cepp_logo5.gif (13296 bytes)


newspaper.gif (867 bytes)

<Back to Articles Page

The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Divide labor--increase production, July 14, 2006, 7D.

In 1776, Adam Smith published his famous book, The Wealth of Nations.  In that book, he described some key economic and business principles that still hold true today.  The first chapter of his book described the concepts of division of labor.  His classic example describes the work processes and production of workers in a pin-making factory. 

Smith described that making pins involved drawing out, straightening, cutting, and whitening wire, grinding points, and making and attaching heads to the wire.  Several distinct operations were also required to make the heads.  Completed pins also had to be bundled and packaged.  In total, about 18 distinct tasks were required to make pins.

As described by Smith, novice workers who created pins entirely by themselves could each perhaps “make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty.”  Workers probably had to put on and take off gloves, locate and handle tools, move between workstations, and learn or relearn skills that had not been recently practiced.  Extending Smith’s conclusions, a group of 10 novices working by themselves could produce no more than 200 pins in a day.

Smith also described the work of pin makers employed in a factory.  Rather than working independently and performing all of the tasks by themselves, these workers functioned as a team and each performed only a few of the 18 pin-making tasks—which they did everyday.  Smith estimated that the total daily output for this group of workers was 48,000 pins or 4,800 pins per worker each day.  Smith gave three reasons for those tremendous gains in productivity.

When physical tasks are continually repeated, the body learns to automatically perform the motions with minimal concentration or mental effort—he called this dexterity of the worker.  Smith also recognized that dividing labor does away with time wasted moving between work stations, locating tools, putting on equipment, and learning/relearning tasks.  Lastly, by performing the same tasks day in and day out, workers can envision and construct machines to aid them in their work and to make production more efficient.

Smith suggested that the division of labor contributes to nations becoming wealthy and prosperous.  He described that by everyone in a society working in a job where they could become specialists, the benefits of the division of labor would arise and considerable excess output would be produced.  When division of labor occurs in every job and industry in a society, excess production would occur throughout all areas of society.  By then trading the excess output of workers throughout society in a common marketplace, all people could enjoy more goods and services at lower prices than if they had all worked independently for all they needed.

In addition to the tremendous differences in output between Smith’s workers, there is another significant difference.  The factory workers were organized.  Organization requires a coordinating mechanism—or manager.  To reap the benefits of division of labor, groups and organizations must have workers who specialize in defining jobs, training and supplying workers, and controlling the flow of work.  Part of that specialization includes understanding the principles and benefits of the division of labor.

<Back to Articles Page

reporternews.gif (5314 bytes)

© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved