The One Best Way – Book Review

I started reading “The One Best Way: Fredrick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency” a week or so ago and I’m enjoying it so much I thought I’d do a quick write up for those who might be interested.

Tayor is judged rather harshly in some circles today but that didn’t quell my desire to learn more about him. For better or worsethe influence of his philosophy, scientific management, hashad more impact on the industrial development of this country than that of most any other person you might think of.Peter Drucker once said Taylor warrants a place alongside Darwin and Freud in the making of the modern world.

Robert Kanigel, the author of this work, is an excellent writer. The book makes you feel more like you are walking around the shop floor next to Taylor instead of just reading about him. To say the attention to detail is incredible doesn’t do the book justice as it is truly masterful. In one chapter Kanigel paints an enthralling picture of how the machinery in a 19th century steel mill was set up and then follows that with a vivid explanation of how steam power was used to run all of the machine tools. Truly fascinating.

Anyone interested in the evolution of management, the history of early American industry, or just curious about this often mentioned figure should give this book a read. The book is rather long, over 700 pages, but don’t let that scare you off, it is very entertaining.

Comments 2

  1. Bill Waddell

    Agreed – it is a fascinating book and Kanigel is a very good writer. What makes it indispensable reading for a manager – especially a manufacturing manager – is that it conveys the conditions and objectives of manufacturing under which Taylor’s principles were developed.

    If a manager is to affect change in his or her organization, the starting point is to understand what conditions have changed since the principles under which factories are still run have changed. Many of Taylor’s engineering principles are still valid. His view of people is wretchedly outdated.

    The challenge for the manufacturing manager, then, is to adapt Taylor’s technical methods to a much more enlightened view of people. The trick is to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. All Taylorism is a formula for disaster – but so is no Taylorism. In any event, the book is as easy a 700 page read as you will find.

  2. Michael McBride

    Spot on Mr. Waddell, thanks for the input. And for any Lean practitioners out there who are unfamiliar with Mr. Waddell’s work, check out his web site or better yet, pick up his book “The Rebirth of American Industry”, it’s another great read.

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