Uniqueness and Efficiency: Can You Have Both?

Bella Limber-Mrs. Stewart
Uniqueness and Efficiency: Can You Have Both?

All companies and businesses have the great goal of combining unique products that they can manufacture efficiently. But what really is a unique product? Is it something that is unique from other companies of a similar product? No, I am talking about complete uniqueness. Products that cannot be repeated so there is nothing else like it anywhere else. However, if a company wants to sell products like these to a large population, it would be difficult to produce large amounts efficiently, even with the division of labor. Adam Smith in Selections from the Wealth of Nations explains the benefits of different people doing different jobs to create one product. But has anyone ever thought about the detriments of assembly lines?

When a division of labor is in place at a certain company, the process is made for efficiency and productivity. This is only because every part of making the product must be standardized, or the assembly line will not fulfill its purpose. That purpose is to manufacture a good in the most productive and accurate way possible in a short amount of time. Adam Smith describes the trade of pin-making and the divisions of labor involved with producing them. Smith writes “one man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it,” and so on.[1] If ten men were in this assembly line of pin parts, together they can make about twelve pounds of pins in a day if working quickly. However, if those workers made their own whole pins, it is possible that they would not be able to make one by themselves. [1]This is because each of the workers was only trained to produce one small step in the pin-making process. One person does not have the skills or training to produce one whole product, but only a small part of it. With multiple people working together to make one product, so much more can be produced. So the division of labor certainly is a very good thing and has an important place in the economy, but there are also downsides to the practice.

Even though the division of labor seems like it should be the only way we should manufacture things, it is not perfect. There is one very important flaw in the plan of the division of labor and that is the lack of uniqueness. “While several workers using interchangeable, standardized parts makes for easy repairs and replacements, it also means each item loses that individualistic flare of unique craftsmanship”. [2]For certain products, consumers would want their piece specially made and completely unique from other products of the same function. [2] They desire this even when it is more expensive because it gives a person credibility to be able to tell someone that he or she has a one of a kind blank. An assembly line does not allow for that because all of the products are exactly the same. Therefore, the division of labor cannot be implemented just anywhere. Only in companies that individuality in their products would be pointless. Otherwise, like I mentioned before, the division of labor would not fulfill its purpose of producing efficiently and productively.

A lack of individuality is not the only problem with the division of labor though. Another is that sometimes the labor is divided up too much to create more jobs for more people. This causes the product to be too broken up so there is even more room for error than there already is with a normally broken up product. With a skilled artisan, he or she does not need to rely on anybody else to make the product, so there is less of a chance for mistakes. The artisan also does not have anybody waiting on them to make the next part so he or she can take their time and avoid many possible errors. A product too broken up could be for instance a Barbie doll. Normally in making the Barbie doll, there would be a person making the torso, another person making the head, another person the left arm, and so on. If it was divided up even more such as one person making the index finger, another person the left knee etc. then it would become inefficient and no longer very productive. There would be too many people in the assembly line so it would take longer to finish one doll. Also, this would cause even more similarities in the products. There has to be a balance to how divided the labor is, or it will not be as effective as it should be.

Even though factory workers on assembly lines tend to not make very much money, skilled artisans and artists often make the same amount or less because their supply is much lower than a factory worker’s. Most of the time, those struggling artists are out on the sidewalk living on the streets just trying to sell his or her pieces to whomever happens to walk by. They do not have trucks to transport their products to every mall or grocery store in the nation like the factory workers do. Those artists and artisans do not have the access that large companies with assembly lines do. And they do not have the luxury of the sure fact that at least one person will purchase their product. Also, the more the factory thrives, the more the artisan diminishes because consumers want abundancy in things. And artisans and artists cannot provide that abundancy because they only have themselves to work with and produce. So those struggling artists are struggling not because their products are undesirable, but because consumers can most likely get a product with the same function in a store somewhere else, probably at a much lower price.

In conclusion, completely unique products cannot possibly be produced efficiently because they simply contradict each other. You can have efficiency and abundancy with the division of labor, or you can have uniqueness and individuality with a skilled artisan or artist. There must be a balance however, of what the consumers want. Unfortunately for artisans and artists, consumers often desire abundancy and alike products. They want to be able to replace things in case something is broken or ruined because life is messy. So the artists and artisans struggle because their beautifully unique products are too expensive and valuable to be purchased which makes no sense. Also, consumers crave instant gratification, so they will always choose the quick choice of store bought goods over specially made artisan products that took more time to make. A struggling artist’s customer will have to wait for the product to be created in front of them because it wouldn’t be smart of an artist to pre-make something that may not be sold. It would be a waste of materials and his or her time. So consumers should start to look for more of the street artists and artisans that can produce something that has never been seen before again and again. Then, once one person buys a unique piece, they will encourage their friend to buy one, and they will recommend their friends, and soon, that previously struggling artist, can make a living and get off the streets. People need to recognize the unique things in the world and appreciate them, or factories will dominate and there will be very limited creativity.


[1] “Selections from The Wealth of Nations”, Adam Smith in How To Find Happiness Without A Free Lunch, ed. Mr. Aparicio

[2] “Advantages and Disadvantages of Assembly Line Manufacturing.” Work Horses of Industry. December 28, 2012. Accessed June 28, 2015.

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