Some things boggle the mind…and then they don’t.

Been watching how Trump keeps rising in the polls no matter how outlandish his behavior is, no matter what he says or how boorish, childish and mean-spirited he behaves.


Production line at Hawthorne Electric
Production line at Hawthorne Electric

Almost a hundred years ago, the people over at Hawthorne Electric Company (Cicero, Illinois) conducted an in-house experiment. The purpose was to see how employee productivity improved with enhanced lighting in the work area. I wasn’t there to see it of course, but reportedly they made the workroom brighter by installing bigger and brighter bulbs in the ceiling lights (or something to that effect).

The experimenters quickly determined –empirically — that productivity increased as a result.

Now, in order to determine if there was a direct correlation between the relationships of lighting quality and productivity, industrial engineers conducted a follow-up study. It was their conjecture that productivity and lighting quality moved in the same direction: –i.e. “if lighting improves, productivity will also; if lighting deteriorates, productivity will also.” Thus, in the subsequent test, they reduced the lighting (I guess they went from a 75 watt bulb to 60 watt bulb.)

Surprise, surprise, surprise (think of Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle here) …productivity went UP even though lighting quality decreased.

The Industrial Engineers conducting the proceedings scratched their heads and lowered the lights even more. Productivity went UP AGAIN!The efficiency experts likely cursed under their breaths.  “#$%^&$#@&^%$,” they said, as engineering types don’t like it when they don’t get expected results.

Incredulous, they tweaked the lighting yet again. But no matter how they screwed around with the lighting, employee productivity increased, at least temporarily.

Now none of these productivity changes lasted for a long time but every time management adjusted working conditions — by paying attention to its worker class — they got improved results. The phenomena known as the Hawthorne Effect has gone down in the annals of Industrial Engineering and has been included in Management Studies 101 texts for every generation of management students since it was first observed.


In my first few years out of college, I worked as an efficiency expert and I observed similar behavior in the various work settings at a major bank in the Southeast. I learned it was true that if workers knew they were being observed their results got better or worse but always in the same direction no matter what we ‘guys in the lab’ did to the work environment.

I recently got to thinking about the Hawthorne Effect and all as I watched Trump continue go up, up, up in the Presidential polls no matter how foolishly and embarrassingly he acted. It boggles my mind really.  Then I remember the main variable in the Hawthorne Electric Company experiment was ‘attention’ — the workers knew they were being paid attention. Maybe just like Ol’ Trump himself.

I then decide that I shall not.

For the duration.


Image: Production line at Hawthorne Electric via (public domain). Note: while this image is used on dozens of sites without attribution, a new copyright popped up for many images of Hawthorne in 2007 by the Harvard Business School and if they wish us to attribute differently or take down, we will.
Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell (a pseudonym) is a writer, storyteller, and explorer of the milieu of everyday life. An aging Baby Boomer, a Georgia Tech grad, and a retired banker, Cantrell regularly chronicles what he swears are 'mostly true'  'everyman' adventures. Of late, he's written about haircuts, computer viruses, Polar Vortexes, identity theft, ketchup, doppelgangers, bifocals, ‘Streetification’, cursive handwriting, planning his own funeral and other gnarly things that caused him to scratch his head in an increasingly more and more crazy-ass world.   As for Will himself, the legend is at an early age he wandered South, got lost, and like most other self-respecting males, was loathe to ask for directions. The best solution, young Will mused, “was just to stay put”. All these years later, he still hasn't found his way but remains  a son of the New South. He was recently sighted somewhere close to I-285, lost, bumfuzzled and mumbling something about “...writing' his way home.” Of course, there are a lot of folks who think that “Cantrell ain't wrapped too tight” but hope that he keeps writing about his adventures as he finds his way back to the main highway.