Understanding the Machine Metaphor


Metaphors are used to learn about an organization by comparing it to an object considered to be like that organization. They are important in emphasizing functions that may sometimes go unnoticed.  One of the most popular metaphors, I presume, is the machine metaphor. In the late 19th century, during the advent of the industrial revolution, the society began to change. The world was moving from an agrarian society to an increasingly complicated one. As a result, classical organizational theorists used this metaphor as a guide in all their theories.

There are four (4) aspects of the machine metaphor that are of importance in my discussion: specialization, standardization, replaceability, and predictability.

Specialization. Think about a machine like it is a computer. Every part has its specific role in the totality of the operation process of the computer. It has the hardware–the monitor, keyboard, and computer processing unit (CPU) among others– and the software like operating system (OS), the RAM, and ROM. Each plays a specialized role that is essential for a computer to properly run. In relation to how humans operate, the specialization of tasks equates to division of labour, for example, our government. The division of labour are the three branches of the government namely the executive, legislative, and judiciary. There are scope and limitations to what and how things are done in each branch, nonetheless, they are co-dependent and interrelated. Each does (/should do) check and balance of each other, thus (/to), maintain smooth operations. On the smaller and more personal scale, the tasks and roles of the people in the government are specialized and are given to those who are qualified and/or voted into authority. The president, vice president, senators, house representatives, chief justice and the other justices are just few of the specialized parts of the machine, I would like to call our government.

Standardization. Machines are designed to have the same parts as machines similar to them. For example, the motor of your electric fan suddenly overheats and burns, you can easily buy a new one. Humans are considered as cogs of the machine. Thus, if something goes wrong, those cogs are standardized, interchangeable, and replaceable. Relating this to our government, this is the standards or qualifications of the leaders. One must be able to meet the qualifications before they can be considered viable for a certain position. Standardization also pertains to how our government operates. The Constitution is one form of standardization. The laws are made based on the provisions set by our Constitution. Hence, limiting and defining the actions of all (leaders and citizens) to what is acceptable and appropriate according to the standards.

Replaceability. A concept related to standardization is replaceability. Since parts are standardized, they can be easily replaced. Applying the principle to humans, if a worker quits, the organization can replace the worker. In our government, recently, we have witnessed several changes with the line-up of the regime. The former chief justice was plucked out of the ranks and was replaced. In a less coarse way, the election organizes this concept. Each leader are expected to serve his or her given term (considering extension and re-election) and then replaced.

Predictability. There are rules that govern the ways in which a machine is made and the rules that govern the ways in which the machine operates and perform its functions. If a machine breaks down, there can be a number of reasons to why it broke. However, if the problem would be given enough thought, it can be fixed. A manual can contain all the things that you might need. Our government operates on the same way.


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