Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cheaper by the Dozen

About a month ago, Jill Lepore reviewed Matthew Stewart's new book, The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting It Wrong. Fredrick Winslow Taylor was the so-called Father of Scientific Management, and worked as the first management consultant with corporations. Among his disciples were Louis D. Brandeis, the reform-minded attorney who went on to serve on the US Supreme Court, and Frank and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, the parents of the family immortalized in Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes.
Stewart's book starts out by claiming that Taylor fudged his numbers, so that scientific management wasn't so scientific after all. His stabs at efficiency (having workmen take fewer steps and make fewer moves in completing a task) was called Taylorizing. While Stewart's book addresses the foibles of management consulting, I was drawn to the article because much of it is about the Gilbreths. I spent many hours reading, over and over again, Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and Frank Gilbreth, Jr.'s two books about their family. I also saw the 1950 movie, though in retrospect the casting seems very strange. Clifton Web as a father of 13 (one child died of diptheria)? I can buy Myrna Loy having a PhD from Brown, but as the mother of all those kids, all of whom were breast-fed? The real Gilbreths used motion study to improve work efficiency, and used a movie camera (quite revolutionary in the 1910s) to measure it. Frank Gilbreth died in 1924, but Lillian Moller Gilbreth carried on their work, initially as a consultant and then on the faculty at Purdue University. Lepore says: "If you have an island in your kitchen, or a rolling cart, or if you think about a work triangle, you've got Lillian Gilbreth to thank." Dr. Gilbreth died in 1972, at the age of 93. Their photos are from Wikipedia.

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