Friday, November 16, 2012

Organisations as Defenses against Anxiety

This was one of my favourite piece in my first book, "Understanding Organisations:  Organisational Theory and Practice in India" (Chapter 11, Section D), where I could slink in my existential concerns...
The most popular view of organisations is that they are socio‑economic entities, which are meant for producing goods or providing services in the most efficient and effective manner. Moreover, so pervasive is their influence in our lives that one tends to unquestioningly accept their existence as almost natural and given. In accepting this view, however, we neglect the basic truth that, organisations are man‑made, simulated, controlled and ‘artificial’ environments, which also serve some deep psychological purposes in the lives of their members (managers, staff members and workers).

At the most obvious level (as we noticed in Jefferson’s observation about the Shell executives), organisations, with their emphasis on rationality, reliability, control, etc., provide excellent mechanisms for warding off uncertainties and ambiguities of human condition. They help people to regulate their lives, to experience a feeling of predictability, and to derive a sense of mastery over themselves. In this sense, they serve as useful psychological defenses, which are often quite functional (in a task‑related sense) as well. Menzies (1960), for instance, described how the depersonalised work systems, procedures and practices related to a nurses’ job (e.g., strict “professionalism”, structuring work in precise routines, referring to patients as “bed number”, etc.) are aimed at increasing  their interpersonal distance from the patients. Such psychological distancing may also be necessary for the nurses to do their jobs effectively.

The fact, nevertheless, is that organisations do provide legitimacy to defensive behaviours, and so help people to avoid coming in touch with their deep‑seated emotional or existential anxieties and dilemmas (Jaques, 1970; Chattopadhyay, 1986). Kets de Vries (1980) noted how people create structures and roles to avoid coming in touch with their deeply experienced feelings of alienation and emptiness. Behind the conscious concerns with tasks, responsibilities, obedience, etc., may lie the unconscious interpersonal anxieties aroused by close contact with people. In fact, Morgan (1986) showed through his analysis of the life of Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management, how the unconscious concerns for controlling one’s impulses can get translated into socially legitimate aims of controlling organisations (see also Chowdhry and Kakar, 1971). He points out how Taylor’s life provides:

...a splendid illustration of how unconscious concerns and preoccupations can have an effect on organisation. For it is clear that his whole theory of scientific management was the product of a disturbed and neurotic personality. His attempt to organise and control the world, whether in childhood games or in systems of scientific management, was really an attempt to organise and control himself.

At a much deeper level, the very construction of organisations can be seen as a social defense against the anxiety of death. In his book, The Denial of Death, Becker (1973) argued that all the efforts of mankind (religions, ideologies, institutions, culture, etc.) are aimed at denying the finite and transient fact of human existence. The fact that we will all die is a fact which makes our existence devoid of any permanent meaning, and creates anxiety. In building organisations and institutions, and in identifying with them, we create something which is more durable and larger than life. Our roles and work activities, give us a sense of continuity, and make our existence real to us. In the introduction of their book, In Search of Excellence, Peters and Waterman (1982) quoted Becker: “What man really fears is not so much extinction, but extinction with insignificance... Ritual is a technique for giving life.” They go on to say: “In other words, men willingly shackle themselves to the nine‑to‑five, if only, the cause is perceived to be in some sense great.”

The implication of this defensive nature of organisations, is again for the accuracy of the perception of reality. If the involvement of the decision‑makers and organisational members is based on the unconscious motives of warding off deep‑seated anxieties, then they are less likely to accept psychologically threatening realities. Janis (1982) pointed out how decision‑making groups develop filters and shields (illusions of invulnerability, stance of self‑righteousness, stereotyped perception of the problem and the “enemy out there”, etc.), which do not allow the members to come in contact with an unacceptable reality, and reinforce a process of groupthink. Similarly, Argyris (1970) noted how in the organisational change process, managers tend to neglect, deny, and distort dissonant information:

...the clients may tend to forget controversial information suggested by the interventionist and recall in its place the information from the past substitutes for the controversial 0information. It means clients will expose themselves to learning the information that maintains their present degree of self‑acceptance... (and) will tend to interpret relatively threatening information in line with their values...

According to Pauchant and Mitroff (1992), these distortions result from the bounded emotionality of the managers, i.e., from the defects in their capacity to feel and experience certain emotions. They found that these inadequacies in the emotional capacity of the decision‑makers (i.e., their faulty and unhealthy mechanisms of dealing with their own feeling and impulses) were significant contributors in making organisations crisis‑prone. One only has to look at some of the major industrial disasters and organisational failures (e.g., Bhopal gas tragedy and the Challenger shuttle accident) to realise that in all these cases, there were individuals (sometimes, even everyone involved) who were aware of the possibility (or certainty) of the crisis, but somehow they “decided” to ignore it. What is also significant is the fact that these defenses are, by nature, unconscious, and do not yield (in fact, often become more rigid) in the face of crisis and failure. As Starbuck, Greve and Hedberg (1978) noted:

Denials that crises are developing and that strategic reorientation is needed arise, to no small degree, from sincere conviction... (managers) really do believe that they should act only on the basis of reliable information and that communi-cations should flow through channels... it is a normal human characteristic to adhere to one’s prior beliefs, inspite of evidence that they are incorrect.

Monday, June 04, 2012

songs of twins separated in the sub-continent

Hindi films abound with stories of twins who got separated during "Kumbh Mela"... one becomes a criminal and the other a law-abiding policeman

Here is a story of two such twins of this sub-continent, who still sing the same song, with similar (identical?) context

... both these videos happened at the same time:

Pakistan: उम्मीद-ए-सहर

India: तुम चलो तो हिंदुस्तान चले..

Friday, April 20, 2012

capabilities beyond "eyes" and "ears"

Many years back - mid-'70s - , when I was doing my post grad in Psychology from Lucknow Univ, there were 2 of us males (out of a class of 32!.. my elder brother classified us as "protected minority" :0)
We were supposed to administer experiments/ questionnaires on unwarying folks - and then write and submit a report on that to get our marks

So, I administered a so-called "culture-free" IQ test to my other male classmate (a topper from Gorakhpuur Univ from the village), which had no requirments for knowing the language/ english... but just matching patterns..

and he scored below 5%-percentile!!..
.. we pulled his leg, naturally... and he smiled sheepishly

We came out of the Psy dept. and it was a hot summer afternoon, with a blazing 40C+ sun and a cloudless sky in April-May

My friend made one more statement to be ridiculed; he said, smelling around: "it should rain tonight"

We laughed and made fun of him - threw the below-5% percentile IQ on him...

But, that night it rained heavily... we even had a hailstorm of sorts...

To me, that was one learning experience, viz:
- that we measure the intelligence/ IQ/ capabilities on very narrow bandwidth..

- that we have 5 senses from which we 'learn', and the so called 'education' caters to only two of them, "eyes" and "ears"...

perhaps the other 3 senses - touch, smell, taste - hold much more wisdom...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

two faces of "happiness"....

A mining giant claims in its recently launched ad campaign, that it is "Creating Happiness" for the tribals of Eastern India:

The following clip was shot in the land where happiness is being created, around the same time when this ad campaign was launched nationally.

well, the clips say it all....

Saturday, November 26, 2011

How my breakfast caused "food inflation"!!

This morning I had an egg for my breakfast along with my customary glass of milk…. And it suddenly dawned on me how this innocuous act must have added to the food inflation, as the "storyline" from the top brains and policy-makers in the government has been pointing out during recent months (guiltily, I also recalled having fish on last Tuesday :((

“What prices are going up are those of vegetables, eggs, fish that are secondary and tertiary food items. That is a reflection of the demand for these commodities exceeding supplies... That in turn, to some extent at least, is a sign of growing prosperity of our country.” - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Cannes (November 8)

“Food inflation is still going high. It’s dangerously above the double-digit figure. This is the effect of festive season demand. November onwards, the trend for the remaining four months (of the fiscal) would be available.” - Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee (November 3)

"…food inflation (can be explained by) somewhat less known Bennett's Law which says that as incomes go up, people eat less of serials and eat more of protein and which is what we are seeing in India happening today. Protein food inflation was evident even earlier, but it has been much sharper in recent period reflecting among other things accelerated increase in nominal wages.” - Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, D Subbarao (Nov 22)

“High inflation number points towards people eating healthier food, better lifestyles.” - Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Jan 20, 2011)

“Food habits of people are changing. Their purchasing power is up. This is causing food inflation. They are consuming more milk and eggs, so why blame the government?” - Union Food Minister K V Thomas (Oct 29, 2011)

…meanwhile, I recall reading a in a report that during last 3 years, the retail price of sugar has risen by 100%, wheat by 150%, lentils by 300% and vegetables by 300% - and one of GOI’s own report mentions that per capita availability of grains has decreased from 163kg to 161kg per annum during the past decade or so.

…though that is another “story”…

Friday, September 10, 2010

A State of - & in - Denial !!?

This clip has been doing round on the net - on YouTube, Facebook and numerous other distributed sites since last few days.

Some reaction to this clip, are mentioned in this article:

  • "A formal case is being registered against the YouTube and Facebook networks and investigation is on to locate the persons responsible for uploading this baseless and malicious clip" a police spokesman told PTI.

  • ...the video has not been verified as yet and therefore "to attribute it to security forces with the intention of maligning them and spreading disaffection among the people is highly regrettable. Action shall also be taken against other organisations who tried to propagate it"

  • "No one has been able to authenticate the video so far," Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters... "Until it is authenticated and the persons identified, I think it would be unsafe to rely on such a video."

  • "Such a thing is not possible in Kashmir,” CRPF spokesman Prabhakar Tripathi was quoted by the Indian Express as saying. “The video seems manipulated to tarnish the image of the force and police.... In this place, even rape doesn’t remain a secret.”

    Worth reading too, is this article Kashmir’s Abu Gharaib? by Shuddhabrata Sengupta.

  • Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Guns and Daughters

    Glimpses of lives, torn in what someone has described as "India's very own civil war" - where some are drawn unknowingly into taking sides, and some make a conscious choice....

    ...but as this documentary by Shikha Trivedy says:

    " there are ideas of many India at war with each other. And in any war, women are the worst off..."

    Tuesday, June 08, 2010 least, there is "no corruption in corruption"!!

    Last evening, I had an interesting meeting with a 'friend' who is also a local entrepreneur where I live. We had met after some months, and we chatted about many things - and he shared his travails with various govt agencies to make his venture grow... Some excerpts from our conversations (not verbatim, but as I remember them... and do convey the gist):

    He: "It is very difficult to grow and expand... There is so much corruption here in these states in the East. One has to pay for anything to move."

    Me: "What about your expansions elsewhere? In the western and southern states? I understand things are much better there. No?"

    He: "Oh yes, much better there! I have been able to move much faster... which actually is a pity! This is my state - I was born and brought-up here - and I am not able to do much here - at least not as much as I would like to do."

    Me: "You mean that this part of the country is more corrupt than those states..."

    He: "Oh, no!!... They are as much corrupt and need bribes - in fact, more! - sometime they ask for more than what they ask for here..."

    Me: "Then...? - this puzzled me.

    He: "oh, there! - there at least, if you give them the "Speed Money", your work gets done. Over here, even that does not work."

    Me: "meaning?..."

    He: "Arre bhai!.. Over there, if you pay bribe, there is certain amount of honesty; they deliver what they promise... At least, there is no corruption in corruption there..."

    We had a nice evening together, but I came back with a couple of queries in my mind:

    What kind of society we have become (or were always), where:

  • it is so very nonchalently easy to talk about corruption and giving bribes (in whatever name)
  • we have created terms like "speed money" and phrases like "no corrption in corruption"

    Don’t know, really!... Good night!

    [NOTE: Over last 30yrs or so, since I started working, I have had the benefit of knowing, befriending and getting acquainted with very wide bandwidth of people - ranging from students, factory artisans, grassroot activists, entrepreneurs... to some who are CEOs. They have been nice to have remembered me over decades, and when we meet we meet as friends... With some I have differed on issues, but have always found them well-meaning, honest people with their own issues in life - as all of us have.

    Some of those interactions have created dissonance in me, but I have also learned from those differences... And in any case, I have emerged wiser through those... So, in some ways, they have been my teachers to help me understand life (within and around me) - because they raised questions for me...
    ...this interaction was one of the many of those!]
  • Thursday, May 27, 2010

    India.. a nation divided by "Caste"! ? is always useful to take a stock of what-we-are-most-critical-about... Specially when the media is abuzz with Khap Panchayat - with what-the-ground-realities-are...

    And so, some news-items of the past weeks (click on the headline to read the news-items):

    Maharashtra seeks Facebook ban
    The Maharashtra government has asked the Centre about the possibility of blocking social networking site Facebook following such a demand from Muslim and Christian organisations...

    77 per cent oppose same gotra marriages: HT survey
    Even as the government proposes tougher laws against honour killings sanctioned by khap panchayats, a survey carried out by Hindustan Times in Haryana shows most people are against same gotra (sub-caste) marriages... The survey shows as many as 77 per cent of the respondents do not support same gotra marriages. The survey was carried out in Chandigarh, Rohtak, Jind, Bhiwani and Kurukshetra. Surprisingly, even in Chandigarh, 65 per cent of the respondents have opposed same gotra marriages....

    Now, honour killings in Andhra
    Honour killings came home to Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday night when two lovers were stoned to death by the relatives of a girl who had eloped with a man from another caste in Tadwai mandal in Nizamabad district....

    After khaps, Arya Samaj shocker for lovers
    After khaps, it is the Arya Samaj that has shocked couples in Haryana. A section of the sect has decided to ban marriages without consent of parents and villagers....

    No.. Frankly, I don’t know where are the solutions
    ....but do believe that we will never find them, unless we accept that there is a problem!.....

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Nira Radia Papers - Raja, Tata, Ambani connection

    I had read about Nira Radia in a recent issue of Outlook magazine on Corporate Lobbying... Her name again cropped up in an article in The Pioneer about the phone-tapping issue

    These 14 internal GOI's documents, scanned and posted in the link below show the outcome of tapped conversations:

    The Radia Papers– Raja, Tata, Ambani connection

    Given the industry big-wigs and the media houses involved, this scam may never achieve the kind of publicity in the mainstream media, which the IPL/ Lalit Modi issue got.

    The other reason for believing this is also because I got to know about this link through a group mail from a journalist friend, who works with a well-known and respected mainstream newspaper - obviously, if he could have published a story on this in his own newspaper, he wouldn't have shared the documents to all!!