of the future, as junior executives see him, is not the individualist but the man who works through others for others.
Let me pause for a moment to emphasize a necessary distinction. Within business there are still many who cling resolutely to the Protestant Ethic, and some with as much rapacity as drove any nineteenth-century buccaneer. But only rarely are they of The Organization. Save for a small, and spectacular, group of financial operators, most who adhere to the old creed are small businessmen, and to group them as part of the "business community," while convenient, implies a degree of ideological kinship with big business that does not exist.
Out of inertia, the small business is praised as the acorn from which a great oak may grow, the shadow of one man that may lengthen into a large enterprise. Examine businesses with fifty or less employees, however, and it becomes apparent the sentimentality obscures some profound differences. You will find some entrepreneurs in the classic sense—men who develop new products, new appetites, or new systems of distribution—and some of these enterprises may mature into self-perpetuating institutions. But very few.
The great majority of small business firms cannot be placed on any continuum with the corporation. For one thing, they are rarely engaged in primary industry; for the most part they are the laundries, the insurance agencies, the restaurants, the drugstores, the bottling plants, the lumber yards, the automobile dealers. They are vital, to be sure, but essentially they service an economy; they do not create new money within their area and they are dependent ultimately on the business and agriculture that does.
In this dependency they react more as antagonists than allies with the corporation. The corporation, it has become clear, is expansionist—a force for change that is forever a threat to the economics of the small businessman. By instinct he inclines to the monopolistic and the restrictive. When the druggists got the "Fair Trade" laws passed it was not only the manufacturers (and customers) they were rebelling against but the whole mass economy movement of the twentieth century.
The tail wagged the dog in this case and it still often does. That it can, in the face of the growing power of the corporation, illustrates again the dominance mythology can have over reality. Economically, many a small businessman is a counterrevolutionist and the revolution he is fighting is that of the corporation as much as the New or Fair Deal. But the corporation man still clings to the idea that the two are firm allies, and on some particulars, such as fair trade, he often makes policy on this basis when in fact it is against the corporation's interests to do so.
From our current perspective in 2014, the fact that those quotes on the Protestant Ethic came from a banker makes them especially hilarious.
The 'Social Ethic' in summary in Whyte's own words:
With reason it could be called an organization ethic, or a bureaucratic ethic; more than anything else it rationalizes the organization's demands for fealty and gives those who offer it wholeheartedly a sense of dedication in doing so--extremis, you might say, it converts what would seem in other times a bill of no rights into a restatement of individualism.
...a secular faith that it represents can be found throughout our society
By social ethic I mean that contemporary body of thought which makes morally legitimate the pressures of society against the individual. Its major propositions are three: a belief in the group as the source of creativity, a belief in "belongingness" as the ultimate need of the individual, and a belief in the application of science to achieve the belongingness.
... I think the gist can be paraphrased thus: Man exists as a unit of society. Of himself, he is isolated, meaningless; only as he collaborates with others does he become worthwhile, for by sublimating himself m the group, he helps produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. There should be, then, no conflict between man and society. What we think are conflicts are misunderstandings, breakdowns in communication. By applying the methods of science to human relations we can eliminate these obstacles to consensus and create an equilibrium in which society's needs and the needs of the individual are one and the same.
... those who most eager y subscribe to the Social Ethic worry very little over the long-range problems of society. It is not that they don't care but rather that they tend to assume that the ends of organization and morality coincide, and on such matters as social welfare they give their proxy to the organization.
This is the new suburbia, the packaged villages that have become the dormitory of the new generation of organization men.
I do not equate the Social Ethic with conformity, nor do I believe those who urge it wish it to be, for most of them believe deeply that their work will help, rather than harm, the individual.
Of one who adopts it:
For it is not the evils of organization life that puzzle him, but its very beneficence. He is imprisoned in brotherhood.
The first two chapters of the book can be read at this link
Created on 04/21/2014 08:11 PM by admin
Updated on 04/24/2014 04:00 PM by admin