Spanish slaves mining for gold

For anyone who has experienced working in a corporate environment, reading books about 21st century management can be really depressing. Rapid Development made me feel really down (especially since it was just lying there in the office bookshelf with no managers or senior developers reading it), but it wasn’t as bad as The Essential Drucker: that book affected me so much that at one point I closed the book and didn’t touch it until I felt better.

Here’s an excerpt from Peopleware, another book on managing software teams, discussing something about productivity. See if it could make you put your face in your hands and groan:

Historians long ago formed an abstraction about different theories of value: The Spanish Theory, for one, held that only a fixed amount of value existed on earth, and therefore the path to the accumulation of wealth was to learn to extract it more efficiently from the soil or from people’s backs. Then there was the English Theory that held that value could be created through ingenuity and technology. So the English had an Industrial Revolution, while the Spanish spun their wheels trying to exploit the land and the Indians in the New World. They moved huge quantities of gold across the ocean, and all they got for their effort was enormous inflation (too much gold money chasing too few usable goods).

The Spanish Theory of Value is alive and well among managers everywhere. You see that whenever they talk about productivity. Productivity ought to mean achieving more in an hour of work, but all too often it has come to mean extracting more for an hour of pay. There is a large difference. The Spanish Theory managers dream of attaining new productivity levels through the simple mechanism of unpaid overtime. They divide whatever work is done in a week by forty hours, not by the eighty or ninety hours that the worker actually put in.

That’s not exactly productivity—it’s more like fraud—but it’s the state of the art for many American managers. They bully and cajole their people into long hours. They impress upon them how important the delivery date is (even though it may be totally arbitrary; the world isn’t going to stop just because a project completes a month late). They trick them into accepting hopelessly tight schedules, shame them into sacrificing any and all to meet the deadline, and do anything to get them to work longer and harder.

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