Read CHAPTER I of Creative Impulse in Industry A Proposition for Educators, free online book, by Helen Marot, on


As a human experience, the act of creating, the process of fabricating wealth, has been at different times as worthy of celebration as the possession of it. Before business enterprise and machine production discredited handwork, art for art’s sake, work for the love of work, were conceivable human emotions. But to-day, a Cezanne who paints pictures and leaves them in the field to perish is considered by the general run of people, in communities inured to modern industrial enterprise, as being not quite right in his head. Their estimate is of course more or less true. But such valuations are made without the help of creative inspiration, although the functioning of a product has its creative significance. The creative significance of a product in use, as well as an appreciation of the act of creating, would be evident if modern production of wealth, under the influence of business enterprise and machine technology, had not fairly well extinguished the appreciation and the joy of creative experience in countries where people have fallen under its influence so completely as in our own.

It is usual in economic considerations to credit the period of craftsmanship as a time in the evolution of wealth production that was rich in creative effort and opportunity for the individual worker. The craftsmanship period is valued in retrospect for its educative influence. There was opportunity then as there is not now for the worker to gain the valuable experience of initiating an idea and carrying the production of an article to its completion for use and sale in the market; there was the opportunity then also as there is not now, for the worker to gain a high degree of technique and a valuation of his workmanship. It is characteristic of workmanship that its primary consideration is serviceability or utility. The creative impulse and the creative effort may or may not express workmanship or take it into account. Workmanship in its consideration of serviceability oftentimes arrives at beauty and classic production, when creative impulse without the spirit of workmanship fails. The craftsmanship period deserves rank, but the high rank which is given it is due in part to its historical relation to the factory era which followed and crushed it. While craftsmanship represented expansive development in workmanship, it is not generally recognized that the Guild organization of the crafts developed modern business enterprise. Business is concerned wholly with utility, and not like workmanship, with standards of production, except as those standards contain an increment of value in profits to the owners of wealth. It was during the Guild period that business came to value workmanship because it contained that increment. In spite of business interest, however, the standard of workmanship was set by skilled craftsmen, and their standards represented in a marked degree the market value of the goods produced by them.

While the exploitation of the skill of the workman in the interest of the owners of raw materials and manufactured goods, had its depressing and corrupting influence on creative effort, the creative impulse found a stimulus in the respect a community still paid the skill and ability of the worker. It was not until machine standards superseded craft standards and discredited them that the processes of production, the acts of fabrication, lost their standards of workmanship and their educational value for the worker. The discredits were psychological and economic; they revolutionized the intellectual and moral concepts of men in relation to their work and the production of wealth.

As machine production superseded craftsmanship the basis of fixing the price of an article shifted from values fixed by the standards of workers to standards of machines, Professor Veblen says to standards of salesmen. It is along these lines that mechanical science applied to the production of wealth, has eliminated the personality of the workers. A worker is no longer reflected in goods on sale; his personality has passed into the machine which has met the requirements of mass production.

The logical development of factory organisation has been the complete cooerdination of all factors which are auxiliary to mechanical power and devices. The most important auxiliary factor is human labor. A worker is a perfected factory attachment as he surrenders himself to the time and the rhythm of the machine and its functioning; as he supplements without loss whatever human faculties the machine lacks, whatever imperfection hampers the machine in the satisfaction of its needs. If it lacks eyes, he sees for it; he walks for it, if it is without legs; and he pulls, drags, lifts, if it needs arms. All of these things are done by the factory worker at the pace set by the machine and under its direction and command. A worker’s indulgence in his personal desires or impulses hinders the machine and lowers his attachment value.

This division of the workers into eyes, arms, fingers, legs, the plucking out of some one of his faculties and discarding the rest of the man as valueless, has seemed to be an organic requirement of machine evolution. So commendable the scheme has been to business enterprise that this division of labor has been carried from the machine shop and the factory to the scientific laboratories where experiment and discovery in new processes of technology are developed, and where, it is popularly supposed, a high order of intelligence is required. The organization of technological laboratories, like the organization of construction shops to which they are auxiliary, is based on the breaking up of a problem which is before the laboratory for its solution. The chemists, physicists, machinists and draftsmen are isolated as they work out their assigned tasks without specific knowledge of what the general problem is and how it is being attacked. Small technological laboratories are still in existence where the general problem in hand is presented as a whole to the whole engineering staff, and is left to them as a group for independent and associated experimentation. But even in such cases the technological content does not necessarily supply the impulse to solve the problem or secure a free and voluntary participation in its solution. Those who are interested in its solution are inspired by its economic value for them. In all technological laboratories, either where the problem is broken up and its parts distributed among the employees of the laboratory, or where it is given to them as a whole for solution, it is given not as a sequence in the creative purpose of the individuals who are at work on it, nor is its final solution necessarily determined by its use and wont in a community. Problems brought to the laboratory are tainted with the motive of industry which is not creative, but exploitive.

The tenure of each man employed in production is finally determined not by any creative interest of his own or of his employer but by whether in the last analysis, he conforms better than another man to the exigencies of profits. If profits and creative purpose happen to be one and the same thing, his place in an industrial establishment has some bearing on his intrinsic worth. Under such circumstances his interest in the creative purpose of the establishment would have a foundation, and he himself could value better than he otherwise would his own part in the enterprise.

The economic organization of modern society though built on the common people’s productive energy has discounted their creative potentiality. We hold to the theory that men are equal in their opportunity to capture and own wealth; that their ability in that respect is proof of their ability to create it; a proof of their inherent capacity. It is a proof, as a matter of fact, of their ability to compete in the general scheme of capture; their ability to exploit wealth successfully. While the prevailing economic theory of production takes for granted men’s creative potentiality there is no provision in our industrial institution for the common run of men to function creatively. There is no attempt in the general scheme for trueing-up or estimating the creative ability of workers. In the market, where the value of goods is determined, a machine tender has a better chance than a craftsman. The popular belief is that the ability of workers has native limitations, that these limitations are absolute and that they are fixed at or before birth. This belief is a tenet among those who hold positions of industrial mastery. Managers of industry for instance who control a situation and create an environment, demand that those who serve them meet the requirements which they have fixed. They do not recognize that industrial ability depends largely on the opportunity which an individual has had to make adjustments to his surroundings and on his opportunity to master them through experiment. A factory employee is required to do a piece of work; and he does it, not because he is interested in the process or the object, but because his employer wants it done.

In Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic countries, where people have fallen most completely under the influence of machine production and business enterprise, and where they have lost by the way their conception of their creative potentiality, work is universally conceived as something which people endure for the sake of being “paid off.” Being paid off, it seems abundantly clear, is the only reason a sane man can have for working. After he is paid off the assumption is his pleasure will begin. A popular idea of play is the absence of work, the consumption of wealth, being entertained. Being entertained indeed is as near as most adult men in these countries come to play. Their Sundays and holidays are depressing occasions, shadowed by a forlorn expectancy of something which never comes off.

The capacity of the French people for enjoying their holidays is much the same as their capacity for enjoying their work. This, no doubt, is a matter of native habituation. But however they came by it, it has had its part in determining the industrial conditions of France. The love of the people for making things has resisted in a remarkable way the domination of machine industry and modern factory organization. The French work shop, averaging six persons, is as characteristic of France as the huge factory organization with the most modern mechanical equipment is characteristic of American industry. As the workers in these shops participate more intimately in the fabrication of goods they come more nearly to a real participation in productive enterprise. This close contact with the actual processes of production gives the workers a sense of power. A sense of their relation to the processes and their ability to control them engenders courage. Indeed it is the absence of fear, rather than the absence of work, that determines the capacity of men for play.

It was not accidental that the movement of the French workers for emancipation emphasized a desire for control of industry. The syndicalism of France has expressed the workers’ interest in production as the labor movements of other countries have laid stress exclusively on its economic value to them. The syndicalists’ theory takes for granted the readiness of workers to assume responsibility for production, while the trade unionists of England, Germany and the United States ask for a voice in determining not their productive but their financial relation to it.

It is the habit of these other peoples to credit the lack of interest in work to physical hardships which the wage system has imposed. But the wage system from the point of view of material welfare has borne no less heavily on the French than on other workers. It is also difficult to prove that the physical hardships of modern methods of production are greater than the hardships of earlier methods. The truth is that neither hardships nor exploitation of labor are new factors; they have both, through long centuries, repressed in varying degree the inspirational and intellectual interest of workers in productive effort. It is not the economic burdens which followed the introduction of machinery and the division of labor that distinguish these new factors in industry, but the discredit which they throw around man’s labor power. They have carried the discredit of labor in its social position further than it had been carried, but this is merely a by-product of the discredit they cast on the skill and intellectual power which is latent in the working class. In this connection the significant truth for civilization is that while exploitation of labor and physical hardships induce the antagonism between labor and capital, modern factory organization destroys creative desire and individual initiative as it excludes the workers from participation in creative experience.

The new discoveries in inorganic power and their application to industrial enterprise are possibly more far reaching in their effect on the adjustment and relationships of men than they have been at any other time in the last century and a half. Whatever the world owes to these discoveries and their applications it cannot afford to lose sight of a fact of great social significance, which is, that people have accepted mechanical achievements, not as labor saving devices but as substitutes for human initiative and effort. They have not, indeed, saved labor to the advantage of labor itself, and they have inhibited interest in production. Outside of business enterprise and diplomacy the political extension of business mechanical devices have lost the surprise reaction and resentment which they originally set up. As a competitor with human labor they have established themselves as its fit survivor. The prophesy of Theophrastus Such seems to have been already fulfilled, and any new machine added to those already in power in the Parliament of Machines can scarcely add to the worker’s sense of his own impotency. The business valuations which were evolved out of craftsmanship and which were further developed under the influence of the technology of the last century and a half, emphasized the value of material force, and repressed spiritual evaluations, such as the creative impulse in human beings.

Modern industrial institutions are developed by an exclusive cultivation of people’s needs and the desire to possess. They are developed independently, as we have seen, of any need or desire to create. The desire to possess is responsible for the production of a mass of goods unprecedented and inconceivable a century and a half ago. The actual production of all of these goods is unrelated to the motive of men’s participation in their production; the actual production in relation to the motive is an incident. The sole reason for the participation in the productive effort is not the desire for creative experience or the satisfaction of the creative impulse; it is not an interest in supplying the needs of a community or in the enrichment of life; it is to acquire out of the store of goods all that can be acquired for personal possession or consumption. There is no more fundamental need than the need to consume; but for the common run of men as a motive in the creation of wealth, it is shorn of adventure, of imagination and of joy.

The ownership of many things, which mass production has made possible, the intensive cultivation of the desire to own, has added another element to the corruption of workmanship and the depreciation of its value. Access to a mass of goods made cheap by machinery has had its contributing influence in the people’s depreciation of their own creative efforts. As people become inured to machine standards, they lose their sense of art values along with their joy in creative effort, their self regard as working men and their personal equation in industrial life.

Where the motive of individuals who engage in industry is the desire to possess, the rational method of gaining possession is not by the arduous way of work but of capture. The scheme of capture is a scheme whereby you may get something for (doing) nothing; nothing as nearly as possible in the way of fabrication of goods; something for the manipulation of men; something for the development of technology and mechanical science; and high regard for the manipulation of money. “Doing nothing” does not mean that manual workers, managers of productive enterprises, speculators in the natural resources of wealth production and manufactured goods, as well as financiers, are not busy people, or that their activity does not result in accomplishment. They are indeed the busy people and their accomplishment is the world’s wealth. Nevertheless the intention of all and the spirit of the scheme is to do as near nothing as possible in exchange for the highest return. The whole industrial arrangement is carried on without the force of productive intention; it is carried forward against a disinclination to produce.

I have said that industry was shorn of adventure for the common man. Adventure in industrial enterprise is the business man’s great monopoly. His impetus is not due to his desire to create wealth but to exploit it, and he secures its creation by “paying men off.” Commonly he is peevishly expectant that those he pays off will have a creative intention toward the work he pays them to do, although in the scheme of industry which he supports the opportunity provided for such intention is negligible. An efficiency engineer estimated that there is a loss in wealth of some fifty per cent, due to the inability of the business man to appraise the creative possibilities in industry.

When exploitation of wealth is referred to, those who own it are generally meant. But exploitation of wealth is the intention of the worker as well as of the business man. To get, as I have said, something for (doing) nothing is the dominating motif in the industrial world. It is supposed to reflect the self-interest of individuals, to reflect, that is, their economic needs.

This motive of circumscribed self-interest during an era of political and industrial expansion has been adopted by philosophers as the guide as well as a clue to conduct; it was hailed by them as a sufficient and complete motivation for wealth creation; they used it as a basis of a theory for race progress resting solely on the efforts of men to satisfy their material needs through their ability to capture goods. This motive together with the possibilities which machine production opened up for wealth exploitation, gave birth to the dismal science of Political Economy; it suggested the materialistic interpretation of history, and brought to earth utopian schemes of brotherhood. Political science is dismal because it is an interpretation of dismal institutions. It may be ungenerous to speak slightingly of institutions which have yielded such great wealth, which have transformed inert matter into productive power and brought in consequence the whole world into acquaintanceship and rivalry. It would be ungenerous if it were not for a fact which has become poignant, that the exploitation of wealth and undigested relationships are to-day the outstanding menace to civilization.

The present world conflict has made it clear that relationships cannot remain undigested; that they are not in their nature passive. They are either integrating in their force or disintegrating. Socialism has undertaken for two generations to prove that exploitation, carries with it its own seeds of destruction. The position of the socialists is passing out of theory and propaganda through the hands of diplomatists, into statutes. Both the socialists and their successors would eradicate exploitation by repressing it. The socialists would repress it by shifting ownership of wealth from individuals to the state, while the diplomatists, through the same agency, would regulate those who own it.

It is an historical fact as well as a psychological one that you do not get rid of traits or institutions except as you replace them with something of positive service, or greater competitive value. The institution of capitalism exists not because of its predatory character, but because in spite of its exploitation it promotes industry, and labor and other industrial technicians do not. As our industrial institutions have grown out of a predatory concept instead of a creative one, as capture has been rewarded rather than work, as the possessive desire has been stimulated and the creative desire has been sacrificed, as employers of men and owners of machines have engaged in production because of their interest not in the process or in the use of the product, but in the reward, as wage workers have hired out for the day’s work or continued during their adult life in their trade without interest in its development, because like their employers they wanted the highest cash return, wealth exploitation has come to be synonymous in the minds of men with wealth creation. A creative concept which could survive and inhibit the predatory concept must rest on such elements of creative force as are now absent from our industrial institution.

It is almost axiomatic to say that a system of wealth production which cultivated creative effort would yield more in general terms of life as well as in terms of goods, than a system like our own which exploits creative power. It is obvious that the disintegrating tendency in our system is due to the fact that production is dependent for its motive force on the desire to possess. It is also obvious that a rational system of industry which sought to give that desire among all men full opportunity for satisfaction would also undertake to cultivate the creative impulse for the sake of increasing creative effort The result would be an increase in production. As logical as this observation may be, it is not so obvious how such a social transformation as this implies, may be effected.

Every advance in wealth creation which has become an institutional part of an economic system has been impelled and sustained by the material interests of people who at the time held the strategic position in the community. The world has progressed, or retrogressed, as the most powerful interests at any time adjusted the institutions and customs governing wealth production to their own advantage. As the controlling interests in our present scheme are the business interests, it is the business man, not the workman, who directs industry and determines its policy as well as the general policy of the nation in which it operates. It is to the advantage of private business run for private gain, to control creative effort for the purpose of appropriating the product, and to inhibit free creative expression as an uncontrollable factor in the enterprise of exploitation.

The appalling and wanton sacrifice of life which are incident to the evolution of machinery and the division of labor seem to demand at times their elimination. In weariness we are urged to retrace our steps and go back to craftsmanship and the Guilds. But it is idle to talk about going back or eliminating institutionalized features of society. We cannot go back, we have not the ability to discard this or that part of our environment except as we make it over. The result of this making over might be vitalized by methods which had belonged to earlier periods, but neither the methods nor the periods, we can safely say, will live again. Neither our own nor future generations will escape the influence of modern technology. It will play its part. It may be a part which will lead away from some of the destructive influences which developed in the era of craftsmanship and which dominate the present. But a society too enfeebled to use its own experience will not have the power to use the experience of another people or of another time. It is beside the point to look to some other experience or scheme of life and choose that because it seems good, unless the choice is based on a people’s present fitness to adapt that other experience or other scheme of life to their own experience. The proposition to revert to an earlier period suggests nothing more than the repetition of an experience out of which the present state of affairs has evolved.

Nor is there ground for the hope that in time institutions and relationships will be regulated on principles of altruism. It is not apparent indeed that such regulations would yield even the present allowance of happiness incident to our own immature method of capturing what wealth we can without relation to social factors. As unfortunate as we are in pursuit of that blind method, it is safe to predict that the world would be a madder place than it is to-day if every one devoted himself to doing what he believed was for the good of everybody else.

The hope of social revolutionists that private business would overreach itself and defeat its own purpose, grew out of the expectation that its tribute exactions would draw the subjects of capital together in a common defensive movement; that the movement on account of its numbers would overturn business and that in place of private management democratic control would be instituted. Some such outcome, sooner or later, seems inevitable if civilization is scheduled to advance. The labor union movement, unlike the political socialist revolutionary movement, undertakes in its operation to supply labor with a certain working content, which the administrative scheme of industry has excluded from the experience of its workers. But this content is not sufficient to stimulate the imagination of the trade unionists with the thought that the world of industry is the field of creative adventure. Their conception born of experience is not so flattering. It would be a brave man who would undertake to convince the twentieth century adult wage earner, involved in modern methods of machine production, that his poverty is less in his possession of wealth than in his growth and in his creative opportunity.

The industrial changes which the labor movement proposes to make are on the side of a better distribution of goods. A better distribution would have a dynamic significance in wealth production, if the actual increase which labor secured in wages and leisure were a real increase. But exploiting capital provides for such exigencies as high wages by increasing the price of products, thus reducing the wage earners’ purchasing power to the former level. High wages fail to disturb the relative portion of capital and labor even more than they fail to affect the purchasing power of the worker.

It is often suggested that if the state assumed control of industry the blight of business could be removed. But in the transfer we would not necessarily gain opportunity to enjoy the adventure which industry holds out. Industry as a creative experience, it is safe to predict, would be as rare a personal experience and as foreign an influence in social existence under state management as it is under business management. The state would curb the amount of wealth exploitation possibly, but would not alter the universal attitude toward wealth production, which is to take as much and give as little as one can get off with.

Although political socialism may be the economic sequel of private capital there is no foundation for the belief that it will of itself induce creative effort or stimulate creative impulse. The faith back of the socialist movement that desirable attributes like the creative impulse, which men potentially possess, will begin to operate automatically and universally as soon as there is sufficient leisure and food for general consumption, is blind and historically unwarranted. The signs are that a socialist state would lean exclusively on the consumption desire for production results, just as the present system of business now does. Neither fat incomes nor large leisure have furnished the world with its people of genius. In spite of the inhibiting influence of exploitation, they have come, what there are of them, out of intensive application to some matter of moment. Possibly they would come, and more of them, from the work-a-day world under socialism with the inhibiting influence of organized exploitation removed, but more of them would not insure a democracy in industry or elsewhere. Nothing insures that short of a strong emotional impulse, a real intellectual interest in the adventure of productive enterprise.

The creative desire is an incident or a sort of by-product of the economics of socialism as it is of classical economics; neither one nor the other depends on its cultivation. Either is capable of achieving mass production, but neither insures a democratic control of industry, neither provides for growth, for education in the productive process. A democracy of industry requires a people’s sustained interest in the productive enterprise; their interest in the development of technology, the development of markets, and the release of man’s productive energy.

It happens that in machine production and in the division of labor there are emotional and intellectual possibilities which were non-existent in the earlier and simpler methods of production. As power latent in inorganic matter has been freed and applied to common needs, an environment has been evolved, filled with situations incomparably more dramatic than the provincial affairs of detached people and communities. Although this technological subject matter, rich in opportunities for associated adventure and infinite discovery, is not a part of common experience, it exists, and if called out from its isolation for purposes of common experimentation, it is fit matter for making science a vital experience in the productive life of the worker.

Industry under the direction of business will not open up the adventure with its stimulating factors to its subservient labor force, unless it happens that the present methods fail, in time, to carry forward industrial enterprise on a profit-making basis; or unless labor develops the power which springs from desire for creative experience, to undertake the direction and control of industry.

The present is better than any time earlier in the history of technology for the development of a concept of industry as a socially creative enterprise. As craftsmanship extended and intensified an interest in personal ownership, it magnified the value of possessions; as it deepened the desire for protection of private property and the strengthening of property laws against human laws, it was not a socializing force. While the craftsmanship period strengthened personal claims on workmanship and interest in it, mechanical power and division of labor have impersonated industry. In the labyrinth of mechanical processes and economic calculation it is not to-day possible for a worker to think or speak of a product as his. He has no basis for ownership claims in any article; even the price is arranged between buyer and seller and he is not the seller. An article owes its existence to an infinite number of persons and its place in the market to as many more.

A worker’s claim to the product of his labor is merged in an infinity of claims which makes the product more nearly the property of society than of any one individual. And this merging of claims which has resulted in the submerging of all wage workers, has set up the new educational task of discovering the possibilities for creative experience in associated enterprise.

While an article manufactured under business conditions is the product of enforced association, we have in this condition the mechanics of a real association. As it now stands, the association is one of individuals, with the impulse for association and for creative effort left out. The interests of some ninety workers associated together in the making of a shoe are not common but antagonistic, except as they are common in their antagonism to the owner of the shoe on which they work. They hang together because they must; their parting is the best part of a working day.

And yet the practice of dividing up the fabrication of an article among the members of a group instead of confining the making of it to one or two people, opens up the possibility of extensive social intercourse, and has the power, we may discover, to sublimate the inordinate desire for the intensive satisfaction of personal life. Although the division of labor has given us a society which is abortive in its functioning like a machine with half assembled parts, it offers us the mechanics for interdependence and the opportunity to work out a cooerdinated industrial life.