From ancient warfare to maverick retail, the idea of a “hat” integrated with near-obsessive efficiency has been a crucible for productivity and has changed society itself.
In his essay of July 1, 1965, titled “HATS, THE REASON FOR,” L. Ron Hubbard defined the word hat for organizations:
“HAT: Slang for the title and work of a post in an org. Taken from the fact that in many professions, such as railroading, the type of hat worn is the badge of the job.”
And in his article of September 8, 1972, “EFFICIENCY AND FLAPS,” Mr. Hubbard wrote:
“A small group can make it if they are very alert and very efficient.”
“When a group isn’t alert or efficient, it has to have more and more and more people to be inefficient with.”
“It’s the small neglected bits that cause the disasters.
“An efficient group doesn’t tolerate them.”
We hear of the “chief cook and bottle washer” who wears many hats. The entrepreneur must wear practically every hat imaginable until more people can be hired, assigned hats, and a business built. In efficient organizations and campaigns, members demonstrate high morale and skill while productivity soars.
The ancient Macedonian army, under Alexander the Great (356–323 BC), was composed of highly disciplined soldiers trained as specialists. Infantry, armed with the “sarissa” (a spear up to 20 feet long) in phalanx formation, would attack as a cohesive unit while heavy cavalry rode as a wedge to break enemy ranks—flanked by light cavalry, archers and artillery.
The efficiency of the Macedonian forces was such that they defeated vastly larger armies on a conquest extending 3,000 miles across Europe, North Africa and Asia, which was responsible for the spread of Macedonian and Greek culture and philosophy (the Hellenistic period).1
The United States Navy uses a system of insignia to identify the functions of specific personnel. This is not “chain of command” but rather what each person DOES. Navigator, engineer, electronics, operations, repair, ordnance, diving and many more—all get a badge for instant recognition of the “hat” held by its wearer.2
At the dawn of the twentieth century, automotive pioneer Ransom E. Olds created and patented the first functional auto assembly line, each technician knowing their exact skill well enough for the line to produce twenty Oldsmobile “Curved Dash” models per day.3
In 1913, Henry Ford improved upon the assembly line concept by using a conveyor and pulley-rope system to move the chassis. Ford’s system, further refined by time-motion analysis, consisted of eighty-four distinct steps, each performed by a specialist. A Ford Model T could be produced every 90 minutes, and by 1924, ten million Model T’s had rolled off the line.4
In 1948, brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald (Dick and Mac) purpose-built their restaurant in San Bernardino, California, by using a tennis court and chalk to lay out the kitchen components and choreographing how each employee—well trained on his or her exact job—could work in concert for maximum efficiency. The process was painstakingly recreated in the 2016 film The Founder (and covered by Architectural Digest) about the birth of the McDonald’s chain, the brothers and their oft-strained partnership with Ray Kroc.5
In 1975, businessman Sol Price sketched an idea for a membership-only “warehouse store” business model on a napkin. Founded as Price Club (a happy coincidence), the first store was located inside a series of airplane hangars previously owned by Howard Hughes. A warehouse store with a similar model, called Costco, and Price Club eventually merged as PriceCostco and later simply Costco.6
Today, Costco has 741 stores (warehouses) worldwide and is known as a maverick in the retail industry.7Ninety million people have memberships of $60 per year or $120 for executive level, and the basic annual membership fee is happily renewed by 90.6 percent of its members.8
By charging the membership fee, selling in bulk with low mark-up, and running a highly efficient operation, Costco can put more time and effort into their most valuable asset—their employees. Costco has proven systems for what they do, and they don’t seek out business-school graduates for managerial positions but rather promote from within. They pay their staff well above minimum wage and offer health benefits.9
Their distribution of labor is also efficient. At one point, they were able to cut 400 shipping trucks per year by changing round cashew containers to square ones. They use no bags for groceries but recycle all the boxes that come in and utilize those at the checkout counters. They also do not use automated checkout, as having employees do it proved more efficient.10
The store offers a wide selection of organic food, French wines, and everything from pecan pies and patio furniture to Ultra HD TVs and diamonds. Their inventory is constantly changing, something their members have grown to expect and which is possible due to the efficiency of their supply chain. The company also employs no public relations staff and spends next to nothing on advertising or marketing beyond direct mail.
Those are but a few examples from ancient times to the present day of the scope of hats and efficiency and what these mean for business and civilization.
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