July 14, 2015

Are You Working For A Psychopath?

Surely not! It just couldn’t be true…could it? 

Unlikely as it seems, the film 'The Corporation', which analyses the actions of typical corporations as if they were people, surfaces the fact that many of the behavioural traits found in such institutions are to be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The film concludes that the closest character definition of a typical corporation is that of a psychopath.

So what are these behavioural traits?

Two of the behaviours observed in this analysis of American corporations were “reckless disregard for the safety of others”, and “incapacity to experience guilt”. This seems far fetched when the vast majority of the individuals one encounters working for corporations are decent people. However, the film makers counter that working within the confines and values systems of most corporations results in decent people doing things which are collectively harmful. 

If that’s really the case, what can we do to create a brighter future?

The rapid uptake of corporate social responsibility would indicate that for many corporations much is already happening. However whether all such corporations are really walking the talk is another matter. Take for example what's happened recently at Volkswagen with their emissions trickery and we can quickly see an important distinction: the difference between what people think they should do and what they think they must do. Similar things have been going on for a while with the climate change agenda where world leaders say one thing but years later we find that nothing much has happened (though maybe that's finally about to change...).

In Peter Senge, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers and Otto Scharmer’s book ‘Presence” the authors suggest all too often “people formulate visions that are disconnected from a shared understanding of present reality and a sense of shared responsibility for that reality.” In doing so people externalise problems which they play a part in creating, resulting in superficial visions regardless of the amount of good thinking involved. And superficial visions, from their place of powerlessness, lead to ‘should’’ thinking rather than ‘must’ thinking.

The key here is connection not only with one another, but with the larger reality. All too often this connection is suppressed as companies strive to achieve more and more within ever tighter time frames, resulting in a forcing of the process. However all the really meaningful visions we have been witness to come from a space created by allowing the connection to develop. As Senge et al say, “In a sense, real visions are uncovered, not manufactured.”


Your actions

  • ‍Reflect on your current vision. Are actions stemming from that vision falling between the cracks? If so it’s likely these are due to ‘should’ thinking
  • ‍In what way (or ways) could your organisation be contributing to the challenges it faces?
  • Create the time and space needed to have a dialogue* with your colleagues about the current challenges the organisation faces. 

There’s an important distinction between dialogue, debate and discussion: the original meaning of debate is “to beat down”, and discussion shares its root with percussion and concussion – “to break things up”. Dialogue, on the other hand, comes from the Greek dia and logos, suggesting meaning flowing through. One of the keys to having a dialogue is to suspend judgement, allowing people to participate in a pool of shared meaning. Research at MIT shows that when such a pool exists, people take co-ordinated, effective action without necessarily agreeing on the reasons behind the actions. 

If you’d like to learn more about dialogue, try:  

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