Freedom begins within the office

He states: “Each time one encounters such opposites, every of them with persuasive arguments in its favour, it’s value trying into the depth of the issue for one thing greater than compromise, greater than a half-and-half answer. Possibly what we actually want just isn’t either-or but the-one-and-the-other-at-the-same-time.”

The precept of the unity of opposites is, right here, summary and common. However Schumacer additionally gives particular and concrete examples of its sensible deployment. Central to his organisational prescriptions is the antinomy between “order and freedom”. He states: “We are able to affiliate many additional pairs of opposites with this fundamental pair of order and freedom.” In doing so, he practises the Hegelian impulse to see a dialectic in any respect phases of existence, together with the modes of hierarchy and autonomy inside human acts of collaboration.


“All actual human issues come up from the antinomy of order and freedom. Antinomy means a contradiction between two legal guidelines; a battle of authority; opposition between legal guidelines or rules that seem like based equally in purpose. Wonderful! That is actual life, stuffed with antinomies and greater than logic.”

The dialogue of contradiction between two extremes, and the try to discover a sublation of these opposites, or at the least an lodging, is central to Schumacher’s mental apply, together with his prescriptions of find out how to run an organisation. He claims this unity of opposites knowledgeable his sensible management of the Nationwide Coal Board, which on the time had 800,000 staff.

Schumacher posits that each “extremes” of the order-freedom dialectic are obligatory in organisational apply. “In any organisation, giant or small, there have to be a sure readability and orderliness; if issues fall into dysfunction, nothing may be completed. But orderliness, as such, is static and lifeless; so there should even be loads of elbow-room and scope for breaking by way of the established order, to do the factor by no means completed earlier than, by no means anticipated by the guardians of orderliness, the brand new, unpredicted and unpredictable end result of a person’s inventive concept.”

This determines the contradiction of “centralising and decentralising”. He provides: “Centralisation is especially an concept of order; decentralisation, one in all freedom. The person of order is usually the accountant and, usually, the administrator: whereas the person of inventive freedom is the entrepreneur. Order requires intelligence and is conducive to effectivity; whereas freedom requires, and opens the door to, instinct and results in innovation.”

Schumacher complains that the majority organisations fail to recognise such dialectical oppositions, and fail to handle them. This leads to countless and unproductive “swings of a pendulum” or unmediated order taking on till “the organisation turns into moribund and a desert of frustration.”

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Coronary heart

The thinker doesn’t merely observe contradiction, however gives a transparent programme to handle and even leverage such obvious paradoxes with a view to result in inventive satisfaction for the workforce, with out sacrificing outcomes for the proprietor or supervisor. Schumacher, usually, doesn’t step outdoors of the capitalist paradigm and his options are designed to safe profitability, whereas dissolving the alienation of labour.

“The basic activity is to attain smallness inside giant organisations,” he argues, fittingly. He additionally advances 4 key rules: the Precept of Subsidiary Operate; the Precept of Vindication; the Precept of Motivation and eventually the Precept of the Center Axiom. I consider every of those rules are value retaining, and may be deployed in profit-making organisations and in addition impact-centred organisations akin to we discover within the public and charitable sectors.

The organisational construction advocated by Schumacher primarily based on his small is gorgeous precept can finest be described as a apply of permitting for the best autonomy attainable, whereas permitting for hierarchy solely the place obligatory. This implies selections have to be taken on the coal face, actually in his case, every time attainable. Managers ought to set and monitor technique, and supply clear targets and steering. However they need to solely then intervene in every day selections underneath excessive circumstances, akin to when mission crucial targets haven’t been met.

This prescription of employee autonomy is straight set out in his Precept of Subsidiary Operate. This precept states: “It’s an injustice and on the similar time a grave evil and disturbance of proper order to assign to a better and better affiliation what lesser and subordinate organisations can do. For each social exercise ought of its very nature to furnish assist to the members of the physique social and by no means destroy and take up them.”

Andrew Simms, the local weather campaigner and co-author of the Inexperienced New Deal within the UK, speaks to the centrality of this precept: “If EF Schumacher’s nice work on rethinking economics had been referred to as the Principle of Subsidiary Function its viewers, I think, won’t have reached the hundreds of thousands that have been touched by Small is Lovely. But the previous is a extra correct description of the idea on the coronary heart of his work…”


The precept must be actively defended within the office, or organisation. Certainly, Schumacher is adamant that the supervisor who needs to intervene within the exercise of the frontline employee should justify such actions. That is the proper defence in opposition to financial autocracy, and in opposition to micromanagement.

Schumacher couldn’t be clearer. “The Precept of Subsidiary Operate implies that the burden of proof lies at all times on those that wish to deprive a decrease stage of its perform, and thereby of its freedom and duty in that respect; they need to show that the decrease stage is incapable of fulfilling this perform satisfactorily and that the upper stage can truly do significantly better.”

This helps resolve the contradiction between the “opposites of centralising and decentralising”, he claims. “The Precept of Subsidiary Operate teaches us that the centre will acquire in authority and effectiveness if the liberty and duty of the decrease formations are rigorously preserved, with the consequence that the organisation as an entire can be ‘happier and extra affluent’.”

The truth that the supervisor can not centralise and management all exercise would be the explanation for some discomfort. It may also end in some “waste” by way of replication, finest apply not being instantly generalised, and staff performing the identical capabilities in several methods. Nonetheless, the positive aspects by way of the engagement of the workforce, their feeling of freedom and their skill to work creatively greater than make up for such issues.

In Schumacher’s phrases: “From the administrator’s standpoint, i.e. from the standpoint of orderliness, it can look untidy, evaluating most unfavourably with the clear lower logic of a monolith. The massive organisation will include many semi-autonomous models, which we could name quasi-firms. Every of them may have a considerable amount of freedom, to offer the best attainable probability to creativity and entrepreneurship.”


There are additional problems. Schumacher recognises that some groups inside a big organisation won’t be concerned with speedy revenue making. For instance, the HR division of a grocery store won’t make any gross sales however will present a service to colleagues that may make sure the organisation can in actual fact perform. He due to this fact units out what may be understood as an inner market inside the organisation. In his phrases, one division could pay “hire” to an, or obtain a “subsidy” from a division that makes use of its companies. This, once more, permits for a excessive stage of autonomy on the entrance line. It situates managers not as central management, however as a substitute as service suppliers to entrance line colleagues.

This strategy could seem extraordinarily radical. Furthermore, it would seem idealistic moderately than pragmatic, and sensible. However that is the facility of Schumacher’s work. It’s primarily based on the actual life apply of being straight concerned within the working of the Nationwide Coal Board in Britain, which he described as “one of many largest industrial organisations in Europe.”

This case examine demonstrates past cheap doubt that it’s attainable “to arrange quasi-firms underneath varied names for its opencast mining, its brickworks, and its coal merchandise.” He additional provides: “However the course of didn’t finish there. Particular, comparatively self-contained organisational varieties have been advanced for its street transport actions, estates, and retail enterprise, to not point out varied enterprises falling underneath the heading of diversification.”

The remaining rules of Schumacher’s organisational science defend and safe the primary precept of Subsidiary Operate. The Precept of Vindication makes express that the administration should restrict its interference with the frontline workforce to growing and deploying excessive stage technique, in speaking targets, after which having clear measures – name them key efficiency indicators – to make sure that the technique is being delivered by the organisation.

Certainly, the managers should actively defend the autonomy of those that report back to them. He states: “To vindicate means: to defend in opposition to reproach or accusation: to show to be true and legitimate; to justify; to uphold; so this precept describes very nicely one of the vital duties of the central authority in direction of the decrease formations.” He concludes: “Apart from distinctive circumstances, the subsidiary unit have to be defended in opposition to reproach and upheld.”


Schumacher is discussing find out how to run organisations in a capitalist society, the place profitability is the one actual measure of success. This won’t appear relevant for charitable and activist work that sits outdoors of the circulate of commodity manufacturing and gross sales. Nonetheless, the important thing level that Schumacher needs to make right here is legitimate. The administration of any organisation ought to restrict their interference to absolutely the minimal, and in a capitalist firm that minimal ought to be the era of revenue. 

The unconventional features of this that every one different issues – how the daily exercise ought to be performed and managed – should stay with the entrance line workers. In a charity, a supervisor could focus totally on growing technique and monitoring affect. If the frontline workers wish to implement a 4 day week, and the supervisor can’t reveal a lower in affect, then that call ought to be taken by these frontline workers, and never the supervisor. 

That is said explicitly and clearly in Schumacher’s essay. “In its ultimate software, the Precept of Vindication would allow just one criterion for accountability in a industrial organisation, specifically profitability.” The argument continues: “The centre may have two alternatives for intervening exceptionally. The primary happens when the centre and the subsidiary unit can’t come to a free settlement on the hire or subsidy, because the case could also be, which is to be utilized.”

He provides: “The second alternative arises when the unit fails to earn a revenue, after permitting for hire or subsidy. The administration of the unit is then in a precarious place: if the centre’s effectivity audit produces extremely unfavourable proof, the administration could need to be modified.”

Schumacher then introduces the Precept of Identification. Once more, this rule is designed to guard the primary precept of Subsidiary Operate. The proposal is that every undertaking, every programme, and every division inside a big organisation ought to have its personal stability sheet. In fashionable parlance, this is able to be an operational funds. The purpose is that the group delivering on the undertaking, or working the division, ought to be given full autonomy so long as the stability sheet demonstrates that they’re making a revenue, in a industrial organisation, or delivering affect inside funds, as could be the case in a non-commercial setting.


He explains his adherence to the revenue motive: “Enterprise operates with a sure financial substance, and this substance diminishes because of losses, and grows because of revenue.” Given this assumption, the precept of identification states that: “Every subsidiary unit or quasi-firm will need to have each a revenue and loss account and a stability sheet.” 

The intention, once more, is bigger autonomy. “A unit’s success ought to result in better freedom and monetary scope for the unit, whereas failure – within the type of losses – ought to result in restriction and incapacity. One needs to bolster success and discriminate in opposition to failure.”

The administration does maintain colleagues accountable. However until managers can present a group is failing (making a loss, or utilizing sources with out delivering affect) they can not micromanage or intrude in base stage choice making. This facet of Schumacher’s prescription can sound overly technical. Nonetheless, by way of autonomy within the workforce he’s direct and sure. “This can be a matter of nice psychological significance.”

Now Schumacher arrives at The Precept of Motivation. The Precept of Subsidiary Operate ensures employee autonomy. The first good thing about this technique is that staff stay motivated. They’ll work creatively, they’ll study, they’ll see the outcomes of the choices they’ve made. They’re rewarded by the success of their work. Nonetheless, motivation is so vital inside an organisation that Schumacher deems that it requires its personal precept in his organisational system.

He states: “It’s a trite and apparent truism that individuals act in accordance with their motives. All the identical, for a big organisation, with its bureaucracies, its distant and impersonal controls, its many summary guidelines and laws, and above all of the relative incomprehensibility that stems from its very measurement, motivation is the central drawback.”


He provides: “Managements assume that individuals work merely for cash. for the pay-packet on the finish of the week.” That is merely wrong-headed. And, the thinker states, “[i]ntellectual confusion exacts its worth.”

Autocratic administration comes at a substantial price. The angle that the managers make all the choices and the workers are there merely as a secretariat to mindlessly enact these selections is pricey, prohibitively so for money strapped charities. When staff are given orders and directives they merely lose motivation, whereas others will resist and insurgent. Managers then spend helpful time making an attempt to reassert management.

The lack of autonomy for employees has speedy penalties. “Many don’t have any need to be in it, as a result of their work doesn’t curiosity them, offering them with neither problem nor satisfaction, and has no different advantage of their eyes than that it results in a pay-packet on the finish of the week.”

And the implications for the organisation as an entire may be terminal. “[T]he well being of a big organisation relies upon to a unprecedented extent on its skill to do justice to the Precept of Motivation. Any organisational construction that’s conceived with out regard to this elementary reality is unlikely to succeed.”

The fourth and ultimate Schumacher precept for working an organisation is once more involved with defending the primary rule of Subsidiary Operate, of making certain the very best attainable diploma of autonomy for frontline workers. Schumacher calls this The Precept of the Center Axiom. This extremely technical time period merely restates the suggestion that managers make sure that colleagues perceive the technique, and are given clear intermediate targets and parameters for his or her work.


Schumacher recognises that “[t]op administration in a big organisation inevitably occupies a really troublesome place. It carries duty for all the pieces that occurs, or fails to occur, all through the organisation, though it’s far faraway from the precise scene of occasions.”

There are actual pressures and a temptation in direction of central, hierarchical management over complicated, unpredictable conditions. “How, then, can high administration on the centre work for progress and innovation?”

The Precept of the Center Axiom is critical as a bulwark in opposition to managers utilizing management. He states that “being distant from the precise scene of operations, the central administration incur the legitimate criticism that ‘it makes an attempt to run the trade from Headquarters’, sacrificing the necessity for freedom to the necessity for order and dropping the inventive participation of the individuals on the decrease formations – the very people who find themselves most carefully in contact with the precise job.”

Within the easiest phrases, the Precept of the Center Axiom simply signifies that managers have to set out the goals, goals, strategies and guidelines (the technique) of the organisation clearly. An axiom is an announcement of first precept that doesn’t must be, or certainly can’t be, confirmed by way of proof or argument. 

The intention of the organisation is such an axiom. If you wish to change the precise intention of your organization or group, then you’re in all probability within the improper office. Nonetheless, whereas managers may be seen because the guardians of the technique of the organisation they completely should not become involved in daily selections. They need to not transfer past the center axiom of setting the intention and scope of a division, programme or undertaking. 


Small is Lovely is finest often known as a manifesto for a brand new era of thinkers, particularly economists, who rallied in opposition to the sheer scale of the commercial society, the event of worldwide monopolistic corporations, and using large machines to extract worth from the pure atmosphere, turning it into a dull wasteland.

Schumacher is evident that his curiosity was in appropriateness of scale. The society by which he discovered himself idolised the big, the economies of scale, and he needed to rejoice the small as an mental counter.

Apparently, this philosophical strategy discovered particular expression in Schumacher’s organisational science. The tactic was to make the massive organisation an aggregation of small organisations. The intention was to make sure freedom for all staff. This had the sensible good thing about supporting excessive ranges of creativity, innovation and motivation throughout even giant organisations.

However there was additionally for Schumacher additionally a deep precept at stake. Human freedom is a direct good. The financial advisor to the British Nationwide Coal Board knew instinctively that everybody of its 800,000 staff had a proper to have probably the most management attainable over their very own work, to be absolutely human moderately than mere instruments. Whereas his organisational philosophy was no utopia, it had the potential to be a bulwark in opposition to autocracy and micromanagement.

This Creator

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. The SMALL IS THE FUTURE occasion is going down on Saturday, 17 June 2023 on the Paintworks, Bristol. Audio system embrace Dr Ann Pettifor, Charlie Hertzog Younger, Satish Kumar, Professor Herbert Girardet and Gareth Dale. Buy tickets here. If you wish to attend the occasion however can’t afford a ticket e-mail 


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