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The visual pun refers to Rene Magritte’s painting, The Treachery of Images, depicting a pipe over the words, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” which is French for, “This is not a pipe.” Indeed, this is not a pipe. It’s a picture of a pipe. What’s real here? People are not capital. A name is not the thing itself.

When setting out to trace the heritage of the term “human capital” for the Last Word, I envisioned a short piece on the transition from hunter/gatherers to laborers to employees to personnel to human resources to human capital, interspersed with witticisms and wry commentary.

Of course, that didn’t happen. I spent the better part of two days in the stacks at the library at the Haas School of Business, not far from my house in Berkeley, immersed in semiotics, Don Norman, Scientific Management, Chainsaw Al, Art Kleiner, Theory X, medieval guilds, Adam Smith, Henry Thoreau (“Men have become the tools of their trade.”), Diderot’s Encyclopedie, H.L. Mencken (“The average male gets his living by such depressing devices that boredom becomes a sort of natural state to him.”), Pavlov, the Hawthorne effect, Abraham Maslow, Kurt Lewin, Paul Goodman (“Few great men could pass personnel.”), T-Groups, B.F. Skinner (“The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.”), Tom Stewart, Frederick Herzberg’s KITA, Peter Drucker (“Management by objective works if you know the objective.  Ninety percent of the time you don't.”), Eric Hoffer, Tom Gilbert, re-engineering and downsizing (“We are all temps.”), Joop Hartog, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Don Clark, and Don Tapscott.

When distilling my initial 3000 word article down to one essential sentence, these quotations were among the last to go:

“The art of management has been defined as “knowing exactly what you want men to do and then seeing that they do it in the best and cheapest way.” —Frederick Winslow Taylor, Shop Management

“You can employ men and hire hands to work for you, but you must win their hearts to have them work with you.” —Tiorio

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” —William James

“Karl Marx would be amused. He longed for the day when the workers would own the means of production. Now they do.” —Charles Handy

“We don’t manage people so much as market to them.” —Peter Drucker

Jay Cross is CEO of Internet Time Group, a think tank and consultancy that helps organizations make elearning decisions. He has pioneered new approaches to technology-assisted learning since the Stone Age. (At least it feels like it. “Since the early seventies” is closer to reality.) Creative despite degrees from both Princeton and Harvard, he lives in the hills of Berkeley, California, with his tennis-playing wife, 17-year old geek son, and two miniature longhaired dachshunds. You can reach him at jaycross@internettime.com.

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