Shop Class as Soulcraft

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of WorkShop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gonna be a good book.
I've hardly started but lots of positive reaction to this book already.

Early on we find the thesis, that processs optimization reduces work, especially white collar intellectual work, to mere clerking, removing the brains and the joy from it. This really strikes a chord with me because I've seen it come and go at various times in my career. A fellow described it to me late in my first job, that nobody should be deviating from the process. I was secretly revolted: I used my mind to advance the project: the company benefited from my thinking! I thought to myself. He was a monster. At another job I wrote in my notebook that people were knights, and I knew my boss believed it too. The monster's back. There is a tendency to worship process because it is the thing you can codify and rely on: safer than requiring great men & women to do heroic deeds. As a manager you can predict things better that way. Such managers will want fixed price contracts, whatever the cost, so there are no surprises.

I could take issue with parts of the book too. One example is the revelation that, with the industrial revolution well along, all manufacturing done on production lines, next brain work is being turned into clerking. Really? Hasn't it always been so? Crawford's choice of the noun "clerk" is strong enough to conjure up archetype Bob Cratchit, an example from the deep past, and it is by abstracting upward and compressing earlier knowledge into processable chunks that we make progress after all. I think we've always been doing that. Is Crawford's lament just one of finding himself on the supporting trunk of the forest rather than the vital growing tip of the tree's leafy extremity? We will not all get to be at the top.

Still I won't complain much. I can imagine a rewarding smithy, and an unrewarding investment fund boiler room, and I reacted with horror, this very week, when a human inadequacy, instead of being traced to it's responsible perpetrator, was ascribed automatically to imperfect adherence to the supposedly omniscient process, as though that could save us! Highlighting it's massive shortcomings is certain to launch a round of process improvement, instead of demoting the nincompoop who perpetrated the error. I need to think a little bit about how to turn this interaction, and this paragraph, into some more positive outcome.

I really liked an anecdote on p43 wherein he describes people, doing subsistence piece work at home, were counter-intuitively motivated to work less by increasing the unit price; pre-modern consumers, they didn't want more stuff as much as more leisure. Marketing soon fixed that, haha!

There's an undercurrent of political tension. On p 45, He notes "liberals" want to reduce teaching to standardized testing; "liberalism is by design a politics of irresponsibility." So there is some partisanship, unworthy of the book, and in this case I'd say just wrong. Political argument is so polarizing and contentious that it risks the thesis to introduce it like this (and there are several examples already.)

View all my reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment