When Work Becomes Routine
In 1920, Thomas Edison gave an interview in honor of his 73rd birthday and had this to say about his accomplishments:
Today, I am wondering what would have happened to me by now if, 50 years ago, some fluent talker had converted me to the theory of the eight-hour day and convinced me that it was not fair to my fellow workers to put forth my best efforts in my work? I am glad that the eight-hour day had not been invented when I was a young man. If my life had been made up of eight-hour days, I don't believe I could have accomplished a great deal.
Corporate America was just getting its start when Edison made these comments, but he had already identified what he didn't like about it: an eight-hour day, 9-to-5 mentality. Make no mistake; he loved his work and probably worked more than most of us might care to. The danger he saw in the eight-hour day was not so much that of less work but of work becoming just another routine.
Edison continued his interview by discussing his concern about such rule-driven routines. He stated:
This country would not amount to as much as it does if the young men of 50 years ago had been afraid that they might earn more than they were paid. There were shirkers in those days, to be sure, but they didn't boast of it. The shirker tried to conceal or excuse his lack of ambition. I am not against the eight-hour day, or any other thing that protects labor from exploitation at the hands of ruthless employers, but it makes me sad to see young Americans shackle their abilities by blindly conforming to rules which force the industrious man to keep in step with the shirker.