I lean towards efficiency, which is both a blessing and a curse. My engineering studies only made me even more efficient and at times, unbalanced. I like speakers who get to the point and do not waste my time in verbosities. I jog the most efficient routes and often miss the beauty of off-beaten paths. I admire the great master painters and don’t spend the time seeking meaning out of abstract art. I work hard at emotional intelligence because it does not come naturally to me. God gave me the gift of organization and efficiency, but these gifts must be balance with compassion and creativity.
Lee Hardy wrote about vocation in his book, The Fabric of this World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990, pages 128-140). In Chapter 4 (The Shaping of Human Work: Management Theory and Job Design), he traces the post-Civil War evolution of human work.
His first subject was Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915). I can relate to Taylor as he is an engineer’s engineer. Born into a privileged family, he went to Phillips Exeter Academy and prepared to study law at Harvard. He was highly intelligent and a top student but dropped out of school claiming poor eyesight. He apprenticed to a machinist at Enterprise Hydraulic Works and worked as a common laborer. His personality was orderly and efficient which greatly assisted him in mechanical matters. He finished his apprenticeship and went to work at Midvale Steel Works. This was the age of industrialization after the end of the Civil War.
Taylor observed inefficient industrial operations and gained permission from his supervisors to develop better work routines. He conducted over 30,000 experiments to determine optimal work efficiency for both industrial machines and workers. His meticulous studies greatly increased efficiency. For example, he studied shoveling and was able to reduce a shovel gang from 600 to 140 workers while raising the average tons shoveled per day from 16 to 59. Workers benefited as their average daily pay rose from $1.15 to $1.88. The company benefited as the operational costs declined from $0.072 to $0.033 per ton of ore.(page 132). He earned a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering through home study after work.
Taylor’s Industrial Engineering methodology was certainly efficient, but workers were not happy. “Work, apart from any monetary compensation, might be meaningful in itself, that certain human needs might be met within work itself: e.g., accomplishment, social contact, personal development, and the like.”(page 137) Taylor, now known as the ‘Father of the Scientific Management and Efficiency Movement,’ did not take human nature into consideration.
We are called to use our God given gifts to serve our neighbor. “But when work has been systematically emptied of responsibility, of the exercise of the intellect and the imagination, when it has been reduced to carrying out simplified routines that any robot or well-trained animal could do, then it is no longer a place where we can make use of our typically human gifts and abilities in the service of others.”(pages 136-137)
Today, artificial intelligence (AI) is a growing scientific field that is predicted to claim millions of jobs in the name of efficiency. Computers can now be programmed to learn and process information faster than humans. When humans cannot work at all, then “de-vocationalization” occurs. Humans become less human. “In the Taylor-made job, human beings work like well-trained animals, or well-greased machines, but not as human beings. This is not only an ethical consideration, but practical as well. For numerous studies have indicated that when we do not work as humans, we do not work well.”(page 140)