From Artists to Technicians: How We Slowly Lost the Art of the Job

by Rajeev Kurapati

“In the next economic downturn there will be an outbreak of bitterness and contempt for the super-corporate chieftains who pay themselves millions,” management visionary Peter Ducker predicted in 1997. 

How did we arrive at the current state of the industrial economy we deal with now?  Did we dehumanize the soul of craftsmanship in our efforts to dramatically improve productivity? Today’s industrial management is an enterprise that has no patience for the nuances of human craftsmanship in its urge to find ever greater manual efficiency and mass production. Most of the credit goes to Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) whose tombstone in Pennsylvania bears the inscription “The Father of Scientific Management.”

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Taylor was probably the the first man in history who did not take work for granted but instead studied it. His approach to work still remains the basic foundation of the industrial economy. 

In the early 1900s, the scientific method was applied to the concept of labor productivity. In The Principles of Scientific Management, Frederick Taylor described his scientific assessment of how the management of workers impacted productivity. The goal was to optimize tasks and specializations to create best practices.

Taylor observed in The Principles of Scientific Management:

Even in the case of the most elementary form of labor that is known, there is science, and that when the man best suited to this class of work has been carefully selected, when the science of doing the work has been developed, and when the carefully selected man has been trained to work in accordance with this science, the results obtained must of necessity be overwhelmingly greater than those which are otherwise possible. 

Taylor conducted studies that utilized methods such as timing a worker’s sequence of motions with a stopwatch to scientifically prove the optimal way to complete a task. He determined that, for maximal productivity, the ideal weight a worker should lift in a shovel was 21 pounds. This knowledge enabled companies to then provide workers with shovels that were optimized for that 21-pound load. Formal performance measures were implemented. The result: companies saw a three-fold increase in productivity, and workers were rewarded with pay increases. It was a win-win for all involved, at least from a productivity standpoint. 

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The concept of productivity did not have much appeal prior to Taylor’s management methods. Skills were passed on to successive generations and learned by way of lengthy apprenticeships. Craftsmen made independent decisions about how their jobs were to be performed. Many carried out their tasks with immense passion and dedication, producing highly artistic work that was cherished for its  craftsmanship. As a result, it would take a considerable amount of time to produce even articles of daily use, such as baskets, bricks, or vases.

The application of scientific methods meant that skilled crafts could be scaled down to simplified jobs performed by unskilled workers, the reason why the world may never again see the likings of another Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, or Donatello—whose works were so profound that it almost feels like they left a piece of their souls in their creations. We convinced ourselves that the compromise was worth tolerating. The goal was to mass produce products or provide services to meet certain minimum market demands.

Taylor’s methods changed the outlook of the industrial era, as well as the sentiment of these skilled craftsmen. The method took away much of the autonomy craftsmen previously enjoyed in their work. With these newly implemented best practices, though, importance was given only to efficiency and productivity.

After years of various experiments to determine optimal work methods, Taylor proposed four principles of scientific management:

  1. Replace rule-of-thumb work practices with a scientific method for every task.
  2. Scientifically select, train, and teach each worker rather than passively leaving them to train themselves as best as they can.
  3. Insure that all work being done is in accordance with scientifically developed methods.
  4. Divide work nearly equally between workers assigned to the same task, and encourage management to establish many rules, laws, and formula to replace the personal preferences and judgments of the individual worker.

These principles were implemented in many work places, and the result was increased productivity. Henry Ford applied Taylor’s principles in his automobile factories. Even families began to perform their household tasks based on the results of these studies. The only downside was some initial resistance among workers, who complained that this method increased the monotony of their work. Ultimately, though, collective productivity took precedence over the subjective preferences of individuals. Scientific management changed the way we work, and decades later these principles were applied to hospitals and schools. Modified versions of these principles continue to be used today.

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Taylor’s idea of “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” based on his belief that all workers were motivated by monetary reward, also took off. If a worker didn’t achieve his expected output in a given period, it was decided that he/she didn’t deserve to be paid as much as another worker who was more productive. The idea gained traction and was boldly implemented in doctors’ practices and hospitals. Since then, under industry rules, every doctor and hospital service within an individual medical facility is paid the same (more or less) amount for the same services and procedures they provide. The fees for an appendectomy, for instance, are the same whether the surgeon is fresh out of training or has 20 of experience. The more patients a doctor sees in a given day, the more productive he or she is, and thus the more lucrative his or her practice or the hospital’s bottom-line will be.

By grooming us to fit in with the rules and regulations of the industrial enterprise, we became a compliant cog in a giant machine. The idea behind this exercise was simple: people become easily replaceable if they are converted into predictable and subservient units. We can utilize person B if person A doesn’t show up to work today, for instance. This became the motto of industrial economy and has remained so ever since. Yes, all cogs contribute to the proper functioning of the society, but they are replaceable. So are you. 

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Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit – Steven Pressfield’s insanely brilliant advice to writers

by Rajeev Kurapati

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Steven Pressfield offers the most practical and remarkable advice to writers, young and old, in his Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t – guidance that applies to any creative endeavor, really:

Sometimes young writers acquire the idea from their school that the world is waiting to hear what they’ve written. They get this idea because their teachers had to read their essays or term papers or dissertations.

In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written.

Slightly unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why? Because they might have to actually read it.

According to Pressfield, adopting this approach actually changes your mindset to produce better work. Antonio Damasio wrote in The Feeling of What Happens, “Sometimes we use our minds not to discover facts, but to hide them.” In a bold yet subtle way, Pressfield asserts:

It isn’t people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy. Nobody wants to read your shit.

What’s the answer?

  1. Streamline your message. Focus it, and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, and easy to understand form.

  2. Make its expression fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Make it so interesting that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it.

  3. Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.

The book becomes at once a tool of self-discovery as much as an instructional guide to better writing. He explains:

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. And in return you the writer must return something worthy of his gift to you.

The book is far from the typical ego-stroking run-of-the-mill how-to’s and serves as an essential companion for anyone laboring in the art of making something new.

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy.

With this, Pressfield brings life to the timeless wisdom of what makes an artist’s skill blossom and become cherished in the minds of audience.

You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs – the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as a writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask questions with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? She is following where I want to lead her?

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Above all, this becomes not only a tool of accountability but a guide post to keep the artist or entrepreneur moving forward in the face of self-doubt and uncertainty.

Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield


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Mastering the Art of Learning

by Rajeev Kurapati

It was the fall of ’95 when I found myself surrounded by 136 other ambitious and nervous new medical students, bracing ourselves for orientation. While my peers and I shared a certain air of confidence, it was hard to miss the palpable anxiety (tinged with self-doubt) that filled the room.

The distinguished professor welcomed us by defining medical professionalism: 

Commitment to patient-centered care, intellectual honesty, social responsibility, and advocacy,

she explained. However true the sentiment, we knew what was really expected of us is that we would amass knowledge with single-minded devotion. Over the years, we all shared one common and constant goal: be a sponge of seemingly infinite knowledge. 

Twenty years later and the process of learning continues. As students (even as early as grade school), we’re governed by standardized testing and validated by our GPAs—all the while rarely, if ever, being tested on our understanding of what it takes to be an open-minded, lifelong learner. Decades of education taught me one thing above all others: the art of learning to learn.

In the era of No Child Left Behind and the questionable efficacy of cumbersome testing, we’re slowly coming to the heavy realization that perhaps we’ve not yet learned how to learn. Armed with the facts and figures, most of us are never taught how to successfully digest not only what we hear in the classroom, but also how to absorb the world around us as engaged learners.

Telecommunications pioneer Richard Hamming, author of The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn, offers suggestions about how to succeed in the lost art of learning. Here are ten rules based off of his advice encouraging anyone to be their best self through the simple act of accumulating knowledge:

1. Concentrate on fundamental principles rather than facts.

Structure your learning so that you’re able to ride the information wave, not drown in it.

As time marches forward, the amount of knowledge in the world grows exponentially—doubling about every 20 years. But our brain can only process information at a rate of around 60 bits per second, and our minds aren’t getting faster even as the information load skyrockets. It’s easy to get lost in details, so focusing on fundamentals is key.

Set aside reading time—indulge in your own fields of interest as well as exploring new developments in areas outside of your immediate preoccupation.

2. Learn from those around you.

As people gravitate away from trade jobs, more individuals are graduating from college than ever before. The number of science doctorates earned each year alone grew by nearly 40% between 1998 and 2008. It’s important to balance competition with the company of people who can motivate and inspire us. Learn from the success of others. Hamming says it best,

Vicarious learning from the experiences of others saves making errors yourself.

Let the achievements of others provide you with a sort of roadmap. Young or old, there are always going to be people who are wiser and more accomplished than you—make these people your allies and learn everything you can from them.

3. Focus on the future. Learn from the past and move on. Live in the present.

The landscape of the world is fast changing, transformed by digital revolution and explosive growth of disruptive ideas in almost all human endeavors. While we can’t predict what will happen next, we can be ready to adapt to change. Learning from the past is important also, of course, to ensure yesterday’s mistakes aren’t repeated. In this race toward the future, we lose the present. As Seneca observed,

The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

4. Make it personal.

Always find how your learning impacts you personally. Whether you work a corporate job, run a small business, or maintain an academic career, don’t let your job or degrees box you in. Grow to be a well-rounded, best version of yourself. Structure your learning efforts according to some general direction in which you want to move. Having a vision is what separates leaders from followers. Goals evokes passion, which encourages you to want to learn, not feel like you simply have to.

5. Trial and error is key.

Finding what style of learning best suits you is a process filled with trial and error. How to learn can’t be discovered through words—we have to try different techniques to stumble upon what works best. Rely on your teachers but think for yourself too. Never be afraid to question and challenge the status quo.

6. Make the best of your working space.

The workplace continues to evolve rapidly—with trends like communal workspaces and working from home sweeping the nation. Surprisingly, people tend to do their best work when working conditions aren’t ideal. Don’t let your surroundings distract you from the task at hand. One tip to make the best of your office, if you have one, is to leave your door open often. It may seem counterintuitive, but while you may occasionally be more distracted, you’ll also be able to stay plugged in to what’s most important: ensuring that you’re working on the right matters.

7. Only you can put in the time it takes to learn.

To quote Hamming,

I am… only a coach. I cannot run the mile for you.

Even for those inherently talented, there is no substitute for effort. Don’t wait for or rely upon luck. Remember the old adage: Luck favors the prepared mind.

8. Work on what matters.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, to do great work, you must ask yourself: What is the most important problem in the society that desperately needs resolution? That’s how you make a difference. This focus will motivate you while also ridding the distractions of trivial matters.

9. Strive for excellence.

Sometimes learning is hard—really hard. Don’t let that deter you from what you want to achieve. There is no greater pay-off than living the life you always imagined, and there is no greater joy than discovering things for yourself. Put in the time to learn and always focus on how you learn best.

!915,November 4. Einstein aged 36, having just completed the two-page masterpiece that would catapult him into international celebrity and historical glory, his theory of general relativity, Einstein sent 11-year-old Hans Albert: "These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it." Source: Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children

1915,November 4. Einstein aged 36, having just completed the two-page masterpiece that would catapult him into international celebrity and historical glory, his theory of general relativity, Einstein sent 11-year-old Hans Albert: “These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.”
Source – Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children

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