Biographies of Selected Organizational Theorists
1. ADAM SMITH (Wealth of Nations, 1723-1790)
Born on June 5, 1723 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, Adam Smith’s father died before his birth and he survived being briefly kidnapped by “gipsies” when he was just 4 years old to become one of the most prominent and influential economist theorists in history who is known today as the “Father of Economics” (Rae, 2009). Although his contributions were multiple, Smith is most famous today as being the author of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth Of Nations (1776) which maintained that a laissez faire approach to commerce was in everyone’s best interests and the extent to which governments intervened is the extent to which the numerous benefits of free trade are diminished (Butler, 2019).
In sum, Smith did not conceptualize international commerce as a zero-sum enterprise but rather an opportunity for all stakeholders to benefit. For instance, according to one of Smith’s many biographers, “Because trade benefits both sides, it increases our prosperity just as surely as do agriculture or manufacture [and] a nation’s wealth is not the quantity of gold and silver in its vaults, but the total of its production and commerce” (Butler, 2019, para. 3). In addition, it was Smith’s now-famous view that marketplace forces would invariably sort out what types of activities were profitable and therefore worth pursuing while simultaneously weeding out those activities that were not through the influences of an “invisible hand.” In this regard, Butler reports that Smith believed that, “Freedom and self-interest need not produce chaos, but – as if guided by an ‘invisible hand’ – order and concord [and] as people struck bargains with each other, the nation’s resources would be drawn automatically to the ends and purposes that people valued most highly” (2019, para. 6).
The fundamental economic principles that were set forth in Smith’s Wealth of Nations were not only highly influential among his contemporaries, they remain salient today. As Butler points out, “Even today the common sense of free trade is accepted worldwide, whatever the practical difficulties of achieving it” (2019, para. 5). Indeed, while the “practical difficulties” of conducting modern international trade today extend to many factors that Smith could not envision, his basic economic tenets are still relevant despite the profound changes that have taken place in the global marketplace during the intervening three centuries. As Butler concludes, “Smith had a radical, fresh understanding of how human societies actually work. He realized that social harmony would emerge naturally as human beings struggled to find ways to live and work with each other” (2019, para. 7). This also means that Smith’s contributions drew on empirical observations concerning how the real-world operated rather than drawing on abstractions.
2. KARL MARX - The conflict of capital and labor (Communist Manifesto, 1848)
Born on May 5, 1818 in Trier, Germany, Karl Marx was a friend and collaborator with other influential economists of the era, including Friedrich Engels (Mihalache, 2015). Together with Engels, Marx co-authored the enormously influential Communist Manifesto in 1848 which was prefaced with the prescient caution that, “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of Communism” and which concluded with a call to action for the “Working men of all countries [to] unite!” (as cited in Mihalache, 2015, para. 6). These two formative statements would become a clarion call for working people around the world in the years to come, but given their highly controversial nature, it is little wonder that Marx has attracted his share of admirers and detractors. For example, according to one biographer, “Much of Marx’s comprehensive view is wrong, in some cases catastrophically wrong. But, the ‘redeemable parts’ of Marx show some profound insights into the problems of capitalism in democratic states” (Munger, 2020, p. 509).
It is important to note, though, that Marx built on the earlier work of other influential theorists. For example, according to one biographer, “Picking up where Kant and Hegel left off, Marx reformulates the theory-praxis problem in a revolutionary way. For him, change is no longer introduced by dogmatic assumptions; rather, it is through the critique of the old that the new becomes possible” (Mihalache, 2015, para. 7). In other words, it is essential to continuously question the status quo and its antecedents to identify social, political and economic constraints and opportunities.
Although the conflict of capital and labor that is explicated in the Communist Manifesto has been interpreted in different ways over the years, most authorities agree that the main thrust of Marx’s economic principles concern the fundamental struggle between social classes that tends to make the rich even richer while simultaneously keeping the downtrodden masses trodden down. In this regard, Munger (2020) advises that the key point made by the Communist Manifesto is that “the motor animating historical change is class struggle” [wherein] “two large-scale social phenomena condition class struggle: institutions and ideologies” (p. 510).
In this context, the institutions to which Marx refers are not necessarily physical entities per se but are rather comprised of both formal and informal rules, typically politically based, that serve as the framework which creates class-based struggles. Conversely, ideologies represent the shared consciousness and accepted set of norms that serve as the rationale for the aforementioned institutionally generated class-based struggles (Munger, 2020). Consequently, one of the key point to emerge from a close reading of the Communist Manifesto concerns the manner in which the capitalist system’s commodification process operated to place workers at a continuous disadvantage by separating them from the full benefits of their labor (Munger, 2020).
…the tendency to apply his methods to such an extreme that workers are relegated to an assembly-line mentality that discourages innovation, diminishes employee morale and exacerbates job dissatisfaction. Nevertheless, understood and applied as originally conceptualized by Taylor, the scientific management principles he outlined have been one of the major driving forces behind shaping the workplace of the 21st century.
6. CHESTER BARNARD – Theories of Authority and Incentives (1886-1961; Functions of the Executive, 1938)
Mainstream anthropologists believe that early humans first learned how to cooperate with each other in gathering food and hunting prey as a survival strategy, and Chester Barnard likewise maintained that modern humans also found cooperation as valuable approach to minimizing their own limitations while simultaneously maximizing the effects of their labor. For example, according to Scott and Mitchell (1987), “Cooperation was the countervailing social act in which people engaged in order to offset their individual limitations. Barnard viewed cooperation as arising spontaneously from the processes of human interaction, at first involving just a few individuals” (p. 35). It was this “what’s in it for me” aspect that served as the primary motivating factor when humans were still living in caves just as it remains relevant today.
Indeed, cooperation between management and workers was at the core of his Functions of the Executive wherein Barnard stressed the importance of the role played by executives in forging win-wn compromises that take all stakeholders’ best interests into account. In this regard, Donnelly (2014) points out that from Barnard’s point of view, “The capacity of the executive is ‘the strategic factor in cooperation.’ It is not found in a simple acceptance of the codes of the organization but requires ‘the creation of moral codes for others’” (p. 65). While it may seem disingenuous and even sinister to attempt to inculcate a moral code for others, Barnard held that the positive organizational culture that is capable of being created and maintained by corporate executives can serve as the framework that is needed to ensure that employees recognize the “what’s in it for them” aspects of their labor.
Over time, the cumulative effects of this cooperative approach to achieving organizational goals creates a synergistic effect. For example, according to Scott and Mitchell (1987), “In general Barnard believed in an interactive relationship between effectiveness and efficiency. The more people were satisfied, the more they would contribute to the cooperative enterprise; the more effective the enterprise, the more it would be able to distribute satisfaction to its participants” (p. 36). In other words, similar to Taylor, Barnard wanted to improve the ability of workers to earn a living through a cooperative approach that maximized their efforts towards achieving a common goal. On a final note, though, it is also important to point out that Barnard was a pragmatist…
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