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Speeding Up Business Post by :mehowey Category :Short Stories Author :Stephen Leacock Date :November 2011 Read :2557

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Speeding Up Business

We were sitting at our editorial desk in our inner room, quietly writing up our week's poetry, when a stranger looked in upon us.

He came in with a burst,--like the entry of the hero of western drama coming in out of a snowstorm. His manner was all excitement. "Sit down," we said, in our grave, courteous way. "Sit down!" he exclaimed, "certainly not! Are you aware of the amount of time and energy that are being wasted in American business by the practice of perpetually sitting down and standing up again? Do you realize that every time you sit down and stand up you make a dead lift of"--he looked at us,--"two hundred and fifty pounds? Did you ever reflect that every time you sit down you have to get up again?" "Never," we said quietly, "we never thought of it." "You didn't!" he sneered. "No, you'd rather go on lifting 250 pounds through two feet,--an average of 500 foot-pounds, practically 62 kilowatts of wasted power. Do you know that by merely hitching a pulley to the back of your neck you could generate enough power to light your whole office?"

We hung our heads. Simple as the thing was, we had never thought of it. "Very good," said the Stranger. "Now, all American business men are like you. They don't think,--do you understand me? They don't think."

We realized the truth of it at once. We had never thought. Perhaps we didn't even know how.

"Now, I tell you," continued our visitor, speaking rapidly and with a light of wild enthusiasm in his face, "I'm out for a new campaign,--efficiency in business--speeding things up--better organization."

"But surely," we said, musingly, "we have seen something about this lately in the papers?" "Seen it, sir," he exclaimed, "I should say so. It's everywhere. It's a new movement. It's in the air. Has it never struck you how a thing like this can be seen in the air?"

Here again we were at fault. In all our lives we had never seen anything in the air. We had never even looked there. "Now," continued the Stranger, "I want your paper to help. I want you to join in. I want you to give publicity."

"Assuredly," we said, with our old-fashioned politeness. "Anything which concerns the welfare, the progress, if one may so phrase it--" "Stop," said the visitor. "You talk too much. You're prosy. Don't talk. Listen to me. Try and fix your mind on what I am about to say."

We fixed it. The Stranger's manner became somewhat calmer. "I am heading," he said, "the new American efficiency movement. I have sent our circulars to fifty thousand representative firms, explaining my methods. I am receiving ten thousand answers a day"--here he dragged a bundle of letters out of his pocket--"from Maine, from New Hampshire, from Vermont,"--"Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut," we murmured.

"Exactly," he said; "from every State in the Union--from the Philippines, from Porto Rico, and last week I had one from Canada." "Marvellous," we said; "and may one ask what your new methods are?"

"You may," he answered. "It's a proper question. It's a typical business question, fair, plain, clean, and even admitting of an answer. The great art of answering questions," he continued, "is to answer at once without loss of time, friction or delay in moving from place to place. I'll answer it."

"Do," we said.

"I will," said the Stranger. "My method is first: to stimulate business to the highest point by infusing into it everywhere the spirit of generous rivalry, of wholesome competition; by inviting each and every worker to outdo each and every other."

"And can they do it?" we asked, puzzled and yet fascinated. "Can they all do it?"

"They do, and they can," said the Stranger. "The proof of it is that they are doing it. Listen. Here is an answer to my circular No. 6, Efficiency and Recompense, that came in this morning. It is from a steel firm. Listen." The Stranger picked out a letter and read it.

Dear Sir:

Our firm is a Steel Corporation. We roll rails. As soon as we read your circular on the Stimulus of Competition we saw that there were big things in it. At once we sent one of our chief managers to the rolling, mill. He carried a paper bag in his hand. "Now boys," he said, "every man who rolls a rail gets a gum-drop." The effect was magical. The good fellows felt a new stimulus. They now roll out rails like dough. Work is a joy to them. Every Saturday night the man who has rolled most gets a blue ribbon; the man who has rolled the next most, a green ribbon; the next most a yellow ribbon, and so on through the spectroscope. The man who rolls least gets only a red ribbon. It is a real pleasure to see the brave fellows clamouring for their ribbons. Our output, after defraying the entire cost of the ribbons and the gum-drops, has increased forty per cent. We intend to carry the scheme further by allowing all the men who get a hundred blue ribbons first, to exchange them for the Grand Efficiency Prize of the firm,--a pink ribbon. This the winner will be entitled to wear whenever and wherever he sees fit to wear it.

The stranger paused for breath.

"Marvellous," we said. "There is no doubt the stimulus of keen competition--"

"Shut up," he said impatiently. "Let me explain it further. Competition is only part of it. An item just as big that makes for efficiency is to take account of the little things. It's the little things that are never thought of."

Here was another wonder! We realized that we had never thought of them. "Take an example," the Stranger continued. "I went into a hotel the other day. What did I see? Bell-boys being summoned upstairs every minute, and flying up in the elevators. Yes,--and every time they went up they had to come down again. I went up to the manager. I said, 'I can understand that when your guests ring for the bell-boys they have to go up. But why should they come down? Why not have them go up and never come down?' He caught the idea at once. That hotel is transformed. I have a letter from the manager stating that they find it fifty per cent. cheaper to hire new bell-boys instead of waiting for the old ones to come down."

"These results," we said, "are certainly marvellous. "You are most assuredly to be congratulated on--"

"You talk too much," said the Stranger. "Don't do it. Learn to listen. If a young man comes to me for advice in business,--and they do in hundreds, lots of them,--almost in tears over their inefficiency,--I'd say, 'Young man, never talk, listen; answer, but don't speak.' But even all this is only part of the method. Another side of it is technique."

"Technique?" we said, pleased but puzzled.

"Yes, the proper use of machine devices. Take the building trade. I've revolutionized it. Till now all the bricks even for a high building were carried up to the mason in hods. Madness! Think of the waste of it. By my method instead of carrying the bricks to the mason we take the mason to the brick,--lower him on a wire rope, give him a brick, and up he goes again. As soon as he wants another brick he calls down, 'I want a brick,' and down he comes like lightning."

"This," we said, "is little short of--"

"Cut it out. Even that is not all. Another thing bigger than any is organization. Half the business in this country is not organized. As soon as I sent out my circular, No. 4, HAVE YOU ORGANIZED YOUR BUSINESS! I got answers in thousands! Heart-broken, many of them. They had never thought of it! Here, for example, is a letter written by a plain man, a gardener, just an ordinary man, a plain man--"

"Yes," we said, "quite so."

"Well, here is what he writes:

Dear Sir:

As soon as I got your circular I read it all through from end to end, and I saw that all my failure in the past had come from my not being organized. I sat and thought a long while and I decided that I would organize myself. I went right in to the house and I said to my wife, "Jane, I'm going to organize myself." She said, "Oh, John!"--and not another word, but you should have seen the look on her face. So the next morning I got up early and began to organize myself. It was hard at first but I stuck to it. There were times when I felt as if I couldn't do it. It seemed too hard. But bit by bit I did it and now, thank God, I am organized. I wish all men like me could know the pleasure I feel in being organized."

"Touching, isn't it?" said the Stranger. "But I get lots of letters like that. Here's another, also from a man, a plain man, working on his own farm. Hear what he says:

Dear Sir:

As soon as I saw your circular on HOW TO SPEED UP THE EMPLOYEE I felt that it was a big thing. I don't have any hired help here to work with me, but only father. He cuts the wood and does odd chores about the place. So I realized that the best I could do was to try to speed up father. I started in to speed him up last Tuesday, and I wish you could see him. Before this he couldn't split a cord of wood without cutting a slice off his boots. Now he does it in half the time."

"But there," the Stranger said, getting impatient even with his own reading, "I needn't read it all. It is the same thing all along the line. I've got the Method introduced into the Department Stores. Before this every customer who came in wasted time trying to find the counters. Now we install a patent springboard, with a mechanism like a catapault. As soon as a customer comes in an attendant puts him on the board, blindfolds him, and says, 'Where do you want to go?' 'Glove counter.' 'Oh, all right.' He's fired at it through the air. No time lost. Same with the railways. They're installing the Method, too. Every engineer who breaks the record from New York to Buffalo gets a glass of milk. When he gets a hundred glasses he can exchange them for a glass of beer. So with the doctors. On the new method, instead of giving a patient one pill a day for fourteen days they give him fourteen pills in one day. Doctors, lawyers, everybody,--in time, sir," said the Stranger, in tones of rising excitement, "you'll see even the plumbers--"

But just at this moment the door opened. A sturdy-looking man in blue entered. The Stranger's voice was hushed at once. The excitement died out of his face. His manner all of a sudden was meekness itself.

"I was just coming," he said.

"That's right, sir," said the man; "better come along and not take up the gentleman's time."

"Good-bye, then," said the Stranger, with meek affability, and he went out.

The man in blue lingered behind for a moment.

"A sad case, sir," he said, and he tapped his forehead.

"You mean--" I asked.

"Exactly. Cracked, sir. Quite cracked; but harmless. I'm engaged to look after him, but he gave me the slip downstairs."

"He is under delusions?" we inquired.

"Yes, sir. He's got it into his head that business in this country has all gone to pieces,--thinks it must be reorganized. He writes letters about it all day and sends them to the papers with imaginary names. You may have seen some of them. Good day, sir."

We looked at our watch. We had lost just half an hour over the new efficiency. We turned back with a sigh to our old-fashioned task.


(The end)
Stephen Leacock's short story: Speeding Up Business

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