Gilbreth Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Lillian Gilbreth’s discussion of the psychological impacts on workers of various management approaches highlighted the importance of an understanding of psychology to the effective practice of management.

Summary of Event

The Psychology of Management: The Function of the Mind in Determining, Teaching, and Installing Methods of Least Waste, written by Lillian Gilbreth, was first published in 1914 by Sturgis and Walton of New York. This text, which examined management from a psychological perspective, earlier had been published in serial form by Industrial Engineering in 1912 and 1913. The work was significant because of its attempt to extend management theory to include psychological factors. Psychology of Management, The (Gilbreth) Business;management Management;theory Psychology;business [kw]Gilbreth Publishes The Psychology of Management (Mar., 1914) [kw]Publishes The Psychology of Management, Gilbreth (Mar., 1914) [kw]Psychology of Management, Gilbreth Publishes The (Mar., 1914) [kw]Management, Gilbreth Publishes The Psychology of (Mar., 1914) Psychology of Management, The (Gilbreth) Business;management Management;theory Psychology;business [g]United States;Mar., 1914: Gilbreth Publishes The Psychology of Management[03530] [c]Business and labor;Mar., 1914: Gilbreth Publishes The Psychology of Management[03530] [c]Psychology and psychiatry;Mar., 1914: Gilbreth Publishes The Psychology of Management[03530] Gilbreth, Lillian Evelyn Gilbreth, Frank Bunker Münsterberg, Hugo Taylor, Frederick Winslow

Gilbreth initially wrote the work to fulfill the thesis requirement for her doctoral studies in psychology at the University of California. Although Gilbreth’s faculty committee members found the thesis itself acceptable, they were unwilling to grant her the Ph.D. because of her failure to fulfill a one-year residency requirement, which she had expected to be waived. As a consequence, Lillian’s husband, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, was angered enough to pursue publication of the thesis and thus prove the merit of his wife’s work. Ultimately, Gilbreth was allowed to complete her residency requirement at Brown University and was granted the doctorate in 1915. It is quite possible that the work would not have gained the attention it did or had the same impact if Lillian Gilbreth had been granted the degree as she originally expected.

The context of this work is worthy of mention. First, it should be noted that Lillian Gilbreth was the wife of Frank Gilbreth, a proponent of scientific management who was well known for his developmental work in the area of motion study. Efficiency experts Time-and-motion studies[Time and motion studies] Second, the field of management was itself in its embryonic stages, with considerable debate occurring as to whether management skills could be taught and learned or were instead innate. Third, the field of psychology was not well developed and, as Lillian Gilbreth noted, had focused primarily on the “psychology of the crowd,” developing very limited insights into the psychology of the individual. Industrial psychology, Industrial psychology in particular, was a new field of inquiry championed by Hugo Münsterberg, whose seminal work was based on experiments in his laboratory at Harvard University. This work, Psychologie und Wirtschaftleben, published in 1912, was translated to English for publication as Psychology and Industrial Efficiency Psychology and Industrial Efficiency (Münsterberg) in 1913. Fourth, scientific management Scientific management and its founder, Frederick Winslow Taylor, were being subjected to extremely severe criticism, including congressional inquiry, at the time Gilbreth was writing her doctoral thesis.

By no means did Gilbreth intend The Psychology of Management to be a break with Taylorism and scientific management. Her chief aims in the book were to introduce readers to psychology and to management, to suggest the relationship between the two, and to promote further investigation. The first chapter of the text was primarily introductory. In addition to giving an explanation for the organization of the book, Gilbreth went to considerable lengths to define the terms “psychology,” “management,” and “psychology of management.”

Gilbreth defined psychology as “the study of the mind.” She noted that psychology was then viewed as a “culture subject,” included in the studies of philosophy and education students but not included in the studies of scientific or engineering students. According to Gilbreth, “It was not recognized that every man going out into the world needs all the knowledge that he can get as to the working of the human mind in order not only to give, but to receive information with the least waste and expenditure of energy, nor was it recognized that in the industrial, as well as the academic world, almost every man is a teacher.”

Management was defined as “the art of directing activity.” Gilbreth contended that most individuals of her day failed to recognize that management involves more than the “managing part of the organization” and includes the “best interests of the managed.” She argued that the importance of management is magnified by the realization that it involves structuring the relationship between the managing and managed individuals. Further, Gilbreth distinguished among three approaches to management: the traditional approach, the transitory approach, and the ultimate approach. The traditional approach places managerial power in the hands of a single manager with clear, fixed lines of authority. The transitory approach includes all forms of management that are “passing into Scientific Management.” Thus any management environment in which at least one, but not all, of the principles of scientific management has been applied would be classified as transitory. The third type of management is pure scientific management. According to Gilbreth, this differs from the prior two types in that “it is a definite plan of management synthesized from scientific analysis of the data of management.”

Gilbreth defined the psychology of management as “the effect of the mind that is directing work upon that work which is directed, and the effect of this undirected and directed work upon the mind of the worker.” Gilbreth believed that scientific management would enlighten people to the value of studying the psychology of management. She argued that “efficiency is best secured by placing the emphasis on the man, and modifying the equipment, materials and methods to make the most of the man.”

Gilbreth organized The Psychology of Management around the following underlying ideas and divisions of scientific management: individuality, functionalization, measurement, analysis and synthesis, standardization, records and programs, teaching, incentives, and welfare. Through this organization, Gilbreth sought to illuminate the underlying principles of scientific management, compare scientific management with other types of management that she had identified, and discuss the psychological factors influencing each principle of scientific management.

In discussing the scientific management principle of “individuality,” for example, Gilbreth noted that the traditional form of management seldom recognizes it, as evidenced by an absence of individual rewards and measurement of individual output, limited individual teaching, and few attempts to study the individuals applying for work through a defined selection process. She observed that the principle is recognized, although not fully pursued, in the transitory form of management. Finally, she noted that individuality is a fundamental principle of scientific management and elaborated on the ways in which recognition of individuality provides superior results to the absence of such recognition.

Included in her discussion of each principle of scientific management was an underlying theme of the need for further discovery. Gilbreth clearly suggested that scientific management was superior to other forms of management extant in her day, but she also indicated that more knowledge about the relationship between psychology and management was needed for the further development and improvement of scientific management.

Each of the twenty conclusions Gilbreth reached was favorable to scientific management. Among these conclusions, three paid particular attention to the psychological aspects of her discussions. First, she concluded that the psychological element of scientific management is its most important element. Second, she asserted that because scientific management is “psychologically right,” it is the ultimate form of management. Third, she concluded that the psychological study of scientific management should especially emphasize its teaching features.


Gilbreth’s thesis was submitted in 1912, thus it predated the 1913 publication of Münsterberg’s seminal work. It was published in serial form in 1912 and 1913 and in book form in 1914. The fact that the field of industrial psychology gained acceptance and became an area of ongoing study must be attributed, at least in part, to these publications. Gilbreth’s book brought the required initial credibility to the field, developed awareness, and provided the context, rationale, and objectives for development of the field. Had an individual of stature similar to that of Gilbreth within the scientific management movement not endorsed industrial psychology, the field could very well have been met with strong resistance in its early period. The field likely would have developed more slowly, and the course of its development may have been altered. It is unrealistic, however, to suggest that Gilbreth’s thesis made significant theoretical contributions to the field of industrial psychology. These contributions were made by Münsterberg and others who followed. This viewpoint is consistent with Gilbreth’s stated objectives for her work.

Although Gilbreth’s pioneering work may have had limited impact on the field of industrial psychology, it did contribute significantly to the development of the field of management. First, this work suggested an area of content in which managerial expertise could clearly be developed, taught, and learned. The work thus helped resolve the controversy as to whether management could and should be taught, in favor of establishing programs of managerial education. Second, Gilbreth’s work focused attention on the managed as well as on the managers. Third, The Psychology of Management was followed by extensive studies of human fatigue and its elimination, worker selection processes, vocational guidance, worker relations, and worker training. Gilbreth’s call for investigation of the psychology of management thus was effective.

An unstated objective of Gilbreth’s work appears to have been to present evidence from the field of psychology that scientific management is the ideal approach to management. The book promoted and justified the Taylor system and apparently had some success in this regard between 1913 and the late 1920’s. Evidence of this success includes the fact that the early development of industrial psychology was clearly rooted in scientific management and grew out of it. Further evidence of this success is the fact that the book was published repeatedly by separate publishers. After the 1920’s, however, the industrial gestalt of scientific management began to be superseded by the disciplines of labor relations, personnel management, and industrial sociology. Ironically, the work that Gilbreth designed to defend and promote scientific management contained the seminal arguments of theories that would displace scientific management from its preeminent role with regard to managerial theory and practice.

Hugo Münsterberg, not Lillian Gilbreth, is the acclaimed “father of industrial psychology.” The new field had its roots in scientific management yet sought to extend scientific management into the realm of human thought processes. Münsterberg noted that although scientifically structured attention was given to machines and methods of production, the management of workers was left to managers who had limited scientific understanding. A scientific understanding of individual worker psychology was sought so that work might be designed scientifically for the attainment of ideal levels of efficiency.

The focus on development of an understanding of individual worker behavior provided a basis for discovery of the importance of group factors in individual behavior. Taylor described this group influence as worker “soldiering,” an element of individual behavior that scientific management sought to overcome through design of work and establishment of individual-based measurement and incentive systems. Out of industrial psychology and the work of management theorists such as Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, and Vilfredo Pareto, the field of industrial sociology Industrial sociology came into being. This was a counterbalancing field for scientific management that sought to develop structured and scientifically valid constructs of the influence of human interactions on the performance of work-related tasks.

A growing union movement in the early twentieth century, along with the development of scientific theories in industrial psychology and industrial sociology, ultimately led to the development of fields of managerial practice such as labor relations and personnel management. Practitioners in these fields were the human performance experts who had been absent in the scientific management era. Industrial psychology, labor relations, personnel management, and industrial sociology are all fields of endeavor that, to one degree or another, Gilbreth anticipated in her dissertation. The somewhat ironic conclusion, therefore, must be that The Psychology of Management, a work Gilbreth designed to defend and promote scientific management, contained the seminal arguments of theories that would displace scientific management. Psychology of Management, The (Gilbreth) Business;management Management;theory Psychology;business

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">George, Claude S., Jr. The History of Management Thought. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. A comprehensive treatment of the history of management thought from prehistoric times through the 1960’s. Contains a time line of critical events.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gilbreth, Lillian. The Psychology of Management: The Function of the Mind in Determining, Teaching, and Installing Methods of Least Waste. 1914. Reprint. Bristol, England: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004. Discusses scientific management from the psychological perspective, defends scientific management, and calls for study and inquiry into the field of the psychology of management.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Korman, Abraham K. Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. A textbook with a succinct yet complete description of the development of industrial and organizational psychology in its introductory chapter. Presents a thorough review, geared toward college students of the subject, of the psychological theory and research relating to industrial and organizational psychology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Thomas R., and Mary A. Lemons. “Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Lessons from a Management Pioneer.” SAM Advanced Management Journal 63, no. 1 (1998): 4-10. Brief article describes Lillian Gilbreth’s background and career, with emphasis on her ability to accomplish her goals despite gender discrimination.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miner, John B. Organizational Behavior: Foundations, Theories, and Analyses. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Addresses topics of motivation, leadership, and decision making in organizations. Includes introductory material on the origins and history of management theory.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wren, Daniel A. The Evolution of Management Thought. 4th ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1993. Provides a definitive treatment of the development of early management thought, the scientific management era, the “social man” era, and the modern era. An extensive bibliography of works pertinent to each of these eras is provided at the end of the text.

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Categories: History