Witnessing productivity in early time-motion studies

Posted on | February 20, 2015 | No Comments

My 4S abstract…

A century ago, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth’s time and motion studies created new standards for productivity by grouping together similar tasks in a streamlined workflow. Demonstration videos from the archives provide ‘before and after’ insight on the number of unnecessary motions removed from tasks as varied as bricklaying, card punching, pear washing, soap packing and labeling produce. These silent films are punctuated by a smiling Frank presiding over information slides with vital statistics that declare triumphant efficiency reforms.

The Gilbreths’ introduction of ‘motion’ to time-motion study in the workplace is significant on multiple levels. As a first principle of management theory, and the individualizing address it would only refine, producing a visual record of performance transforms the worker’s conception of his job away from the broader team or work gang towards a consideration of his own individual achievement. This makes work competitive, as individuals try to improve against their own prior records as much as those of their teammates. But just as important: the keeping of records, the performance of productivity for a witnessing eye, coincides with the first mainstream experiences of cinematic vision. Lillian Gilbreth’s The Psychology of Management (1914) makes links between the worker’s desire to have a performance recorded for history and the ambitions of actors hoping to have their artistic performances recorded for posterity on screen. Productivity’s standardizing gaze became a means to match and improve upon a previous version of oneself, and in turn, a way of being recognized. This paper explains how the Gilbreths turned work into a science, labor into information, and the worker into an individual, indeed, an athlete – whose ability to accomplish ever greater productivity becomes a victory to strive for and possess.



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