Train Wreck Management: Celebrating 180 Years of Command-and-Control Business Management

Happy 180th Birthday, Train Wreck Management! Yesterday, October 5, 1841 marked the birth of business bureaucracy when two passenger trains collided on the Western Railway, killing 2 and injuring 17.

The railroad appointed Major George W. Whistler (whose wife, Anna, would famously go on to pose for “Whistler’s Mother”) to lead the investigation.

Borrowing ideas from the Prussian Army, Whistler’s committee recommended: the first top-down business org chart, central offices staffed by “managers” (using that term in business for the first time), chains of command, lines of reporting, and job descriptions.

A prime directive was to identify “derelictions of duty”– in other words, to fix blame when things went wrong.

For the most part, we still have Train Wreck Management in place today (thanks to the late Peter R. Scholtes and his book “The Leader’s Handbook” for the history).

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