The anxiety of learning
The article is an interview that Diane Coutu a senior editor at HBR conducted with Ed Schein prominent organizational psychologist. In this interview, Ed Schein brings to light the “organizational learning”.
In his earliest years, he quickly discovered that the group could be influential in one’s life therefore this discovery shaped the way he vieworganizational psychology.
In his opinion, there is always a coercive trait associated with learning. In other words, learning is not a choice but rather an imposed one. For instance a child goes thru different stages of learning before he becomes the informed adult that society wants him to be. The child did not have any choice but he has been indoctrinated into beliefs that shaped the way he thinks andacts today. It has been a long and painful “brainwashing” process that Schein prefers to call “coercive persuasion”.
What is coercive persuasion?
For Schein, it is a situation in which individuals are mentally and physically forced to accept regardless of one’s opinion.
Stephen Covey in his book “Principle of centered leadership” relays the same idea regarding individual within society. Hestated that “ we all face restraining forces, opposition and challenges , and this sometimes causes us to do things that are contrary to our stated missions, intentions, and resolutions”. Therefore there is a coercive persuasion that manipulates and shapes individuals and organization’s behavior.
Indeed, Schein’s works with prisoners during the Korean War shaped the way he perceived and applied hisorganizational psychology within companies. He discovered that there was no difference between what the prisoners were subjected to and what Americans were doing in order to keep their employees: indoctrination.
Diane Coutu believes that it is extreme to compare the learning that companies provide to new hires during orientation session and the indoctrination in POW camps. However, Scheinbelieves there is a thin line between them and that it is essential to have the proper definition of the word brainwashing. According to Schein, brainwashing derives from the Chinese word Xinao which means “cleansing of the mind”.
In other words its origin stipulates that you must replace old learning with new imposed ones. In this instance, he takes the example of a person who is already wellestablished in life. Then someone comes along to change his thinking. This person will walk away unless there is something that can captivate his attention. This is where the coercion comes into view.
For Schein, learning should be free of any constraints unlike brainwashing. In this state, your learning experience is always controlled , shaped and conditioned with variables that the organizations deemsnecessary. He takes the examples of the orientation session that renowned corporations such as IBM or GE provide to new hires. Schein asserts that these sessions are rather considered as indoctrination sessions but with more dexterity which contrasts with American corporate culture. However, Asians companies were able to outperform American companies by adopting indoctrination thus we couldconclude that workers performed better under indoctrination.
It may seem that the coercive persuasion that companies exercise on employees is altruistic but if we read the fine print, we will discover that they are similarities with some practices used in POW camps. Organizations keep workers tied with incentives.
Furthermore, according to the interview all learning whether it applies to individualsor organizations is coercive. We can also say that learning is an embryonic form of “mental slavery” for you do not own the knowledge. The environment shapes and determines what you need to know. This is supported by the example of the pianist who has a great talent but will emerge as a genius because somehow he was talked into developing it for his own benefit.
This is kind of pessimistic view...
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