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The Artist-in-Consultance: Welcome to the New Management


“Spade with two handles”—
To fit the task at hand:
There can be no “private” industry.

Joseph Beuys told his students: “You cannot wait for an ideal situation. You cannot wait for a tool without blood on it.” This was not to say a compromised tool can be made to serve all interests, but that a compromised tool can be weaponized to dismantle any interests. For art to integrate with society does not mean that art should serve the interests of society. Neither does it mean that art should serve the interests of art.

The idea that there is a rational, scientific basis to management advice can be traced to Fredrick Winslow Taylor, the turn-of-the-century mechanical engineer who was first to clock laborers on the job and devise strategies to make them move faster. Taylor’s name became synonymous with the early-1900s era of mechanization that idolized efficiency not only in the workplace but in all spheres of life. Nevermind the fact that none of Taylor’s research turned out to be scientifically sound—he fabricated numbers all over the place; his ideas, passed down through generations of management theorists (notably Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, Elton Mayo, and Peter Drucker) have shaped not only the entrepreneurial landscape of America but the very framework for how we understand labor relations within a system of “free” enterprise. The central tenets of Taylorist management that remain pervasive today are that managing humans is a numbers game and that instating bureaucratic procedures in the workplace is the (only) path to ensuring fairness—if not democracy itself. As philosopher-consultant Matthew Stewart writes, “Management theory is part of the democratic promise of America. It aims to replace the despotism of the old bosses with the rule of scientific law.”

If there was one seismic shift in management theory over the last century, it was the revelation in the Fordist era that there’s more to managing workers than picking the strongest ones and goading them with financial incentives to lift things faster. Fragile emotions need managing, too. Psychologist Elton Mayo laid the groundwork for this idea in a series of 1920s experiments at Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory near Chicago. Essentially, these entailed temporarily improving the conditions in the factory: free refreshments, longer breaks, and even better lighting. With each of these changes, productivity rose—but miraculously, the researchers found that when the perks were removed one by one, productivity stayed almost as high. Mayo attributed this consistent productivity to a new sense of teamwork and mutual accountability the workers had developed simply by participating in the experiment.

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