Ye gods: an efficient orchestra!

21 April 2016

Last week’s TWOG described four different species of organizations, and warned about mixing them up. This week’s TWOG provides a graphic example of doing just that: confusing a professional organization with a machine organization.

A young, enthusiastic MBA student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of an organization with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on everything he had learned, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

a.  For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number of oboes should therefore be reduced, and the work spread more evenly over the whole concert program, thus eliminating the peaks and valleys of activity.

b.  All twenty violins were playing identical notes. This would seem to be an unnecessary duplication, so the staff of this section should be cut drastically.

c.  Obsolescence of equipment is another matter warranting further investigation. The program noted that the leading violinist’s instrument was several hundred years old. Now, if normal depreciation schedules had been applied, the value of this instrument would have been reduced to zero and the purchase of more modern equipment recommended long ago.

d.  Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demisemiquavers, which seems to be an unnecessary refinement. It is recommended that all notes be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver. If this were done, it would be possible to use trainees and lower-grade operatives more extensively.

e.   Finally, there seemed to be too much repetition of some of the musical passages. Therefore, scores should be pruned to a considerable extent. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns something that has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that, if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an intermission.

If this student had instead chosen a factory, nobody would be laughing, perhaps least of all the people in that factory. In other words, this kind of mixing up is no laughing matter. So what to do? First, get your species of organizations straight (i.e., read last week’s TWOG). Second, beware of efficiency, as well as proficiency, innovation, and leadershipout of their natural contexts (also in last week’s TWOG).

© of the story: unknown, but published more or less as above in the mid 1950s, in an American professor’s bulletin, a Canadian military journal, and Harper’s Magazine, based on an anonymous memorandum that circulated in London and was probably published originally in Her Majesty’s Treasury of the Courts. With minor editing, this was first published here on 3 October 2014. Next week: The mythical manager as orchestra conductor.

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