Organization Man

William Whyte's classic, read in multiple parts
An in-depth review summary of the classic by William Whyte, with my 21st century commentary The Organization Man by William Whyte: Introduction The Ideology of the Organization Man The Training of the Organization Man

The Organization Man by William Whyte: Introduction
By: Venkat on November 18, 2008

William Whyte's 1956 classic, The Organization Man is far too embedded culturally to be 'reviewed' today, even as a classic. The book can only be read within its context, and reconstructed for 2008. It is also much too dense and nuanced to dispose off in a single post, like I do most books. So I am going to start my first-ever multi-part series devoted to a single book; the book that began the study of worker archetypes, 52 years ago. If you want to follow along, make sure you buy the 2002 reissue edition, with a great foreword by Fortune Magazine executive editor, Joseph Nocera. Since I have to do a bit of setup, in this first part, I'll only get as far as Chapter 1. In future parts, I'll try to do 3-4 chapters at once. Let's start by reviewing the cultural impact of the original. The best-known artifact of course, is Apple's famous 1984 commercial (YouTube video here), which owes as much to Whyte as to Orwell for its arresting imagery.

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without reading the book. and rebellion against prevailing opinion merely because it is prevailing should no more be praised than acquiescence to it. but as an abstraction. it is often a mask for cowardice. the man who drives a Buick Special and lives in a ranch-type house just like hundreds of other ranch-type houses can assert himself as effectively and courageously against his particular society as the Page 2/12 . nor will there be any strictures against ranch wagons. is next only to Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in influencing how we think about work.. As he says: This book is not a plea for nonconformity. In Whyte's case. or television sets. . as in the 1984 Apple commercial. In many ways.. and few are more pathetic than those who flaunt outer differences to expiate their inner surrender. his nuanced (if unsympathetic portrait) of his subject ended up reduced to a strawman collectivist figure. against what Whyte saw as a culture that had drifted much too far from the individualist. Indeed. it is in fact an updated version of Weber's arguments. Any book which creates an iconic cultural image will necessarily itself be reduced to caricature.there will be no strictures in this book against "Mass Man"...The Origins and Cultural Impact of 'Organization Man' Whyte's critical portrait of post World War II corporate America. Such pleas have an occasional therapeutic value. or gray flannel suits. that it is a case against organizations and for nonconformity.. nonconformity is an empty goal. competitive and Darwinian ethos to which Weber attributed the growth of the West.. and the suburban lifestyle it created. This was explicitly not Whyte's intent. Some have assumed.

It is in our vain quest for a utopian equilibrium. An ethic that represented lifelong and lifeless pre-adulthood and dependence on infantalizing nanny institutions (he calls suburbia the "dormitory" of the organization man). even then. The ones I am talking about belong to it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who left home. all the literature about work since TOM. and the role of talent over training. a belief in "belongingness" as the ultimate need of the individual. which was also used as the theme song for the Showtime suburbia drama. What is perhaps unfamiliar to people is the weird idea that large American corporations. There is lip-service to the value of mavericks. since he wrote about its antithetical form. And of course. Chapter 1: Introduction Whyte begins the book with an open declaration that while his project is a journalistic in nature. This is Bartleby the Scrivener institutionalized as the norm. they are of the staff as well as much as the line. the corporation. The Organization Man within a modern context. The organization man pre-adult culture of the 50s was at the other end of the spectrum. spiritually as well as physically. but you will need to make a conscious effort to think deeper than the default simplistic imagery associated with the phrase 'Organization Man'.lay in cooperative action. Whyte is setting up talk about a specific social ethic: By social ethic I mean that contemporary body of thought which makes morally legitimate the pressures of society against the individual.the sacredness of property. Some day I may blog about that. Corporate socialist cultures might outlast the governments of China and Cuba. He is not being hypocritical.bohemian against his particular society. But before we dive into the first 3 chapters. in short.. we talked more than others of personal independence and freedom. when big organization was long since a fact.and failing -. as is all of Dan Pink's work. Whyte points out a fundamental irony about American self-perceptions that was first observed by de Tocqueville: One hundred years ago [now 152] De Tocqueville was noting that though our special genius -. and then it seemed obvious... In a system that makes such hazy terminology as "junior executive" psychologically necessary. Two other pieces of Chapter 1 are worth highlighting.. Peter Capelli's Talent On Demand is a a good example of TOM-informed analysis. and a belief in the application of science to achieve that belongingness. To this ethos he attributed the bureaucratization of innovative potential and the professionalization of academe. the rise of 'Scientism' and the values of Belongingness and Togetherness. In the preface. Clearly. which makes sense. The book rings very true and very current.. The notion of empty suit to describe a useless. and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions. The Hudsucker Proxy The list goes on (do post other examples you know of in the comments). ultimately.. and most prominent in America (us non-Westerners can testify that it has been equally prevalent outside the West: my Dad was a classic Organization Man at Tata Steel between 1959-1993)... This is a very subtle form of the common critique that bureaucratized organizations end up codifying meaningless process over substantive content. We saw that Whyte set Page 3/12 . it is in our worship of it.it is in the soft-minded denial that there is a conflict between the individual and society. and when he makes his ritualistic attack on Welfare Statism. Next time. only compulsive. Like Francis Fukuyama did more recently. They are not workers. This observation that Americans do not like to admit their collectivist spirit is not new. Whyte himself tired of Organization Man related work after about eight years and spent the rest of his life as an urbanologist. The Ideology of the Organization Man By: Venkat on November 23. the virtues of thrift. And we are not talking labor unions here. exploring the culture of cities. pointed it out in a comment to one of my earlier posts. But in corporate America. here are some examples of how The Organization Man managed to frame the discourses around work for 50 years: The 1984 Apple commercial I already mentioned The image of suburbia in The Stepford Wives Malvina Reynolds famous 1962 song Little Boxes on the Hillside. tubelite. his own views are strongly unsympathetic towards the culture he is about to dissect. He honestly wants to believe he follows the tenets he extols. But let's dive into the text itself. and that dependence on a counter-trend might be misplaced. to take the vows of organization life.the fault is not in organization. The line gets at the essential idea that the organization man. Nocera seems to take it for granted that the Organization Man ethos died in the early eighties. Weeds. and we got as far as Chapter 1. we are seeing a partial return to a form of work that is a century old. the enervating effect of security. Whyte dissects this schizophrenia particularly eloquently: Collectivism? He abhors it. of hard work and independence. we'll look at a few more chapters. In this. and in the majority. The setup begins with a compact definition. First. But the organization man is still alive and well. nor are they the white collar people.. the picture hasn't actually changed as much. I believe Whyte was more right than we like to admit.. the commentary on the unique aspects of the American experience. one of the most difficult that I have read. 2008 Recap: Last time I introduced William Whyte's 1956 classic. shadowy half-worker. in its heyday. The chapter cogently argues that the trend might well be very long-term.in the usual sense of the word. affirmed the old faith as if nothing had really changed at all. might internally be the last bastions of communism. faceless warm body The surreal Coen brothers' movie. Whyte saw it as stultifying the creativity of all professions. These people only work for The Organization. is a ghostly. those bastions of capitalism. The specific ethic Whyte saw around him was a dreary sort of Utopian anti-individual collectivism. Something people usually refer to by means of euphemisms like "a consensus-driven culture. Whyte anticipated the critique that he might be attacking a strawman. We kept on. We'll consider Whyte's ideas in their original sophisticated forms.. And that's the setup. and as late as the twenties. relative to the self-reliant adult culture Max Weber admired. not just corporate middle managers. Its major propositions are three: a belief in the group as the source of creativity. We are talking about the culturally communist ethos of the managerial class. since if we are right about cloudworker economics." I had never thought of this until a reader. A form of work whose loss Whyte was bemoaning. Let me conclude this opening post with an extract from the opening paragraph. it is in terms of a Protestant Ethic undefiled by change -. covering Whyte's analysis of the fall of the Protestant Ethic. He saw the ethic as pervasive across the Western world. that companies today actually prize individualism and individual renegade creativity. even if the corporation is no longer playing Nanny. The part in red I found particularly tough. and most are destined to live poised in a middle area that still awaits a satisfactory euphemism.

Darwinian. it was not primarily about unity against oppression or about worker rights. It helped organize an unruly and lawless America into a mass suburban culture driven by the logic of large consumer markets. so the effort he devotes to this is at best a quick broad-strokes study. and unlike the robber-baron culture. and the organization man was born. carefully if unsympathetically. not an immoral one. is to give people the sanction and justification to enjoy it and to demonstrate that the hedonistic approach to his life is a moral. it managed to Page 4/12 . "we are now confronted with the problem of permitting the average American to feel moral even when he. through Organization Man narratives such as The Good (Suburban) Life. in Whyte's analysis). In this post. then. as understood here. that drove corporate growth. Curiously enough. and the rise of opposed intellectual and pragmatic cultures that provided an alternative (ultimately worse. radical individualism of the robber baron era of capitalist building. such as thrift and self-denial. Whyte quotes a contemporary market researcher: Helping in this task is what a good part of "motivation research" is all about. and as we do so. Unlike the labor unions though. its effect on the economy was to legitimize consumption. says. Like the labor union culture. A belief in cooperation and consensus for their own sake. On the 'internal contradictions' front. the ethic became a victim of its own success. to create a pseudo-scientific socialist culture within the capitalist corporation. Where the previous century. and though ostensibly built on its own set of collectivist rather than material values. even when he is not saving.. was the mature form: the highly competitive. Ernest Dichter. Protestant-ethic values fueled the growth of the America as an industrial-scale producer. Whyte attributes its decline to two forces: the accumulated entropy of its internal contradictions. anti-individualist 'social ethic' that provided the foundations for modern corporations. I will cover Chapters 2-5 (Part 1 of the 7-part. What began as an instrument to co-opt unionism ultimately swallowed middle management. Whyte argues that this layer managed to suck the soul out of leadership and grassroots passion alike. not discover its root causes. keep this deja vu question in mind: are 'social' media falling victim to the same collectivist dangers today? Chapter 2: The Decline of the Protestant Ethic Whyte is out to describe the life and times of the Organization Man. the collectivist.is spending.robber barons and fiery unionists -. He concludes that the social ethic arose as a reactionary response to the protestant ethic of Max Weber. One of the basic problems of this prosperity. it was group-oriented. It was primarily about a corporate deification of the values of community: belongingness and togetherness. were not exactly helpful in catalyzing a culture of mass consumption. even when he is taking two vacations a year and buying a second or third car. The protestant ethic. The ideals.himself the project of describing. Let's do the longer version. between 1940-1960. The Organization Man culture was exactly this consumption-legitimizing culture. 29-chapter book).post WW II American culture was defined and dominated by the middle layers.. Here's a short version of the argument in Part 1. which we'll meet later. 1840-1940 had been dominated by colorful figures from the top and bottom -. Intellectual culture and practical concerns conspired. titled the Ideology of the Organization Man.

Overall though. the Protestant Ethic created a culture that needed more structure. John Dewey (1859-1952) and Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) critiqued the protestant ethic. Just like Page 5/12 . suburban American culture. We are purged of bias and somehow by the sheer accumulation of such bias-free findings. Full disclosure: so do I. more organized. but the crude and bastardized forms in which they diffused through the culture.78 or . the System Dynamics of Forrester. The next step beckons: having measured this it seems that there is nothing that can't be measured. this too. I suspect Whyte's analysis would be strengthened.Part of the trouble lies in our new-found ability to measure more precisely. Science has not. (A personal comment is in order here. rather than weakened. The culture of Scientism drew in part from grand social engineering models. Whyte genuinely felt that the individualist values of the protestant ethic were sounder than those of the collectivist social ethic that replaced it. pining for a romanticized Golden Age of capitalism? Reading further. As a guy with a PhD in systems and control theory myself. It was moral to want two cars..76 with population density-not . I have finally settled into being a skeptic. there is curiously little discussion of the specific historical/contingent causes that might have been contributors (two World Wars and one Great Depression).. This chapter had me wondering: was Whyte merely a nostalgic classicist. such as the General Systems Theory of Ludwig Von Bettanfly.simultaneously stigmatize entrepreneurship for pure profit and wealth as greed.61 but 76..) Among the sillier effects of wooly-headed borrowing from science that Whyte notes is the then-current tendency to turn the mathematical notion of equilibrium into a cultural axiom. In a way.' Here's Whyte's summary critique of Scientism: The scientific basis can be stated very simply. The second force was an intellectual counter-reaction to the individualism encouraged by the Protestant Ethic. and the Cybernetics of Wiener (I peripherally referred to the history of social engineering in this piece). and erected the counter-arguments that could legitimize the new. was an effect of success: by domesticating Wild West America. The force that made the collectivist social ethic real was what Whyte calls Scientism. and that's a fact. Chapter 3: Scientism Philosophers and a diffuse sense of collectivism alone would not have created the Organization Man.. Mistaken or not. but that is another matter. the popularized version of the science of the group is a social force in its own right. by adding history. It is now coming to be widely believed that science has proved the group superior to the individual. we will pave the basis of a theoretical formula that describes all. . Philosophers such as William James (1842-1910). Note though that it is not the careful opinions of these philosophers that Whyte thinks matters. In all this. the idea that the successes of natural science were in large measure to the objectiveness of the phenomena studied eludes social engineers. Nowadays. I've had a love-hate relationship with this body of literature. and derive from it a justification for collectivism in terms of 'social equilibrium. but not to want a million dollars. Median income level of a hundred selected families in an urban industrial universe correlates . you realize that wasn't the case.

bastardized versions of complexity theory similarly deify an obscure notion of disequilibrium. some models are useful). Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it. As in other such suggested projects the scientific elite is not supposed to give orders. they would be a mild-looking group of therapists who. Does that come from a very different place than the idea of a "peace planner?" If System Dynamics led to a deification of equilibrium. by Chris Anderson of Wired. Norvig dangerously reduces the idea of scientific model to "first principles. The Dream Manager (a Nanny Corporation parable about a company that institutes a "dream manager" position to help employees reach their dreams). today. Page 6/12 ." "integrative leader. theoretical model." This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. quite simply..[In] the 1984 of Big Brother one would at least know the enemy was-a bunch of bad men who wanted power because they liked power. The moral and doctrinal values that accompanied Scientism were belongingness and togetherness. Forget taxonomy. Google's research director. end up with the same problems. each of which gets its own chapter. without adequate care. Consider this bit from The End of Theory. and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. wrong. and when the day of reckoning came the people on the other side of the table wouldn't be Big Brother's bad henchmen. Norvig (and by citation." "group therapist. But in the other kind of 1984 one would be disarmed for not knowing who the enemy was. I don't have room here to go into this in detail. Change a few terms and you get modern statements of Scientism.. offered an update to George Box's maxim: "All models are wrong. the recent book. Anderson) are. With enough data. This should sound familiar: Whyte is describing a version of Orwell's 1984 (Whyte and Orwell were born only 15 years apart). Whyte comments explicitly on the ideas of his literary contemporary. After describing (with barely-concealed disgust) the sorts of 'scientifically legitimized' collectivist organizational roles that were beginning to emerge in the 50s ("peace planner. except that it isn't. to which Whyte's remarks would equally appply. Speaking at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this past March. the numbers speak for themselves. for instance. Peter Norvig. and increasingly you can succeed without them. ontology.. There runs through all of them a clear notion that questions of policy can be made somewhat nonpartisan the application of science..physics. from linguistics to sociology. I love the original George Box quote (all models are wrong. multiple-regression modeling and data-mining for the more explicit ones of first-principles modeling. like the Grand Inquisitor." "social diagnostician"). Consider. would be doing what they did to help you. but the takeaway is this: this is one piece of Whyte's analysis that is still current. All of behavioral economics and wisdom-of-crowds thinking can. This critique of Scientism would sound dated.." The "massive amounts of data and applied mathematics" just substitutes the the hidden assumptions of statistical. and psychology. Out with every theory of human behavior.

a school of thought that was concerned with the rootlessness of the industrial worker. Mayo and his colleagues were out to improve productivity in the classic Taylorist fashion. Whyte's main point is that an abstract. First. The argument is developed along three fronts. The use of this technique world lead to many pitfalls. which made the test subjects feel like they belonged. ultimately. and you get the feeling the speech is a subtle form of revenge on the part of the harried underling who wrote it. as they turned the presumed lessons of the over-extrapolated science on themselves. Lloyd Warner. But wonder if it would produce findings any more unscientific than opposite course [of complicated socio-historical analysis]. the effect of the management ideology was on middle management. Similar conclusions were drawn on two other fronts. At times it almost seems that human relations is a revolutionary tool the organization man is to use against the bosses. that redefined management around the idea of belongingness to the corporation. he lampoons the vague and over-complicated sociological analysis (which relied. and in the community. It will be called the Face-Value Technique. resulted in improvements in both the test and control groups. Elsewhere. studying the New England town of Newburyport. assumed as older models of effective belongingness): Someday someone is going to create a stir by proposing a radical tool for the study of people. on the social systems within industrial environments. for it is undeniably true people do not always act logically or say what they mean. They finally concluded that it was the fact that they were selected for the study.Chapter 4: Belongingness The social ethic of the Organization Man relied on ideas from something called the Social Relations school. Whyte's critique of both the underlying science and the widespread impact on management theology. From these studies. ranging from improved lighting to changing schedules. an unquestioned idea crept in. was the solution. is extremely sharp. that resulted in the morale improvements. not just at work. an entire ideology was constructed. and the problem of reconciling the [assumed] worker's need for belongingness with "the conflicting allegiances of the complex world he now finds himself in. founded by sociologist Elton Mayo at Harvard in the fifties. and found an unusual phenomenon: every experiment they could think up. It can only be assumed as a value extant in Page 7/12 . It be based on the premise that people often do what they do for the reasons they think they do. in part. that a single subsuming affiliation (to the Nanny Corporation). The most devastating effect this had was on leadership. practically metaphysical. but at home. on the idea of cultural memory of Middle Age fiefdoms. to the need for belongingness. Frank Tannenbaum drew similar inferences from his study of labor unions." Somewhere in this intellectual program. Listen to an unreconstructed boss give a speech castigating unreconstructed bosses for not being more enlightened about human relations. attributed the dynamics of the community in relation to the local company (a shoe factory). unions and their communities. there is Mayo's own work. While the insights may have come from studies of industrial workers. in particular through an extremely smart set of experiments at Western Electric in Illinois. value like belongingness cannot be demonstrated through experiment.

cut the lug down.. prejudices-leans to side or. among the bad people we meet is the Aggressor.. In the case of the Human Relations school. in the sense of a twentieth century version of allegiance to a Middle Ages fiefdom. such as groupthink and the elevation of consensus-seeking over truth-seeking. let the group do what they are probably by now quite hot to i.e... What some group advocates have in mind is. to struggle against the effort to absorb. Togetherness as a value is at the root of much-lampooned Organization Man pathologies.. and the like and you find what sounds very much like a call to arms by the mediocre against their enemies. heads for the rudder. or if you do.is a fraud. Consider this discussion of actual group dynamics training: [The] search for better group techniques is something of a crusade against authoritarianism... they make compromises. has put it well: the danger is not that loyalties are divided today but that they be undivided tomorrow. . Skim through current group handbooks. to lend his energies to many organizations and to give himself completely to none. worse yet. but if it is stimulating.] the meeting self-consciously dedicated to creating ideas.the culture (if one is doing a contingent. Whyte notes that much of the work assumed that belongingness per se. [for instance] the Bureau of Naval Personnel handbook. Whyte notes: The most misguided attempt at false collectivization is the current attempt to see the group as a creative vehicle... spitballing. in the context of his own work-group.. they adjudicate. and so forth-is all very provocative. they talk together. The cooperative are those who take a stance directly over keel. creating out loud.. The conference leader's remedy: Place Donald Duck at your left (the blind spot). it is stimulating much like alcohol.[the] object is to get him to feel that he belongs. Can it be? People very rarely think in groups.. P1ainly.if he still persists in running wild. I would urge each Individual to avoid total involvement in any organization. to clarify his clarification. Zeroing in on the effect on innovative thinking in particular. or taken as an axiom if one is constructing a theology. togetherness defined his approach to work itself. Much of such high-pressure creation-cooking with gas. the man with ideas-in translation. they exchange information. conference leaders tool kits. quite literally.[The] fixture of organization life [. to seek to whatever extent within his power to limit each group to the minimum control necessary for performance of essential functions. But they do think... he is a threat.. . the residue of ideas usually turns out to be a refreshed common denominator everybody is relieved to agree upon-and if Page 8/12 . I never realized the caricatures used to be so true to reality.. situational analysis)... They generally do it by asking Little Brother Terrible to clarify his position. The chapter concludes with a beautiful quote from Clark Kerr (a renowned Berkeley chancellor): Clark Kerr Chancellor of the University of California.These defensive gambits against the leader are only a stopgap measure. they do not create. to eliminate the leader altogether.. was a good thing... a crusade for more freedom. Fail to hear his objections. at Berkeley.Anti-authoritarianism is becoming anti-leadership. Chapter 5: Togetherness If the value of belongingness dictated the Organization Man's overall attitude of engagement with the corporation and the suburban community. After the glow of such a session has worn off. for more recognition of the man in the middle. misunderstand them. In group doctrine the strong personality is viewed with overwhelming suspicion.

The controversial point that didn't get debated. then the group is not going to do anything. an anti-leadership culture. The Page 9/12 . Whyte's rhetoric has the ominous quality of the times. Were Whyte's fears justified? Did the Organization Man truly die with Apple's 1984 ad. you usually find that it came from a capital of ideas already thought out-by an individual-and perhaps held in escrow until moment for its introduction. The Organization Man within a modern context. I introduced William Whyte's 1956 classic. Last time we learned how the collectivist corporate values -. The hunch that wasn't followed up. individual initiative must enter into the group. we'll look at Part II.togetherness and belongingness -. The value of togetherness still rules today. But let me emphasize once more. the world of the Truman doctrine and fears of Nuclear Armageddon. Whyte isn't against legitimate study of group dynamics. in the guise of diversity ethics. In the 5 chapters that make up Part II. In this post.there is a new idea. by the more sophisticated arguments in books like The Wisdom of the Crowds. unjustified belief in 'team' creativity. this is the 50s) that would lead to a takeover of the business world by Organization Men. Next time. such as blind conformity. that warn against group brainstorming.bolstered by a culture of 'scientism. 2009 Recap: In the first two parts of this series. The Cold War in Business America It was the 1950s. It would be a mistake to confuse individualism with antagonism. The Training of Organization Man (Chapters 6-10).' created the main pathologies of Organiztion Man culture. This particular pathology is probably on its way to being corrected.[We] must remember that if every member simply wants do what the group wants to do. perfect-storm conditions were emerging (remember. but the burdens of free thought are already steep enough that we should not saddle ourselves with a guilty conscience as well. Were these acts of group co-operation or individual surrender? I haven't seen a better characterization of assumed consensus anywhere. The Training of the Organization Man The Training of the Organization Man By: Venkat on February 17. and extreme risk aversion. I'll cover Part II.. The idea that was suppressed. Somehow.. and covered the governing ideology that led to the rise of this worker archetype. The theme in this section is Whyte's big worry: that through a pathological pair of complementary dysfunctions in universities and businesses. Let's close with Whyte's passionate cry in support of individualism: [The democratic culture of organization life] makes it all the harder for the individual to Justify to himself a departure from its norm. free from agendas that assume the group is superior rather than proving it (which can at best be situational models of proof). or has he merely taken on a new and more subtle guise? Let's find out.

but specialized parts demanded by corporate America. What they mean by sales is the kind of work in which they will be technical specialists helping the customers or.the men who back up the men in the field. Remember that the flip side of this view was the more traditional rosy-eyed view of the GI Bill and the Space Race. When I talked to students in 1949. Much of Part II reads like a polemic against higher education. Equally. a considerable number of students will vote for "general managerial" work. on almost every campus I heard one recurring theme: adventure was all very well. you also get the eerie sense that Whyte was right to be scared. Unlike his contemporary. in 2009. and cravenly reducing itself to the status of a production line for the interchangeable. the book's tone seems alarmist. well-rounded life. companies. merchandising experts -. themselves befuddled by the settling fog of the social ethic. "but that's the company I'd like to join. who argued in his famous 1959 lecture. In the booming growth era they were graduating into. and that we've been seeing the slow dawn of a glorious era of maverick nonconformism since then (emerging at the rate that organization men are retiring). P. Whyte makes a convincing argument that this culture produced a generation of technicians (a particularly eloquent bit compares the impoverished experience of learning "business English" to the mind-expanding beauty of the real thing). This function displaced the trial-by-fire process of turning out hard-headed line managers (if you are unfamiliar with the line/staff distinction. So Whyte was clearly a contrarian in his own time. it is not necessarily for a staff job. If the choice is offered them. "I don't think A T &amp. were preparing them for it. primarily in the form of vocational. In Whyte's view. He is clearly chronicling what he saw as a hidden Cold War for the soul of corporate America. I was torn between two interpretations of the last half-century. It turned its training function into a production line for staff bureaucrats. If a depression comes there will always be an A T &amp. Knowing what we all do about the history of American business between 1956 and 2009 however. Ideologically. that we cannot even see it. which seems very contemporary today. That perhaps the Organization Man culture has won so comprehensively. For they don't actually want to sell. Whyte saw a deeper divide between fundamental and applied knowledge." When seniors check such ostensibly line occupations as sales. This was a generation both risk-averse and in a mood to enjoy. While the fundamental bias is for staff work. 'They want to be sales engineers. Here is a sample of the sort of attitude Whyte found. On the other hand. there is no question: I am unreservedly on Whyte's side. This. distribution specialists. Chapter 6: A Generation of Bureaucrats Chapter 6 covers the attitudes towards work on the part of graduating seniors in the 1949. Whyte argues. Snow. but also from real line-of-fire work and real risks of failure in big companies.T is very exciting. try this primer). And universities of course.. Which is it? I'll give you the Cliff Notes version of Part II before I share my conclusion. The Beat poets were very much a sideshow..A distinction is in order." one senior put it. and many who choose personnel or public relations do so with the idea that it is the best pathway to the top jobs. and ever aware that World War III could kill them next week. was hollowing out both the humanities and the basic sciences. masterminding the work of those who do the helping. they still exhibit the staff bias. that the great divide in higher education was between the humanities and the sciences. but it was smarter to make a compromise in order to get a depression-proof sanctuary. the post-war education system was guilty of abandoning its unique mission of education-as-soul-liberation. The big point here is that young workers were shying away not only from small businesses and entrepreneurship. were offering them this life. was the generation that grew up through World War II and witnessed the struggles of the Great Depression in childhood (much like what school kids today are experiencing.that the soulless. T. The Two Cultures. remember. This is captured in a scary pair of statistics that demonstrate the slow draining of entrepreneurial spirit that seems to have been going on: Page 10/12 .overarching fear is clear -. Much of Part II is devoted to agonizing over how the focus on applied knowledge. C. There is a surreal quality to the inter-institutional social transaction being described. appreciate and be grateful for the victories hard-won by their parents. On the face of it. and co-opted the Boomer rebellion so completely. It certainly seems like Apple metaphorically killed the Organization Man with its 1984 ad. They were buying into the myth of a balanced. collectivist and conformist Organization Man would take over and destroy the capitalist vitality and creative-destruction that Whyte so admired. corporate America abandoned the Darwinian training models that had proved so successful during the early part of the century. engineering and business undergraduate programs. better yet. a world of post 9/11 worldwide terror and a depression).

The scare quotes tell the story. this gets translated and retranslated by the organization people. versus 46 per cent of the small-business men. Ah. By contrast. Those will control a good part of the educational plant will be products themselves of the most stringently anti-intellectual training in country. "you will never sell anybody anything until you learn one simple thing. . This is one of the reasons he does not incline to the smaller firm. is the culture that was losing ground in the 40s and 50s and creating the conditions where the Organization Man seemed poised to take over.. which at the time (in the 30s) had a training program that essentially amounted to being tossed into the deep end with a sink-or-swim challenge. To return to my pessimistic forecast.. ." other intellectually anemic offerings of the time included Personality Development. we get a view of the corporation as an institution in the grip of a severe internal tension between the Darwinian. Everybody's on WPA in this county. . of engineering in particular. "Give us the well-rounded man.. .. business must stir unease from others. and cravenly turning itself into an assembly line for what industry demands (a condition that. consequential work: I quote some entries from my own daily report forms: they use "dry" creek beds for roads in this country.." combat with each other. businesses' reassuringly institutionalized schools -. This extension is demanded by the in-demand employee himself.is an ideal next step. but in the Vick program. headed to male-dominated workplaces." Even if he followed the specialty he studied at the business school.S. . employers can find him lacking. Between the academic and the business world there must be some conflict of interests. "Dry" Ha! Ha! . five absent dealers in a row. The personality they aimed to create was as spherical as the functional specialization they acquired in college was pointed. That the scheme didn't immediately fall apart was due to the presence of a complementary pathology in the business world. "the man steeped in fundamentals. A dominant force in American society. as a salesman for the Vicks company. I should note a bit of deja vu here: during the IT boom in India in the 90s. the "well-rounded" man. Combat was the ideal-combat with the dealer.. ? But beneath the excuses. the men of the era. Reading this chapter. that seems to be happening. the more spectacularly they fail. You get the sense that the leader of Whyte's Organization Man corporation was a die-hard but powerless Darwinian trapped by smiling. is still prevalent 60 years later)." Convention after convention they make this plea -. To the extent that I believe I've invented my intellectual identity. let's look at the other institutional culprit: the corporation. Protestant Ethic values of the leadership (executives who were themselves the product of pre-Organization-Man times) and the social ethic of the Organization Man: Lately. We get this bleak overall vision in the final chapter in Part II Chapter 10: The "Well Rounded" Man So anti-competitive collectivism and a safe training culture displaced the boot-camp culture Whyte himself endured. 56 per cent of the men headed for a big corporation said yes. There was some talk about "the team" but it was highly abstract.. Page 11/12 . . and for which it grants an academic degree. On the question of whether the key executive should be basically an "administrator" or a "bold leader.. The man [the dealer] on the other side of the counter is the enemy. and teach him better. But I had to admit that the argument is sound. while it is seldom anti-intellectual. Somewhere along the line. and go home to a fairy-tale personal life. . the bureaucrats were creating passionless and socially well-rounded men." he told me. however. the Wharton School by the sheer force of its reputation and undergraduate appeal has given to undergraduate social and extracurricular life an atmosphere which. Admittedly for me. But where the picture of the 50s university is that of an institution in wholesale sell-out mode. the harder they try to create industry-ready graduates. Justly famed for the excellent business training which it offers. and graduating classes -. are favoring their DNA rather than their mother's. who articulates the laws of the jungle with advice so unsentimental.and their recruiters go right on doing what they've been doing: demanding more specialists. apparently modern cage that Betty Friedan called theThe Feminine Mystique. some of the criticism. Dawkins describes clever experiments by evolutionary biologists that show that the "queen" in ant colonies is not really a queen. count 'em. .Sorry about making only four calls today. The Selfish Gene.Here is how a total of 127 men answered the two chief questions: on the question of whether research scientists should be predominantly the team player type. Whyte concludes. what did the universities-as-people-factories themselves look like in this era? Chapter 7 provides the answer. . This does not spring from bad faith. . Five. safe-fail extension of the university. and merely cloned themselves. and prime guardian of orthodox thought. but between the fundamental and the applied. He might even be a liberal arts man himself. Mental Hygeine and Psychology Applied to Life and Work. he didn't learn what business can't teach him because he was too busy learning what business could teach him. you realize the queen's daughters. . it is often the businessmen who seem the philosophers. A scary thought. a running fire of criticism is a cross that business can well afford to put up with. . businesses have been complaining that there are nowhere near enough generalists... were equally being lured into gutless and spineless lives of make-work. leaders of U... But moving on. The picture we get is of the university of the 50s forgetting its unique mission as a social institution. is usually nonintellectual. it's all in the game ." 54 per cent of the big-corporation voted for the administrators versus only 45 per cent of the small-business men. . . combat with the "chiseling competitors. or we would have an unhealthy imbalance of power.[the] first and most important destructive influence at Pennsylvania of the atmosphere important for the nourishment of the humanities is the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.". the once who raise the young. it is practically poetic: "Fella. dormitories. we will give him the specialized knowledge he needs. Bostitched my left thunb to a barn [while putting up advertising] this morning and couldn't pick up my first call until lunch. Met only one dealer who sold more than a couple dozen VR a year. Chapter 9: The Pipe Line Chapter 9 ties together the thesis into a portrait of the whole sorry human-resource supply chain. Chapter 8 In Chapter 8. Docile collaborators who could be relied upon to never care too much. The local brick plant here is shut down and nobod is buying anything.sometimes complete with classrooms. well. strife was honored far more openly than today's climate would permit. as the price of signing on in an era of labor scarcity: What he wants is a continuation.. One sort of evidence comes from the curriculum: besides "business English. The extended college-hood is one where competition is minimized and cooperation and consensus maximized. it may offer opportunity but it offers it too soon.. so that by the time the company gets down to cases. . Look ahead to 1985. Between the production of process technicians and the production of critical thinkers with expanded minds. That then. apparently compliant Organization Men in middle management who ignored the content of what the leader had to say. He contrasts this model with his own training in an earlier era. 1955) about the destructive effect of the Wharton business school on the University of Pennsylvania: ". A particularly poignant bit that captures the essence of the chapter is this lament from the Daily Pennsylvanian (January 14. He recounts an interaction with a grizzled veteran. it has been through introspection about engineering through non-engineering lenses.. required to cover a non-prime sales territory." business leaders are saying to the colleges. Sorry about the $2o.[as] many people who have sat in on business-academic meetings recognize. If the women of the era were being trapped into the gilded.8s but the clutch broke down again. but I had to go over to Ervine to pick up a drop shipment of 3/4 tins and my clutch broke down. Rather than the leader's idea and demand for intellectually well-rounded men. He is used to formal training and he is wary of stepping out into the arena without a good deal more. Ironically. the specifications for its officer candidates are something quite different. The top man may be perfectly sincere in asking for the man with a broad view. we get a view of the pathology in the business world that created the stable co-dependent relationship between academia and the business world.many of the same academics who privately throw up their hands at the horror of our materialistic culture act like so many self-abasing hucksters when it comes to pleasing grant-givers.. the Chief Minister of the IT-heavyweight state of Andhra Pradesh made a remark that seemed like an echo of the social ethic of Whyte's 1950s America. Selling may be no less competitive now. The objective of the process was to create a particular creature. in this chapter. This was the raw material being turned out by universities. He called for an abandonment of liberal arts and humanities as "useless" and urged Indian higher education to produce even more software engineers.the academic man should never discover himself beholden to business. Sadly. . stung. If you analyze the genetics of what is going on. to a large extent. Chapter 7: The Practical Curriculum In Chapter 7. we see evidence of the true culture war in academia Whyte posits: not between the sciences and the humanities. clearly real character molding was going on.. doing real. I was reminded of Richard Dawkins' discussion of eusocial insect species like ants and bees in his classic. The image we get is of that of the school-of-hard-knocks training model of the Darwinian corporation getting replaced by an infantilizing. Chapter 6 begs the question. It was a gladiators' school we were in.

His job is not to look ahead himself but to check the excesses of the kind of people who do look ahead. But something about this explanation makes me sad. on the neuroses and testing of the Organization Man. but signs are emerging that a decisive outcome is near at hand. While the captive screwball thinks about the major problems of the corporation.The chapter starts by remphasizing the interesting dissonance between the motivations of senior executives and personnel (HR) managers in a fresh way. the jury is still out. He does not unbalance himself by enthusiasm for a particular plan. since the visible consequences of Darwin-compliant managerial actions are safely eliminated from the body of the corporation. Perhaps large organizations need widespread suspension of disbelief.. and adding a "well-rounded" managerial-skills layer on top of the functional specialization provided by universities.will be able to attend to the techniques of solving the problem rather than the problem itself. No matter how we tried to correlate the answers. The Organization Man culture. was primarily a reflection of the executive's own personal outlook. whether you use them to create herds of sheep or networks of combative individualists depends on your ideology). Looking around. personnel men quite often not only failed to make such a qualification but went on to infer that the individualist should be carefully segregated out of harm's way if he could be tolerated at all.a sort of nonpartisan mediator -. Other days. age. These real changes that have happened since the 1950s have allowed larger mainstream companies to retain strong collectivist cultures internally. But what are we to make of this gloomy analysis and the dire prediction. Whyte articulates this principle as follows: Organizations need new ideas from time to time. Whyte conducted a mail survey that forced a set of personnel managers and company presidents to choose the qualities for leadership: "Presidents voted 50 per cent in favor of the administrator. So overall. Was Whyte being alarmist or prescient? This is a complex part of the book with a lot of interesting detail that is very tough to interpret because of its distance in time..We had expected that the type of industry the executive was in and size of the company would have a great deal to do with the way he answered. the war is far from over. the leader -. and 360 degree feedback. The Quick Take A quick movie recommendation: if you've been following this series. I wonder if my final wrap-up post will conflict with my in-progress views. It is like saying "perhaps Intelligent Design is a good idea because religious people are statistically more likely to be happy. now in the guise of process improvement.. we will tackle the next two parts of the book. not the individual Creative leadership is a staff function The last point is particularly important for the arguments to come. The rationalization for the administrator preference is summarized in the form of a doctrine that Whyte attributes to the Organization Man bureaucracy: Because the rough-and-tumble days are over Because unorthodoxy can be dangerous to the Organization Because unorthodoxy IS dangerous to the Organization Ideas come from the group.. it is interesting reading and blogging about a dense book simultaneously. All mechanisms designed to keep individualism. the choice. while highly individualist and entrepreneurial in some ways. pure learning assignments (such as "shadowing" a superior). diversity programs and the co-option of social media in the service of collectivism (social media by themselves are an agnostic force. Still. risk-taking and passion in check. An easy conflation of the genuine values of collaboration with conformism still rules. the social ethic. consequences be damned. but the ability to choose truth over happiness. I think of Millenials as wild packs of coordinated hunting dogs. has always seemed to me the quintessential human virtue. I seem to meet as many 22 year olds blind reaffirming their faith in "collaboration" and demanding the Nanny Corporation. no pattern manifested itself. I think of them as sheep. Presidents who favored the administrator generally noted that the individualist had his place too. by type of company. you get a deep sense of just how big and comprehensive the culture of "extended university" like training was.. the evidence in 2009 is mixed. entrepreneurial sort who stays up nights coding up the next killer Twitter app. But the leader is not the man for this. Some days.. do show worrying signs of unthinking collectivism as well. he hires staff people to think up the ideas." Perhaps I have too much Nietzsche in me. On a side note. as I do the hungry. such as Peter Capelli's Talent on Demand. personnel men: 70 per cent .. etc. you really ought to watch Revolutionary Road with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The story captures the Organization Man era with scary accuracy. Perhaps this is a good thing. A lot of entrepreneurial energy has been safely diverted to start-up sideshows. Layoffs have emerged as a legitimate tool to manage Darwinian forces. Maybe Fortune 500 companies need to believe in job security. [In] the wording of their letters the personnel men showed an inclination to the administrator even stronger than the vote indicated. evidently. I began to make up my mind in broad terms: despite Apple's 1984 ad and the new legitimization of individualism. When you read this chapter alongside a good historically-oriented treatment of modern human resource management. In the next post in this series. Page 12/12 . Millenials entering the workforce.. To get through management verbiage paying lip service to individualism.. and the religion of collectivism are all very much alive. This was the era that gave birth to extended training through rotational assignments.

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