Does Respect For Humanity Mean The Same As Respect For People? | M. Ballé [Review]

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“Dear Gemba coach,

Does respect for humanity mean the same as respect for people? I hear that the literal translation of the Japanese phrase “respect for people” is really respect for “humanness” – whatever that means?

I honestly don’t know, but it’s a very interesting point. I don’t know a word of Japanese,…”

My comments: It’s odd that a  Gemba coach should admit to not knowing a word of Japanese. This career choice, perhaps, implies an effort at mastering this language.


“…but Jon Miller, who does, makes a similar point here: he says the original Toyota phrase really means ‘holding precious what it is to be human.'”

My comments: Yes, Jon Miller grew up in Japan, speaks Japanese like a native, and has done a great job translating  Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management.  With only four years of immersion in Japan, I am not at his level, but I know the language well enough to read the manufacturing literature and tell the difference between respect for people and respect for humanity in the TPS sense. Here are a few posts on this subject:

“…Our Western approach to organizing work is deeply steeped in the desire to turn human being into robots. We keep thinking that humans are fallible in a way systems are not – human error…”

My comments: There is no such thing as a “Western approach.”  Thinking of a group of countries at “the West” meant something during the Cold War but this “West” included Japan. Today, this label for a territory ranging from San Francisco to Warsaw or even Moscow is about as relevant as lumping together Japan, China, India, Thailand, etc. as “The East.”

And who exactly has had this desire to turn human beings into robots? The story of work organization in the industrial revolution is a bit more complex. For example, much of the production work in England, Germany, or France was controlled by guilds that restricted the numbers of their members and forbade innovation, as it might be disruptive. Breaking the guilds’ stranglehold on technology, markets, and labor was one of the keys to industrialization. And the main problem with production by individual craftsmen was not human error but low productivity and inconsistency. Two craftsmen would make screws with different threads for the same purpose, both believing theirs was best.


frederick-ii“…Modern organizational thinking started with Frederick II of Prussia who beat the hell out of his neighbors by creating the first modern army, transforming haphazard regiments of condemned criminal and aristocratic officers into obedient automatons, inventing much of the bureaucratic concepts we now take for granted, such as rules, roles, uniforms, controls, etc.”

My comments: Why single out Frederick II? Before him, people like Sun Tsu, Julius Caesar, or Tokugawa Ieyasu had worked out rules, roles, uniforms and controls for standing armies.


“Adam Smith and Max Weber codified this system by showing that (1) work could be broken down into smaller and smaller specialisms and that (*2) very large organizations could be run as “rational” bureaucracies by requiring  individuals to play impersonal and dispassionate “roles” – the perfect grey civil servant (to oppose the arbitrary, colorful aristocrat). Frederick Taylor perfected the system by having experts minutely optimize the working rules and create incentive systems to persuade workers to conform. From the mid-sixties, these techniques that had so far been applied to blue-collar workers, spread to white collar workers as computer systems could now regulate everyone’s work. (In the lean movement, we see traces of such thinking in ideas such as “leader standard work” and so on.)”

adam-smithMy comments: So Adam Smith, Max Weber, and Frederick Taylor who formalized the approach of turning human beings into robots? I haven’t read Adam Smith, so I would like to know where exactly he does it. My second-hand understanding of his ideas is that he believes in the invisible hand of the market as a means of allocating resources, and in division of labor to increase production, but I perceive his division as being between butcher, cobbler, and weaver rather than between different operations along a manufacturing process.

max-weberMax Weber, I am more familiar with, having just finished reading his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. I found no trace in it of mandating that individuals should play dispassionate roles or be perfectly gray. Much of Weber’s essay is on the evolution of the German word “Beruf,” from when it was coined by Luther and elaborated on by Calvin to its modern usage. In calvinism, it is each individual’s “calling,” meaning the activity intended for them by God, to which they should dedicate themselves with passion, for the glory of God. In today’s German, it just means profession or trade. Over time, as the ideas crossed over to England and later the future US, they were drained of religious content, and morphed into what Weber calls the “spirit of capitalism” as expressed in Benjamin Franklin’s 1748 letter of Advice to a Young Tradesman. By today, more than 100 years after Weber wrote his essay, it has morphed again into the exhortations to “follow your dream” and “make the world a better place.”

frederick-taylorI am also familiar with the work of Frederick Taylor, but I think his influence on the organization of production work is overstated and that neither he nor his disciples succeeded at achieving what he had set out to do, which was to prevent workers from colluding to curtail output. It was the wrong goal to pursue, and this failure overshadows all of Taylor’s other accomplishments, including the identification of the support functions needed for manufacturing and innovations in machine-tool technology. Blue collar workers successfully sabotaged the use of Taylor’s techniques over decades in production, and they never spread to white collar work. Here are a few posts in this blog on this topic:

Incidentally, the word robot was coined in 1920, once Smith, Weber, and Taylor were all dead.

#AdamSmith, #MaxWeber, #FrederickTaylor, #RespectForHumanity, #RespectForPeople