Continued from Stuck? 3 Personal crisis and growth
The technological/ business/ capitalist world
After many years in the business world, first as engineer, later as manager, I became aware that both these disciplines are heavily dominated by that simple materialistic paradigm of my schooldays. Science and engineering are the drivers; science discovers technology, engineering puts it to work, management makes it happen. Money making is the object. And measurement of quantity is the ‘scientific’ management tool par excellence. Highly paid managers ‘persuade’ less highly paid managers to do things by setting them quantitative objectives which they have to achieve to earn respect, bonuses, salary increases and promotion.
Unfortunately, awareness of the uncertainty principle seems low – although it appears to be applicable. The act of measuring changes what is being measured. Thus I observed many a meaningless numerical target ‘achieved’ to no good purpose.
I gradually became more concerned about the quality of what was being done, and delved into the ‘quality’ movement. I discovered that, under the influence of quality gurus such as Philip Crosby[i], qualities were essentially reduced to measurable objective things in order that they could be ‘managed’. Qualitative things such as ethics, values, meanings and aesthetics were rarely stressed in business, except when it came to marketing the company.
We can observe that such qualitative factors are often not taken into consideration by many companies. Hence companies do bad things – ENRON and Worldcom being but recent examples of a very long list. Individuals are faced with the choice of achieving the approval of their bosses, and money and career, or following their own personal values where there is a conflict[ii]. Since the action is often ‘at a distance’ from the real human effects, such as the persecuted community in Nigeria or Indonesia, it is not surprising that the senior managers mostly get their way, to keep happy the shareholders of the even more ‘at a distance’ limited liability company.
Governments also increasingly treat government as management, with a similar quantitative emphasis. Not surprisingly, the current UK New Labour government is running into problems with its long list of numerical targets, and seems to have difficulty in articulating its values.
So we have a ‘system’ of science, technology, business and government (and economics and law etc.) that is dominated by this rather simplistic pseudo-scientific way of looking at the world, quantity dominating over quality, with self-interest and money predominant.
2023 perspective: no change here, then. The list of corporate scandals grows ever longer. Government has become even more about management. Increasing inequality demonstrates the lack of human values in decision making across the piece.
Featured image of Bell Curve by User:HiTe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
[i] Philip Crosby’s ‘system’ of quality is described in Quality is Free, Philip Crosby. More comprehensive approaches to quality, such as the model of the European Foundation for Quality Management, now address more qualitative factors, but generally strive to reduce the result to numbers in the end.
[ii] Why even good companies do bad things is the subject of When Good Companies Do Bad Things, Peter Schwartz & Blair Gibb
2 thoughts on “Stuck? 4 The technological/ business/ capitalist world”
Hmm, I’m not so sure I would place the blame on science so much as rampant capitalism. However, you certainly make some intriguing points.
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Thanks, Jane. It is rather difficult to separate out the effects of technology from those of capitalism, as the one is built on the other… But the materialistic mindset is common to both.
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