THE POSSIBILITY OF INCREASING HUMAN EFFICIENCY
THE modern business man is the true heir of the old magicians. Every thing he touches seems to increase ten or a hundredfold in value and usefulness. All the old methods, old tools, old instruments have yielded to his transforming spell or else been discarded for new and more effective substitutes. In a thousand industries the profits of to-day are wrung from the wastes or unconsidered trifles of yesterday.
The only factor which has withstood this wizard touch is man himself. Development of the instruments of production and distribution has been so great it can hardly be measured: the things themselves have been so changed that few features of their primitive models have been retained.
Our railroad trains, steamships, and printing presses preserve a likeness more apparent than actual. Our telephones, electric lights, gas engines, and steam turbines, our lofty office buildings and huge factories crowded with wonderful automatic machinery are creations of the generation of business men and scientists still in control of them.
By comparison the increase in human efficiency during this same period (except where the worker is the slave of the machine, compelled to keep pace with it or lose his place) has been insignificant.
Reasons for this disproportion are not lacking. The study of the physical antedates the study of the mental always. In the history of the individual as well as of nations, knowledge of the psychical has dragged far behind mastery of tangible objects. We come in contact with our physical environment and adjust ourselves to it long before we begin to study the *acts by which we have been able to control objects around us.
It was inevitable, therefore, that attention should have been concentrated upon the material and mechanical side of production and distribution. Results there were so tangible, so easily figured. For example, if the speed of a drill or the strokes of a punch press were multiplied, the increase would be easily recognized. The whole country, too, was absorbed in invention, in the development of tools to accomplish what had always required hand labor. The effort was not so much to increase the efficiency of the individual worker— though many wise and far-sighted employers essayed studies and experiments with varying success—as to displace the human factor altogether.
As the functions and limitations of machinery have become clearer in recent years, business men have generally recognized the importance of the human factor in making and marketing products. Selecting and handling men is of much more significance to-day than ever before in the history of the world —the more so as organizations have increased in size and scope and the individual employee is farther removed from the head and assigned greater responsibilities.
It is not a difficult task to build and equip a factory, to choose and stock a store. The problems of power and its transmission come nearer solution every day. Physics and chemistry have revealed the secrets of raw materials. For any given service, the manufacturer can determine the cheapest and most suitable metal, wood, or fabric which will satisfy his requirements, and the most economical method of treating it.
Of the elements involved in production or distribution, the human factor is to-day the most serious problem confronting the business man. The individual remains to be studied, trained, and developed—to be brought up to the standard of maximum results already reached by materials and processes.
Few employers can gather a force of efficient workers and keep them at their best. Not only is it difficult to select the right men but it is even harder to secure top efficiency after they are hired. Touching this, there will be no dispute. Experts in shop management go even farther. F. W. Taylor, who has made the closest and most scientific study, perhaps, of actual and potential efficiency among workers, declares that:—
``A first-class man can, in most cases, do from two to four times as much as is done on the average.''
``This enormous difference,'' Mr. Taylor goes on to say, ``exists in all the trades and branches of labor investigated, from pick- and-shovel men all the way up the scale to machinists and other skilled workmen. The multiplied output was not the product of a spurt or a period of overexertion; it was simply what a good man could keep up for a long term of years without injury to his health, become happier, and thrive under.''
Ask the head of any important business what is the first qualification of a foreman or manager, and he will tell you ``ability to handle men.''
Men who know how to get maximum results out of machines are common; the power to get the maximum of work out of subordinates or out of yourself is a much rarer possession.
Yet this power is not necessarily a sixth sense or a fixed attribute of personality. It is based on knowledge of the workings of the other man's mind, either intuitive or acquired. It is the purpose of this and succeeding chapters to consider some of the aspects of human nature that can be turned to advantage in the cultivation of individual efficiency and the elimination of lost motion and wasted effort.
In a thousand instances, in factory and market place, unrecognized use has been made of the principles of psychology by business men to influence other men and to attain their ends.
For the science of psychology is in respect to certain data merely common sense, the wisdom of experience, analyzed, formulated, and codified. It has taken its place, alongside physics and chemistry, as the ally and employee of trade and industry.
The time has come when a man's knowledge of his business, if the larger success is to be won, must embrace an understanding of the laws which govern the thinking and acting of the men who make and sell his products as well as those others who buy and consume them.
The achievements of the human mind and the human body seem to many to be out of the range of possible improvement through application of any science which deals with these human activities. Muscular strength and mental efficiency seem to be fixed quantities not subject to increase or improvement.
The contention here supported, however, is that human efficiency is a variable quantity which increases and decreases according to law. By the application of known physical laws the telephone and the telegraph have supplanted the messenger boy. By the laws of psychology applied to business equally astounding improvements are being and will be secured.
Employers sometimes find that their men are not working well, that they loaf and kill time on every possible occasion. The men are not trying and are indifferent to results. Under such circumstances a new foreman, the dismissal of the poorer workmen, modification of the wage scale or method of payment, or some other device may correct the evil and induce the men to exert themselves.
Again, the men are working industriously and may feel that an increase in output would be injurious to health or even impossible. They think they are doing their best; while the employer himself may feel that he is achieving but little, although he assumes that he is doing as much as it is wise to attempt. For instance, Mr. Taylor, in his studies, found that both employers and men had only a vague conception of what constituted a full day's work for a first-class man. The good workmen knew they could do more than the average; but refused to believe when, after close observation and careful timing of the elements of each operation, they were shown that they could accomplish twice or three times as much as their customary tasks.
Actual instances prove that great increase of work and results can be secured by outside stimulus and by conscious effort.
If there is one place where the limit of exertion can be counted upon, it is in an inter- collegiate athletic contest. While taking part in football games, I frequently observed that my team would be able to push the opposing team halfway across the field. Then the tables would be turned and my team would give ground. At one moment one team would seem to possess much superior physical strength to the other; the next moment the equilibrium would be changed apparently without cause. Often, however, the weaker team would rally in response to the captain's coaching. On the field a player frequently finds himself unable to exert himself. His greatest effort is necessary to force himself to work. In such a mental condition a vigorous and enthusiastic appeal from the coach may supply the needed stimulus and stir him to sudden display of all his strength.
I recently conducted a series of experiments on college athletes to determine whether coaching could actually increase a man's strength when he was already trying his ``best,'' and whether he could continue to work after he was ``completely exhausted.'' I put each man at work on machines which allowed him to exert himself to his utmost and measured his accomplishment. While he was thus employed, the coach began urging him to increase his exertion. Ordinarily the increase was marked—sometimes as much as fifty per cent.
Again, when the man had exhausted himself without coaching, the extra demand would be made on him; usually he was able to continue, even though without the coaching he had been unable to do any more. There was, of course, a point of exhaustion at which the coaching ceased to be effective.
The tests proved conclusively that when a man is doing what he believes to be his best, he is still able to do better; when he is completely exhausted, he is, under proper stimulus, able to continue.
Before a horse is started in a race it is vigorously exercised, ``warmed up.'' To the uninitiated this process seems so strenuous as to defeat its purpose by wearing out the strength of the horse. Every horseman knows, however, that the animal cannot attain top speed till after it has undergone this severe discipline.
In training for a contest an athlete usually takes long runs. Soon after the start he feels weary and exhausted, but, by disregarding this feeling and continuing to run, a sudden change comes over him commonly known as ``getting his second wind.''
Thus the runner feels wave upon wave of exhaustion followed by waves of invigoration. Had he stopped when he first began to tire, he never would have known of his wonderful reserve fund of strength which can be drawn upon only by passing through the feeling of exhaustion. He seems to be able to tap deeper and deeper reservoirs of strength.
Many men have never discovered their reserve stores of strength because they have formed the fixed habit of quitting at the first access of weariness.
Thus they never become conscious of the wonderful resources which might be used if they were willing to disregard the trifling wave of weariness.
Our best energies are not on the surface and are not available without great exertion. We have to warm up and get our second wind before we are capable of our best physical or mental accomplishments. All our muscular and psychical processes are dependent upon the activity of the nervous system. This activity seems to be at its best only after repeated and vigorous stimulation and after it has reached down to profound and widely distributed centers.
Most of us never know of our possible achievements because we have never warmed up and got our second wind in our business or professional affairs.
When an individual succeeds in tapping his reserve energies, others marvel at the tremendous tasks he accomplishes. They judge in terms of superficial energy, and for such the results would, of course, be impossible, even though many of the admiring spectators could actually equal or excel the deed.
Consider for a moment the work achieved by Mr. Edward Payson Weston who recently walked the entire distance from New York to San Francisco without halt or rest in one hundred and four days. Throughout the entire journey Mr. Weston covered about fifty miles daily, once attaining the remarkable distance of eighty-seven miles in twenty-four hours. Though Mr. Weston is seventy years of age, at the close of the walk he seemed to be relatively free from exhaustion and undaunted in spirit.
The work accomplished by such men as Gladstone and Roosevelt is incomprehensible to most of us who have never undertaken more than puny tasks. These men retain their strength and in no way seem to be undermining their health by the accomplishment of their Herculean labors. Body and mind seem to respond to the demands made upon them. Their periods of sleep and their vacations seem to be no more than the hours and days of rest required by those of us who accomplish infinitely less.
No need, however, to go beyond the field of business or industry to find men whose super-energy has carried them to epochial discoveries or feats of organization. The invention of the incandescent lamp by Edison is said to have been accomplished, for instance, only after forty-eight hours' continuous concentration on the final problem of finding the right carbon filament and determining the proper degree of vacuum in the inclosing bulb. Months of experiment and research had gone before; eighteen hours a day in the laboratory had been no uncommon thing for the inventor and his assistants, but in the last strenuous grapple with success his own physical and mental powers were alone equal to the strain. Not once during the two days and nights did he rest or sleep or take his attention from the successive tests which led up to the assembling of the lamp which lights the world's work and play.
The steel blade that is used seems to last as long as the one which is allowed to lie idle. The wearing out in the one case does not seem to be more destructive than the rusting out in the other.
We have a choice between wearing out and rusting out. Most of us unwittingly have chosen the rusting process.
This, indeed, may be said to be Edison's regular method of work, as it is the method of many other men who have accomplished great things in science and industry. Both mind and body have been trained and accustomed to exertions which seem quite impossible to ordinary individuals.
Many persons find that increased intellectual activity results in less fatigue and greater achievements. As a student I did my best work and enjoyed it most the year I carried the greatest number of courses and assumed the most outside duties. In my capacity as adviser to college students I find many who are able to accomplish thirty per cent more work than is expected of college students but fail to do equally well the regular amount. There are others who can carry the regular amount but not more without injury to their health.
College grades afford a means of recording intellectual efficiency directed toward particular problems. With no apparent change in bodily conditions the same student frequently increases his efficiency a hundred per cent. The increase seldom has an injurious effect on health, but is merely evidence of the fact that he has suddenly wakened up and is applying energies which before were undiscovered. A slow walk for a single mile leaves many persons ``dragged out'' and exhausted, but a brisk walk of the same or a greater distance results in invigoration and recuperation. Likewise the droning over an intellectual task results in exhaustion, while vigorous treatment whets the appetite for additional problems.
This swift, decisive attack on problems was the method of Edward H. Harriman, who crowded into ten years the railroad achievements of an extraordinary lifetime. Decisions involving expenditure of many millions of dollars were arrived at so quickly as to seem off-hand, even reckless. In reality, they were the products of brief periods of intense application in which he reviewed all the conditions and elements involved, and forged his conclusion, as it were, at white heat. Back of each decision was exact and thorough knowledge of the physical and traffic conditions of each of his railroads. In the case of the Union Pacific, at least, he gained this mastery by patient, intensive study of each grade and curve and freight-producing town on its 1800 miles of track.
The inhabitant of the torrid zone upon moving to a northern climate is severely affected by the chill of the atmosphere. The discomfort may last for days or months, but he becomes acclimated and is able to withstand the cold without serious discomfort. Likewise the inhabitant of a cool climate feels exhausted by the heat of the torrid zone. In some cases he is unable to accustom himself to the change, but in many instances the acclimatization follows rapidly and leaves the individual well fortified against the dangers of excessive heat.
Persons who have accustomed themselves to stimulants of any sort are completely depleted if they are unable to get the special form to which they have been accustomed. This holds true for tobacco, morphine, coffee, and many other forms of stimulants actually indulged in by many persons. If they are able to resist the temptation and deny themselves the stimulant, the period of exhaustion soon disappears and the subject may even lose all craving for that which formerly seemed essential to his very existence.
The quantity which we eat is partly a matter of habit. There is doubtless a minimum of nourishment which is absolutely necessary for health and strength. On the other hand there is doubtless a maximum limit which cannot be passed without serious injury. Our bodies seem to demand the amount of food to which we have accustomed them.
If we should increase the amount ten or twenty per cent, we might, for a while, feel some discomfort from it, but soon our system would begin to demand the greater quantity and we could not again return to the lighter diet without a period of discomfort. Likewise the amount of food which most of us consume could be reduced materially with no permanent injury or reduction of energy or danger to health. Following the reduction would be a period of discomfort and probable reduction of weight. This period would last for but a relatively short time, after which we would again strike a physiological equilibrium such that an increase of food would not be craved nor be of any benefit.
Any great increase in the amount of physical or mental work results in a feeling of weariness which is usually sufficient to cause us to return to our habitual amount of expenditure of energy. Our system is, however, wonderful in its capacity to adjust itself to changed demands which come upon it, whether these demands be in the nature of changes in temperature, in stimulants, in nourishment, or in the expenditure of physical or mental energy.
There is, of course, a limit to possible human achievements. There are resources which may not be exhausted without serious injury to health. Those who accomplish most, however, compare favorably with others in length of days and retention of health.
While overwork has its place among the things which reduce energy and shorten life, it is my opinion that overwork is not so dangerous or so common as is ordinarily supposed.
In not a few industries, the dominant house or firm has for its head a man past seventy who still keeps a firm and vigorous grip on the business: men like Richard T. Crane of Chicago, E. C. Simmons of St. Louis, and James J. Hill, whose careers are records of intense industry and absorbed devotion to the work in hand.
Many persons confuse overwork with what is really underwork accompanied with worry or unhygienic practices.
A recent writer on sociology calls attention to the fact that nervous prostrations and general breakdowns are most common among those members of society who achieve the least and who may be regarded as parasites. Exercise both of brain and of muscle is necessary for growth and for health.
Those nations which expend the most energy are probably the ones among whom longevity is greatest and the mortality rate the lowest. In the city of Chicago there are many conditions adverse to health of body and mind, yet the city is famous for its relatively low mortality as a parallel fact. It is also affirmed that the average Chicago man works longer hours and actually accomplishes more than the average man elsewhere. This excess in the expenditure of energy—in so far as it is wisely spent—may be one of the reasons for the excellent health record of the city.
In every walk of life we see that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. We all know men clearly of secondary ability who nevertheless occupy high positions in business and state. We are acquainted also with men of excellent native endowment who still have never risen above the ranks of mediocrity.
Human efficiency is not measured in terms of muscular energy nor of intellectual grasp. It is dependent upon many factors other than native strength of mind and body.
The attitude which one takes toward life in general and toward his calling in particular is of more importance than native ability. The man with concentration, or the power of continued enthusiastic application, will surpass a brilliant competitor if this latter is careless and indifferent towards his work. Many who have accomplished great things in business, in the professions, and in science have been men of moderate ability. For testimony of this fact take this striking quotation from Charles Darwin.
``I have no great quickness of apprehension or wit, which is so remarkable in some clever men,'' he writes. ``I am a poor critic. . . . My power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is very limited; and therefore I never could have succeeded with metaphysics or mathematics. My memory is extensive, yet hazy; it suffices to make me cautious by vaguely telling me that I have observed or read something opposed to the conclusion which I am drawing, or on the other hand in favor of it. So poor in one sense is my memory, that I have never been able to remember for more than a few days a single date or a line of poetry. I have a fair share of invention, and of common sense or judgment, such as every fairly successful lawyer or doctor must have, but not, I believe, in any higher degree.''
This is presumably an honest statement of fact, and in addition it should be remembered that Darwin was always physically weak, that for forty years he was practically an invalid and able to work for only about three hours a day. In these few hours he was able to accomplish more, however, than other men of apparently superior ability who were able to work long hours daily for many years. Darwin made the most of his ability and increased his efficiency to its maximum.
For a parallel in business, Cyrus H. McCormick might be named. The inventor of the reaper and builder of the first American business which covered the world was not a man of extraordinary intellect, wit, or judgment. He had, however, the will and power to focus his attention on a single question until the answer was evolved. Again and again, his biographers tell us, he pursued problems which eluded him far into the night and he was frequently found asleep at his desk the morning following. When roused, instead of seeking rest, he addressed his task again and usually overcame his obstacle before leaving it.
All these considerations point to one conclusion. It is quite certain, then, that most of us are whiling away our days and occupying positions far below our possibilities. A corollary to this statement is Mr. Taylor's conclusion that ``few of our best-organized industries have attained the maximum output of first-class men.''
Not to give too wide application to his discovery that the average day's work is only half or less than half what a first-class man can do, it is more than probable that the average man could, with no injury to his health, increase his efficiency fifty per cent.
We are making use of only part of our existing mental and physical powers and are not taxing them beyond their strength. Increased accomplishments, and heightened efficiency would cultivate and develop them, would waken the latent powers and tap hidden stores of energy within us, would widen the fields in which we labor and would open up to us new and wider horizons of honorable and profitable activity.
In succeeding chapters will be described specific methods, many of which are employed by individual firms, but which could be utilized by other business men, to insure their own efficiency and that of their employees. The experiences of many successful houses will be linked to the laws of psychology to point the way that will bring about greater results from men.