The Double Helix of Learning and Work

3.4. The Management and Legal Framework
In the second half of the Twentieth Century, “crisis” was the term most frequently used to describe the state of social life. This term applied to all domains, and it was followed by successive “revolutions” that opened new paths. The titles of successful books heralded the “death” or the “end” of all classical concepts, from history to man. Seldom have new trends of thought come successively into the limelight as during this period. It is worth noting that most of these trends have had a direct impact on the relationship between education and work. One of the above-mentioned “revolutions” was the one that occurred in the sphere of management. Until then, the latter had been quietly dozing inside Business Administration courses. It would soon become a doctrine, a discipline, and a universal panacea. The main idea was that the way processes were conducted and administered was the most important element in the science of organization and its capability to control and command. Resources, capital, and even work were relegated to a secondary position.

It seems paradoxical that it was a mathematical method developed to maximize the effects of bombing raids during the Second World War that inspired this new managerial school. Starting from the question, “How many bombs of each type should be launched during each operation?”, the “Danzig” linear programming was born. It produced an entire mathematical theory on the optimization of non-linear programming, which preserved the name of its original military destination: operations research.

The method was successful when applied to the optimal mode of how to distribute machines in factory halls, how to organize the equipment, how to establish a production plan. Linear programming invariably called for the elimination of certain products or processes in order to enable the remaining ones to fall within an optimized goal. The euphoria caused by the first wave of calculus-based management lasted for about two decades. Game theory, queuing theory, equipment theory, stock theory, and quality theory were added to programming. At that stage, the effect on work was the same as that of mechanization. Job loss, however, was not determined by the introduction of new machines, but rather by their disposition, which was decided by a competent manager.

In exchange, an idea supporting education gained ground. Management was turning into a science that had to be learned. Up until then, the leader had had to possess inborn qualities and acquired experience, while management had been viewed as an art and a combination of skills rather than as a package of transmissible information. Work was still generally approached under the influence of the tension between art (talent, experience, skill) and science (knowledge that could be systematized and theorized).

The favourite topics of management pertained to the production process: quality, reliability, productivity, and profitableness. A good manager was supposed to deliver growth in all those sectors. Increased competition led to the use of similar techniques in marketing as well.

Creative societies:

The other great innovation of the first decade of the new millennium was the recognition and funding of types of activity that offer an alternative to traditional work. All Europeans were given the right to devote several years of their working life to collectively useful tasks that would not find a buyer in a strict market economy: services of general interest, cultural events, work in a non-profit association, services for the poor or even rearing children. This entitlement has been set at five years full-time throughout the Union. It is left to individuals to decide how to split this time up over their lifetime, depending on their plans and commitments (some will prefer to take periods of sabbatical leave, others will continue to work but will set aside a third or a quarter of their time for non–remunerable activities). (European Commission, Scenarios: Europe in 2020: One Europe – Five Destinies, 2000).

Marketing became so important that it developed into an autonomous body of knowledge and techniques. Together with price strategies and capital assets management, calculus-based methods enhanced the degree of knowledge that had to be invested in management and organization.

The effects were considerable. Suffice it to mention the role played by quality management in building the industrial power of Japan. The ability of the Japanese to use sophisticated techniques in controlling complexity was also demonstrated in the utilization of fuzzy logic in transportation planning for big cities. No matter how highly the virtues of the Japanese labour force were praised for producing the economic miracle, the rigorous and detailed application of certain mathematically based procedures and knowledge was really decisive.

The turning point in the orientation of management science was not late to come. The potential of calculus might have been exhausted after making the most of the optimization processes. Parallel to other social developments, the large numbers of people working under the orders of managers suddenly came into the limelight. They acquired a new importance with the understanding that the success of their corporations or industries increasingly hinged on them. That accounted for the enhanced role of decentralization, communication, participation (in connection with decentralization), and innovation. Finally, management was dethroned by entrepreneurship.

A company that had made use of all the recipes of optimization to reach a maximum level of efficiency discovered that it was the prisoner of that ideal organizational solution the flaw of which lay in its fixity. Perfection and excellence thus hindered the continuing process of adaptation to the ever-changing market conditions, techniques, and demands. The traditional pyramidal organization formula proved to be exceedingly rigid and therefore vulnerable.

The savings achieved as a result of curtailing the chain of command and excessive centralization did not provide guaranteed protection against accidents: the failure of a node in a tree-like graph triggered the blockage of the entire subsumed sector. Thus, an era of decentralization began, i.e., pushing responsibilities, competencies, and even initiative downward along the line. Companies became increasingly flat. Services acquired autonomous status; entire departments became quasi-independent. The pyramid became a network.

Communication was essential for the functioning of horizontal structures. The network could not be reduced to obeying the disposition transmitted vertically from a command node to another down to the workplace. A massive and complex communication system, which prevented possible mistakes and accidents by means of redundancy, was able to take advantage of the facilities provided “just in time” by the information revolution.

The decentralization of the structure and the multiplication of the nervous strings that ensured its unity opened the way for the involvement of workers in the management process. The newly created self-control teams began to take technical decisions and to rotate individual roles, freeing individuals form the burden of repetitive work or overspecialization and involving their understanding and support of the larger projects of the company. That was a most significant step forward for the work factor in the hierarchy of value and dignity.

What did the company gain in the participatory stage from decentralization and communication, viewed as factors that no longer belonged to the classical formula “resources-technology-capital”? It gained flexibility and readiness to adapt. Rather more than “the Adaptive Corporation” (Toffler, 1985), it became “the learning company” (Botkin, Dimancescu, and Stata, 1982).

There remained one more bastion to conquer in order to increase competitiveness: innovative capacity. In order to win in the market it was not sufficient for the products to be the best (in point of quality, durability, functioning, safety, and price). They had to be new. Enormous investments in research and development were no longer able to quench the thirst of consumers for novelty. It was discovered that the participatory involvement of a well-trained labour force could be a precious source of ideas, suggestions, and proposals.

Innovation started to be viewed as the essential factor of modern production and the fundamental prerequisite of success. What happened to innovation had also happened to management sometime earlier. Once viewed as an art, it gradually became a science. Its source was no longer considered as a special gift or an inexplicable illumination. “It is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, capable of being practiced” (Drucker, 1989). The human resources of a company or institution started to be measured according to their capacity (i) to learn and (ii) to innovate.

Innovations also penetrated the school curriculum, as well as the huge number of circles, courses, foundations, institutes, and magazines seeking to enhance creativity in general and innovation in particular (especially in technology). According to Drucker (1989), the random character of external events, the incongruity between existing and desirable reality, the needs surging from ongoing processes, the changes in industry and market structures, and three other external changes involving demography, mentality and perception, and knowledge are the seven pillars of innovation. This new characteristic feature of the present or foreseeable trends in wealth creation is upgrading the role of education in its endeavour to meet the exacting new requirements for well-trained working people.

It is important to refer to Peter Drucker for an understanding of the current stage of the management science. From the end of the Second World War to the mid-1980s, his books were regarded as guiding lights in management, which he always described as “useful knowledge” or “social technology”. He claimed that, after 1955, “the entire development of the world experienced a management boom”. However, in 1985, he suggested that a new phase was setting in. He described it in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (1985), developing for it a logic that he had previously used for management: its principles, practice, and discipline. While the Americans believed excellence in management to be one of the driving forces of their economic supremacy, Drucker (1985) viewed the United States as maintaining the same role during the entrepreneurial phase. He constantly gave more credit to management and entrepreneurship than to technology in enhancing economic performance.

The transition from management to entrepreneurship also highlighted another departure from reliance on technical recipes for optimization. It was the discovery of the cultural dimension of organization arising from non-quantitative factors: values, attitudes, styles, beliefs, and mentalities. Under the title of “organization culture”, it even flourished as a reaction to the technical, scientific, and measurable conception of management by emphasizing the human factor. Instead of a universally valid management, the prize went to the management that was adapted to a particular place and which became specific precisely because it differed from other cultural environments. One may say that the new school answered the needs of companies, especially the transnational ones, to expand to other countries and continents. Leaving aside its abhorrence of “universal” patterns, the cultural trend gave working individuals a new perspective compared to that of management science: their own distinct identities as people with their own language and beliefs, history, and habits that resisted the blind permutations of the global market.

At the end of the road, when we utter the word, “work”, – at least in the developed countries, but also in a growing number of other situations – we have in mind an entirely different image. It is certainly not that of the industrial economy, no matter how much it has improved in the past three centuries.

The image is that of an agent possessing a high professional culture based on learning and experience, attested by diplomas and certificates, freed from the servitudes of physical effort. The working person of today lives in a symbiosis with the machine (a mutual assistance pact), shouldering responsibilities, producing innovations, and enjoying a remuneration that places him within the middle class. The hourly wages of a skilled worker are actually higher than the average earnings of clerical staff.

The position that work holds among the other social activities is not solely determined by the conscience of the public fora, the wisdom of the managerial class, or the clear-sightedness of the business community. It is also the result of long fights waged by labour unions to gain certain rights that were gradually written down and then acknowledged in national and international legislation. Since the end of the First World War, relevant legislation has started, progressively, to cover work rights and conditions, insurance, and fair remuneration.

At the International Labour Organization, this process currently takes place in a triangle involving government, employers, and employees, that is, as a recognized institution in the functional structures of certain advanced states, such as Germany or Switzerland. A large number of countries have ratified the existing international conventions banning discrimination in the workplace (e.g., women’s rights or the protection of certain vulnerable categories, for instance, children or the disabled).

Still, there is a dark spot in this picture. Workers who enjoy so many rights find it increasingly difficult to enjoy the security of their employment. Unemployment has become the chronic disease of underdevelopment, making emigration the only solution in sight. Work has received the mantle of nobility, but it cannot be performed. This nightmare also haunts those, who, even if they have had an opportunity to learn, cannot make use of their knowledge. This situation prompts us to take a closer look at the relationship between education and work. What is striking is the similitude not only between the deficiencies of the two twin spirals but also between the available remedies.

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