Full disclosure: I have an MBA. So do several people I know, some of whom learned something valuable during their program. When I was coming of age in the professional world, getting an MBA was just what you were supposed to do if you wanted to move up.

In fact, MBA programs exploded during the first decade of the 2000s. Everyone was doing it.

So I did it too. 

When I got my MBA, I already had one graduate degree in a somewhat related field: public management, which focused on government and nonprofit organizations.

In both of my graduate degrees--and while serving on a total quality management (TQM) committee for my employer at the time--I attended more than one course that began with a brief history of management theory. And most histories of management theory begin with the story of one man:

Taylor was a mechanical engineer, and is considered one of the first management consultants and the "father" of scientific management. His most well-known research attempted to quantify the exact--down to the second--amount of time it took employees to complete specific tasks.

While Taylor's theories are viewed as harsh and impractical today, his work was still cited in every class I attended that discussed the roots of modern management science. What's not often discussed is how little Taylor thought of the people who actually produced products in the factories he studied.

For example, when it came to ironworkers, Taylor had this to say:

"One of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type."

Taylor would go on to say that, "Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work."

So, why does it matter what Frederick Taylor thought? His ideas are no longer taught, and he died 100 years ago last year.

It matters because a house built on a weak foundation is always a weak house--no matter how many nice fixtures are added later on.

It's hard to imagine an idea with a weaker foundation than one based on the concept that men (and it was just men) who do the work in the first place must be stupid--because only stupid men would stoop to working with their hands. Business communication has improved since Taylor's time, and it's hard to imagine anyone using the type of language Taylor used in today's world.

However, it is not hard to imagine the contributions of workers, creators, and makers being devalued. It's also not hard to imagine those contributions being considered secondary to the people Taylor valued the most: accountants.

One only has to read about the American automotive industry to witness a business that has nearly been destroyed--several times--because of an emphasis on financial metrics, rather than products, customers, and experiences.

Beyond just the boardroom, the language of business also has an influence on our society, and if there is one thing that is obvious right now, it's that people want to be seen as people, not as demographics, or "inputs," or "labor units."

MBAs (like me) aren't to blame for all of the ills in the world. But Taylor's ideas influenced a field of study that has in turn heavily influenced business, politics, and society for the last several decades--decades that have seen a stagnating or decreasing quality of life for the vast majority of people.

So maybe it's time to try something different.

Like valuing the men and women who handle the iron (or do the coding).  

Published on: Jul 12, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.