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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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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