Grumman Human Experiments

During the years of 1940 to 1945, there was a great war.  We call it the second great war, or World War Two, WWII.

During this war, a company that made aircraft took their jobs very seriously.  So seriously, that the Navy asked them to slow down.  They were making about 600 aircraft every MONTH.  Since they were working around the clock, that means about 20 aircraft came out every DAY.

The plant manager knew he had about 20,000 people working in the factory, and thought about one of the great maxims of behavior.  If you have 20 people, there’s a good chance that one or two of them don’t work as hard as the others.

He asked his managers to choose one person out of every 20 so that they would be fired.

Word of this got around, fast.  And as a result everyone started working harder.  Jobs back then were scarce, and people in general had good work ethics.

Still, one of every 20 people were let go.  Guess what happened next?

Everyone else was working so much harder, that production went UP.  The Navy complained again.  Grumman was delivering too many HellCats.  (That was the name of the aircraft, the most successful airplane of WWII.)

So the plant manager did it again.  He went to his managers, and asked them to fire another one thousand people.

The result surprised him.

Production went up again!

When his bosses asked him if he was going to fire any more people, he said he couldn’t.  He didn’t think the Navy could handle the increased production!

That’s the funny side.

On the serious side, he probably knew that his people were working hard.  They cared, and they wanted their jobs.  They also knew there was a serious war going on.  Many of the workers were women, and that made a difference as well.  They had more personal stakes, because their husband’s and children’s lives were on the line.  Declare it a sexist statement, but in general women seem far more aware of the costs of war than men.  Perhaps that’s why most wars are started by men.

Anyway, it’s a good story showing that people do work at different levels of competence, and that organizations can produce more with fewer people, when necessary.

We should think about that the next time we think about how many government workers it takes to screw in a new light bulb.

PS – If you are at all interested in the HellCat (the forgotten warrior of WWII) please visit the site hosting the above image.