In his landmark 1776 work The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith showed that a clever division of labor could make a commercial enterprise vastly more productive than if each worker took personal charge of constructing a finished product. Four decades later, in On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, David Ricardo took the argument further with his theory of comparative advantage, asserting that because it is more efficient for Portuguese workers to make wine and English workers to make cloth, each group would be better off focusing on its area of advantage and trading with the other.
These insights both reflected and drove the Industrial Revolution, which was as much about process innovations that reduced waste and increased productivity as it was about the application of new technologies. The notions that the way we organize work can influence productivity more than individual effort can and that specialization creates commercial advantage underlie the study of management to this day. In that sense Smith and Ricardo were the precursors of Frederick Winslow Taylor, who introduced the idea that management could be treated as a science—thus starting a movement that reached its apogee with W. Edwards Deming, whose Total Quality Management system was designed to eliminate all waste in the production process.