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The belief that the art of managing people can be reduced to science has been guffawed by journalist Dan Lyons in his new book, "Lab Rats: Why Modern Work Makes People Miserable" (Atlantic Books).

Lyons says the phenomenon has created a whole layer of workshops, online courses and exercises for employees – on top of their actual jobs – which require people to learn an alphabet soup of acronyms, wear a hat and, by the end of the day, draw a smiley or angry face on a calendar that plots team members’ moods.

Lyons writes of an American named Frederick Taylor who, in the 1890s, claimed he had developed a formula that could optimise the efficiency of any process. He says Taylor, who has been described as the founding father of management science, had deeply flawed methods to the point of being ridiculous.

“Taylor carried a stopwatch and timed everything,” Lyons writes. “He published scientific sounding papers … [But] he fudged his numbers. He cheated and lied. He was at best misguided and at worst a ‘shameless fraud’, as Jill Lepore put it in The New Yorker in October 2009.”

In Taylor’s lifetime, some of the first big global corporations were coming into being and major universities were founding their business schools. Many of these schools taught their students Taylorism. His principles would go on to inform MBA curriculums and inspire a whole new vocation: management consultants.

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