IMITATION AS A MEANS OF INCREASING HUMAN EFFICIENCY
TWENTY years ago the head of an industry now in the million-a-month class sat listening to his ``star'' salesman. The latter, in the first enthusiasm of discovery and creation, was telling how he had developed the company's haphazard selling talk and had taken order after order with a standard approach, demonstration, and summary of closing arguments. To prove the effectiveness of ``the one best way,'' he challenged his employer to act as a customer, staged the little drama he had arranged, secured admissions of savings his machine would make, ultimately cornered the other, and sold him.
``That's great,'' the owner declared the instant he had surrendered to the salesman's logic. ``If we can get all our agents to learn and use this new method of yours, we'll double our business in three years.''
Then followed discussion of the means by which the knowledge could be spread.
``I've got it,'' the manager announced at last. ``I'll telegraph five or six men to come in''—he named the agents within a night's ride of the factory—``and you can show them how you sold fifteen machines last week.
``We could take down your talk in shorthand and send it to them, but that wouldn't do the business. I want them to watch you sell, to study how you make your points, how you introduce yourself, how you get your man's attention, how you bring out his objections and meet them, how you lead up to the signing minute, and show him where to sign. *What you say is about half the trick: *how you say it is the convincing part—the thing the slowest man in the force by watching you can learn more quickly than the smartest could work out at home.''
The result of that conference was one of the earliest organized training schools for salesmen in the country. It was an unconscious, but none the less certain, utilization of the instinct of *imitation for increasing the efficiency in employees. Since then, business has borrowed many well-recognized principles from psychology and pedagogy and adapted them to the same end.
Many important houses have grafted the school upon their organizations and *teach not only raw and untrained employees, but provide instruction calculated to make workmen and clerks masters of their jobs and also to fit them for advancement to higher and more productive planes. Teaching is by example rather than by precept, just as it was in the old apprentice system.
The newer method uses even more than the older a perfect example of the process and the product for the learner's imitation and makes them the basis of the instruction.
No man was made to live alone. For an individual, existence entirely independent of other members of the race is the conception of a dreamer; apart from others one would fail to become *human. Modern psychology has abandoned the individualistic and adopted the social point of view. We no longer think of *imitation as a characteristic only of animals, children, and weak-minded folk.
We have come to see that imitation is the greatest factor in the education of the young and a continuous process with all of us. The part of wisdom, then, is to utilize this power from which we cannot escape, by setting up a perfect copy for imitation.
The child brought up by a Chinaman imitates the sounds he hears, hence speaks Chinese; brought up in an American home, English is his speech—ungrammatical or correct according to the usage of his companions. If one boy in a group walks on stilts or plays marbles, the others follow his example. If a social leader rides in an automobile, wears a Panama hat, or plays golf, all the members of this circle are restless till they have the same experience. The same phenomenon is seen in the professions and in business. If one bank decides to erect a building for its own use, other banks in the city begin to consult architects. If one manufacturer or distributor in a given field adopts a new policy in manufacturing or in extending his trade zone, his rivals immediately consider plans of a similar sort. Partly, of course, this act is defensive. In the main, however, imitation and emulation are at the bottom of the move.
For the sake of clearness, in studying acts of imitation we separate them into two classes—*voluntary imitation (also called conscious imitation) and *instinctive imitation (also known as *suggestive imitation).
A peculiar signature may strike my fancy so that consciously and deliberately I may try to imitate it. This is a clear case of voluntary imitation. Threading crowded city streets, I see a man crossing at a particular point and voluntarily follow in his path. In learning a new skating figure I watch an expert attentively and try to repeat his performance. In writing letters or advertisements or magazine articles, I analyze the work of other men and consciously imitate what seems best. Or I observe a fellow-laborer working faster than I, and forthwith try to catch and hold his pace.
The contagion of yawning, on the other hand, is instinctive imitation. Also when in a crowd during the homeward evening rush, we instinctively quicken our pace though there may be no reason for hurry.
For precisely similar reasons, a ``loafer'' or a careless or inefficient workman will lower the efficiency or slow up the production of the men about him, no matter how earnest or industrious their natural habits. Night work by clerks, also, is taken by some office managers to indicate a slump in industry during the day. To correct this the individuals who are drags on the organization are discovered, and either are revitalized or discharged.
I have seen more than one machine shop where production could have been materially raised by the simple expedient of weeding out the workmen who were satisfied with a mere living wage earned by piecework, thereby setting a dilatory example to the rest; and replacing them with fresh men ambitious to earn all they could, who would have been imitated by the others.
In these instances it is assumed that the imitation is not voluntary, but that we unconsciously imitate whatever actions happen to catch our attention. For the negative action, the ``slowing down'' process, we have the greater affinity simply because labor or exertion is naturally distasteful. One such influence or example, therefore, may sway us more than a dozen positive impulses towards industry.
Imitation thus broadly considered is seen to be of the utmost importance in every walk of life. The greatest and most original genius is in the main a creature of imitation. By imitation he reaches the level of knowledge and skill attained by others; and upon this foundation builds his structure of original and creative thought, experiment, and achievement. Furthermore he does not imitate at random; but concentrates his activity on those things and persons in the line of his pursuits.
Among my associates are both industrious and shiftless individuals. I instinctively imitate the actions of all those with whom I come in contact; but if I am sufficiently ambitious, I will consciously imitate the acts of the industrious. This patterning after energetic models will render me more active and efficient than would have been possible for me without such examples.
Imitation, accordingly, is an imperative factor both in self-development and in the control of groups of individuals. Knowing that I instinctively imitate all sorts of acts, I must take care that only the right sort shall catch my attention.
And since imitation is a most effective aid in development, I must provide myself with the best models. To reduce my tendency to idleness or procrastination I must avoid the companionship of the shiftless. To acquire ease and accuracy in the use of French, I must consort with masters of that tongue.
In handling others, the same rule holds.
To profit from the instinctive imitation of my men, I must control their environment in shop or office and make sure that examples of energy and efficiency are numerous enough to catch their attention and establish, as it were, an atmosphere of industry in the place.
There are instances in which it would be to the mutual interest of employer and employee to increase the speed of work, but conditions may limit or forbid the use of pacemakers. In construction work and in some of the industries where there are minute subdivision of operations and continuity of processes this method of increasing efficiency is very commonly applied. In many factories, however, such an effort to ``speed up'' production might stir resentment, even among the pieceworkers, and have an effect exactly opposite to that desired. The alternative, of course, is for the employer to secure unconscious pacemakers by providing incentives for the naturally ambitious men in the way of a premium or bonus system or other reward for unusual efficiency.
To take advantage of their conscious or voluntary imitation, workpeople must be provided with examples which appeal to them as admirable and inspire the wish to emulate them. A common application of this principle is seen in the choice of department heads, foremen, and other bosses. Invariably these win promotion by industry, skill, and efficiency greater than that displayed by their fellows, or by all-round mastery of their trades which enable them to show their less efficient mates how any and all operations should be conducted.
This focusing of attention upon individuals worthy of imitation has been carried much farther by various companies. Through their ``house organs''—weekly or monthly papers published primarily for circulation within the organization—they make record of every incident reflecting unusual skill, initiative, or personal power in an individual member of the organization.
A big order closed, a difficult contract secured, a complex or delicate operation performed in less than the usual time, a new personal record in production, the invention of an unproved method or machine—whatever the achievement, it is described and glorified, its author praised and held up for emulation. This, indeed, is one of the methods by which the larger sales organizations have obtained remarkable results.
Graphically told, the story of an important sale with the salesman's picture alongside makes double use of the instinct of imitation. It suggests forcibly that every man in the field can duplicate the achievement and tells how he can do it.
Frequently, examples of initiative and efficiency are borrowed from outside organizations. ``Carrying a message to Garcia'' has long been a business synonym for immediate and effective execution of orders. One big company, employing thousands of mechanics and developing all its executives and skilled experts from boys and men within the organization, has printed in its house organ studies of all the great American and English inventors from Stephenson and Fulton to Edison and Westinghouse. These histories emphasize the facts that these men were self- taught and bench-trained, and that their achievements can be imitated by every intelligent mechanic in the organization.
In teaching and learning by imitation certain modifying facts are to be kept constantly in mind. We tend to imitate everything which catches our attention, but certain things appeal more powerfully than others.
The acts of those whom I admire are particularly contagious, but I remain indifferent to the acts of those who are uninteresting. Acts showing a skill to which I aspire are immediately imitated, while acts representing stages of development from which I have escaped are less likely to be imitated. We imitate the acts of hearty, jovial individuals more than the acts of others. This point cannot be pressed too far since a surly and selfish individual often seems to corrupt a whole group. Also it is not always the acts which I admire that are imitated. If I am frequently with a lame person, I am in danger of acquiring a limp; one who stutters is clearly injurious to my freedom of speech; round-shouldered friends may at first cause me to straighten up, but soon I am in danger of a droop.
That imitation is merely something to be avoided by teachers, employers, and foremen is an idea soon banished when the importance and complexity of the process is comprehended. In teaching we find precept inferior to example wherever the latter is possible. Particularly in teaching all sorts of acts of skill the imitation of perfect models is the first resort. In business, however, insufficient consideration has been given to the possibilities of imitation in increasing human efficiency.
In the preparation of this article representative business men who had been especially successful in dealing with employees were asked the following questions:—
In increasing the efficiency of your employees do you utilize imitation by
(1) placing efficient workmen where they may be imitated by the less efficient?
(2) having the men visit highly efficient establishments?
(3) bringing to the attention of your men the lives of successful men and the work of successful houses?
(4) bringing frequently to the attention of the men model methods of work?
(5) Have you observed any pronounced instance of increase or decrease in the work of a department due to imitation?
The men interviewed took a decided interest in the subject, and their answers contained much of general value. Some admitted that they had never made any conscious effort to utilize imitation as implied in the first four questions. Many others had made particular use of one or more of the methods. A few of the firms interviewed had employed all four methods with entire satisfaction.
The following is a fair representative of the answers. It is the response of a very successful general manager of a railroad:—
``I beg to give you below the answer to the questions which you have asked:—
``1. The superintendent and foremen in our shops are the most efficient we can find. They are imitated, and thus influence the less efficient.
``2. We have the heads of our departments visit other shops to see how they are progressing in the same line. If they notice anything that is better than what we have as to the output of work, we imitate it by following their methods.
``3. We have not made a practice of bringing to the attention of our employees the lives of successful men or the work of successful houses.
``4. We keep standard models of the different kinds of work in plain view of the men. If there is any doubt in their minds, they can study these models.
``5. We have observed a pronounced increase in the work of our shops, due to imitation, since in lining up our organization we put the most competent men we have at the head. Their influence over the men in their charge increases the work, as there is no question that a good leader is imitated by the men, and the company is benefited by this imitation.''
Judged by the results of the investigation the most common use of imitation is in the training or ``breaking in'' of new employees. The accepted plan is to pick out the most expert and intelligent workman available and put the new man in his charge.
By observing the veteran and imitating his actions, working gradually from the simpler operations to the more complex, the beginner is able to master technic and methods in the shortest possible time. The psychological moment for such instruction, of course, is the first day or the first week. New men learn much more readily than those who have become habituated to certain methods or tasks; not having had time or opportunity to experiment and learn wrong methods, they have nothing to unlearn in acquiring the right. They fall into line at once and adopt the stride and the manner of work approved by the house.
This is the specific process by which the most advanced industrial organizations develop machine hands and initiate skilled mechanics into house methods and requirements. It has been largely used by public service corporations—street-car motormen and conductors, for instance, learning their duties almost entirely by observation of experienced men either in formal schools or on cars in actual operation. Many large commercial houses give new employees regular courses in company methods before in-trusting work to them; the instructor is some highly efficient specialist, who shows the beginner *how to get output and quality with the least expenditure of time and energy. The same method has been adapted by leading manufacturers of machines, who call their mechanics or assemblers together at intervals and have the most expert among them show how they conduct operations in which they have attained special skill.
In the training of salesmen imitation has received its widest application in teaching new men the elements of salesmanship; in showing them how to make the individual sale; in giving old men the best and newest methods—all by imitation.
Not only is the recruit to the selling ranks in formal schools given repeated examples of the most effective ways to approach customers, to demonstrate the house goods and secure the order; but the more progressive companies, after this preliminary instruction, assign him to a training ground where he accompanies one of the company's best salesmen and merely observes how actual sales are made. Then the new man is sent out alone; usually he fails to secure as large an order as the house wants. Again the star salesman takes him in hand, analyzes the student's approach and demonstration, points out their weaknesses and, going back with the new man, makes the right kind of approach and secures a satisfactory order. For the beginner this is the most vivid lesson in salesmanship; he cannot but model his next selling effort on the lines proved so effective.
The use of imitation, however, is carried further. In the monthly or semiannual district conventions of salesmen which most big organizations call, the newest and most effective selling methods are staged for the instruction both of new men and veterans. The district leader in sales, for example, or the man who has closed an order by a new or unusual argument is pitted against a salesman equally able, and the whole force sees how the successful man secured his results.
Educational trips to other factories were employed by several firms to stimulate mental alertness and the instinct of imitation in their men. These trips usually supplemented some sort of suggestion system for encouraging employees to submit to the management ideas for improving methods, machines, or products.
Cash payments were made for each suggestion adopted, quarterly prizes of ten to fifty dollars were awarded for the most valuable suggestions; and finally a dozen or a score of the men submitting the best ideas were sent on a week's tour of observation to other industrial centers and notable plants. In some instances the expense incurred was considerable, but the companies considered the money well spent. Not only were the men making helpful suggestions the very ones who would observe most wisely and profit most extensively from such educational trips, but they would bring back to their everyday tasks a new perspective, see them from a new angle, and frequently offer new suggestions which would more than save or earn the vacation cost.
Business managers, it was made plain, are coming more and more to depend upon imitation as one of the great forces in securing a maximum of efficiency without risking the rupture or rebellion which might follow if the same efficiency were sought by force or by any method of conscious compulsion. Tactfully suggested, the examples for imitation will lead men where no amount of argument or reasonable compensation will drive them. I am therefore led to suggest the following uses of imitation for increasing the efficiency of the working force.
In breaking in new recruits they should be set to imitate expert workmen in all the details possible.
Gang foremen and superintendents should always be capable of ``showing how'' for the sake of the men under them.
The better workmen should, where possible, be located so that they will be observed by the other employees.
Inefficient help should be avoided since the example of the less efficient should become the model for the larger group.
Educational trips or tours of inspection should be regularly encouraged for both workmen and superintendents.
The deeds of successful houses should be brought to the attention of employees.
Where conditions admit, pacemakers should be retained in various groups to key up the other men.
Favorable conditions should be provided for conscious and instinctive imitation for all the members of the plant.
Persons who are sociable and much liked are imitated more than others, and if efficient, are particularly valuable; but if inefficient, are especially detrimental to others.
At the formal and informal meetings of the men of a house or a department, demonstrations of how to do certain definite things are very interesting and helpful to all concerned. Demonstrations should be more common.