Human Resource Management Methodsrebdeow24
The Debate Goes On! A Graphic Portrayal Of The
Sinclair-Taylor Editorial Dialogue
Jeremy C. Short
University of Oklahoma
An editorial debate between Frederick Taylor and Upton Sinclair appeared in the American Magazine approximately a century ago. Taylor and Sinclair debated the merits of ‘scientific management’ versus the exploitation of the workforce as exemplified by Sinclair’s highly controversial novel, The Jungle. This paper provides a ‘graphic’ retelling of the enduring perspectives espoused by Sinclair and Taylor, and highlights contemporary manifestations of the issues and worries noted by both parties that are prominent in both management practice and organizational scholarship today.
Upton Sinclair’s classic book, The Jungle, was originally published in 1906. It is known that the book highlighted some of the most abhorrent practices in the meat packing industry found in the United States at the turn of the century. What is also well known is that the popularity of the book and its widespread revelations led to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration. What is less well known is that Sinclair’s primary purpose for writing The Jungle was to advocate Socialism as an answer to the troubles found in the tumultuous United States at the turn of the century. Sinclair hoped to convince his readers that Socialism could help right the ills caused by the cold and calculating capitalist machine that seemed to systematically use up, then discard human capital found in the meatpacking plant and related industries highlighted in his book. A few years after Sinclair’s work first appeared, another classic work began to be highly disseminated that would have an equally strong effect on American society and the field of management in particular. That work was Frederick Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management, first published in 1911. Taylor’s work outlined a rejection of the rules of thumb that guided many business practices and sought for a systematic incorporation of more guided and measurable principles. Taylor’s book was the basis
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of Drucker’s concept of management by objectives, and served as the first legitimate ‘pop’ management book. In 1911, Frederick Taylor and Upton Sinclair engaged in an editorial debate in The American Magazine. The content of this debate had far reaching implications that spur discussion as relevant today as the dialogue between Sinclair and Taylor nearly a century ago. Both Sinclair and Taylor provided graphic depictions of how they saw the world in the early 1900s. To commemorate their debate, I provide a retelling of their debate in graphic novel format, using excerpts from the graphic novel Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed (Short, Bauer, Ketchen, & Simon, 2010). I conclude with a brief summary of how their classic works serve as enduring legacies for both men.
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A century has now passed since the debate by Sinclair and Taylor. Yet, the concerns and challenges noted by both authors still have a marked, profound, and lasting effect. Their thoughts continue to be a source of fear, as well as an inspiration for future opportunities, for workers, managers, entrepreneurs, and job seekers. Taylor’s desire to more efficiently and effectively manage all areas of business production continues to inspire practitioners and scholars in the field of management. Yet, uncertainty about how innovative business practices may displace jobs as well as quality of life continues to provide concern for employees worldwide. Sinclair’s perspective that the collective treatment of individuals should be a core value at the societal level still sparks interest in debates involving the interaction of government and business, and such perspectives can be seen in research areas such as social responsibility and social entrepreneurship. His world view also continues to fuel fierce debate, as evidenced in the passionate dialogue leading to recent health care reforms in the U.S. No doubt the ideas of these two great thinkers will continue to be as relevant to management thought in the next century as they have been for the last 100 years.
Bolles, R.N. (2007). What color is your parachute? Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. Short, J., Bauer, T., Ketchen., D.J. & Simon, L. (2010). Atlas Black: Managing to
Succeed. Nyack, NY: FlatWorld Knowledge. ISBN 10: 0-9823618-4-X. ISBN 13: 978- 0-9823618-4-9.
Sinclair, U. (1906). The Jungle. New York: Dover reprint 2006. Taylor, F.W. (1911). The Principles of Scientific Management. New York: Harper &
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