Elton Mayo’s pioneering research at a Western Electric Company manufacturing plant near Chicago between 1924 and 1933 represents one of the most important historical events in the development of Industrial Organization psychology. This body of research, collectively referred to as the Hawthorne Studies (named from the plant in which they took place), was influential in the development of the human relations movement and triggered research and debate into what it is that drives human behaviour at work.
We need, especially, to solve the problem of working together. There is no problem of greater importance at the present time. Every nation of the civilized world is facing one of the most serious economic and social crises in its history. And in every national group, though perhaps in varying degrees, there is difficulty in achieving effective co-operation, both within the group and internationally with other groups. One frequently hears the assertion that the present emergency is remarkable by reason of the lack of effective leadership. What is meant by this, more often than not, is that in this large-scale modern world we have failed to make special studies of the conditions that make for effective human co-operation.
Certain ideas expressed in speeches made half a century ago by my grandfather, the psychologist and organizational theorist, George Elton Mayo (1880-1949), are disturbingly relevant to the world today.
He is an inveterate optimist who is not sobered by a comparison of our own time with the high expectations of a century ago. Bernard Cracroft, writing in 1867, expressed the general attitude of the early years of the nineteenth century. “The mercantile fever, the ardent faith in progress” was based upon belief in “the boundless development of human energy striving like fire ever upwards.” “Unforeseen but probable discoveries” were expected at any moment to “throw additional millions into the lap of human comfort.” By such means it was expected that man would raise himself above the possibilities of privation and strife.
This belief expressed certainty of immense future advance in scientific discovery, mechanical invention, the development of economic knowledge and industrial organization. And this belief has nowhere proved vain: the actual advance in the last century of scientific discovery, mechanical invention, economic knowledge and organization has surpassed by far anything that Cracroft and his contemporaries could possibly have anticipated. To cross the continent from coast to coast in a few hours of the night by air has become a commonplace. Men talk to each other across three thousand miles of sea without wires or any tangible connection. In no area of activity have nineteenth-century expectations been disappointed: the fulfilment has by far outdone the hope.Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Elton Mayo, The Descent into Chaos | Speech, New England Conference on National Defense, April 1941
The Quartet Years was first published in Fulfilment & Betrayal 1975-1995 by Naim Attallah (Quartet Books).
Gael Elton Mayo & The Magnum Photographic Group
My mother, Gael Elton Mayo, the novelist, painter and ‘Girl Friday’ for Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and David Seymour at Magnum Photographers in its early years, was introduced to Naim Attallah by Patrick Seale. Quartet Books published her autobiography, The Mad Mosaic, which sold unexpectedly well and was reprinted, leading to the later publication of her account of surviving cancer for twenty years, Living With Beelzebub.
Quartet was avant-garde, innovative and independent, rather like Canongate today. I was going nowhere fast after leaving university, so was sent by my mother to see Naim Attallah in his plush Poland Street offices. He hired me to work with Quartet’s production director, Gary Grant.
1990s avant garde indie publishing
So one Autumn day in 1987, I turned up at 27 Goodge Street, a Dickensian building in London’s West End. I was greeted at the head of the stairs by an intriguing and enigmatic individual, who disappeared into a small office piled high with books and manuscripts, making a remark as he did so about the bars on his office window and the Birdman of Alcatraz. This was Quartet’s editorial director, Stephen Pickles. His office on the first floor was at the back of the building, next to Gary’s and mine at the front, overlooking Goodge Street. Quartet had a good reputation for publishing lavish, high-quality art and photography books and Gary was an expert at overseeing such projects, when not in the pub across the road. Production was not really my thing, so I began to do occasional odd jobs for Pickles, which rather annoyed Gary. Initially I made telephone calls to Charlotte Rampling, Lothar Schirmer and Joanna Richardson.
Elton Mayo was born in Australia one hundred years ago this month (on December 26, 1880) and died in a nursing home in Guildford almost sixty-nine years later. Towards the end of his life, through his association with the Harvard Business School and the Hawthorne Studies, he enjoyed a public acclaim granted to few social scientists of his day. None however would have envied him the fall from grace which was to follow his death. By the mid-1950s, the terms ‘Mayoism’ and ‘Mayoite’ were recognised additions to the perjorative vocabulary of social science. In 1946 an overblown account of his work in Fortune compared him to Thorsten Veblen and John Dewey, praising his erudition, rare authority and beneficent influence on labour-management relations. Yet a decade later, in his influential monograph Hawthorne Revisited, Landsberger was obliged to devote a whole chapter to the deficiencies of Mayo, as listed by such critics as Daniel Bell, Reinhard Bendix, John Dunlop, Clark Kerr, C. Wright Mills and Wilbert Moore. Charges of conceptual ineptitude and of theoretical and methodological narrowness formed only part of the indictment: Mayo’s emphasis on industrial collaboration was said to ignore central economic and political issues (notably the functions of trade unions) and to relegate industrial social science to the role of a managerial or ‘cow’-sociology.
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