Psychology and Management: Dealing with Dysfunction and Cross Purposes

Stowe Boyd’s recent post reminds me that management is a social, psychological and indeed, a human endeavor.  Part of this endeavor concerns dealing with unavoidable dysfunction that will arise.

The Problem:

Far too often organization members operate at cross-purposes. This is particularly true with organizational structures enabling division of labor: members are grouped into divisions, functions, and departments, and then further split into groups and teams, in order to create specialized functioning on behalf of the larger system . . . members too often come to identify with the parts rather than the whole to which they belong. . . . with predictable misalignments in purpose, activities and relationships. (Kahn, 2012, p.225)


a particular person or leader may be carrying all kinds of unconscious anxieties, aggressions, and energies of those being led; bloody mergers, acquisitions, downsizing or combative relations with competitors or the world at large may veil all kinds of individual and group fears and inadequacies; a corporate group’s understanding of its external environment may be dominated by the unconscious projections of a few key managers; a strong corporate subculture may be mobilizing neglected aspects of a corporate “shadow’ that are worthy of attention and of being brought to light. (Ross)

A Solution:

In understanding these hidden dimension of everyday reality, managers and change agents can open the way to modes of practice that respect and cope with organizational challenges in a new way. . . . They can begin to untangle sources of scapegoating, victimization, and blame and find ways of addressing the deeper anxieties to which they are giving form. They can approach the “resistance” and “defensive routines” that tend to sabotage and block change with a new sensitivity, and find constructive ways of dealing with them. (Ross, Ibid)


William A. Kahn, The Functions of Dysfunction: Implications for Organization Diagnosis and Change, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2012, Vol. 64, No. 3, 225–241.

Gordon Ross’s blog;



Validity: the Overlooked Issue in Big Data

Validity is an important, but often overlooked issue whenever measurement and data analysis is involved and this includes Big Data applications.  Like Steve Lohr’s concerns is his NY Times article on the potential pit falls of Big Data (Do the models make sense?  Are decision makers trained and using data appropriately?) or Nassim Taleb’s article, Beware the Big Errors of Big Data, validity concerns are paramount, but the nature of vlaidity is not addressed.

Validity is an overall evaluative judgment of the degree to which empirical evidence and theoretical rationales support the adequacy and appropriateness of interpretations and actions on the basis of test scores or other modes of assessment (Messick, S, 1995, Validity of Psychological Assessments, p.741). Also available here

That is to say, when we look at data analytics, are the results justifiable.  Just having data doesn’t make it right. Big Wrong Data can be a dangerous thing.

As big data becomes a larger part of our everyday life, validity must also becomes a critical component of analysis; especially if big datas is to find success beyond the current fashion. As Samuel Messick (ibid) said;

. . . validity, reliability, comparability, and fairness are not just measurement principles, they are social values that have meaning and force outside of measurement whenever evaluative judgments and decisions are made. (Messick, Ibid).

This importance is not reflected in the scant treatment that validity often receives in data and measurement training or in most discussions of big data. The modern view of Validity (after Samuel Messick) is about more then judging the rightness of one’s measures, it is also about the transparency of the assumptions and connections behind the measurement program and processes. I’ll propose the following (non-exhaustive) list as a place to begin when judging the the use of data and measurement:

  • Content Validity – Data and measurement are used to answer questions and the first step in quality measurement is getting the question right and clear. Measurement will not help if we’re asking the wrong questions or are making the wrong inferences from ambiguous questions. When questions are clear you can proceed to begin linking questions to appropriate construct measures.
  • Structural Fidelity – Additional information should show how assessment tasks and data models relate to underlying behavioral process and the contexts to which they can be said to apply.  Understand the processes that underly the measures.
  • Criterion Validity – This examines convergent and discriminant empirical evidence in correlations with other pertinent and well understood criterion measures. Do your results make sense in light of previous measures.
  • Consequential Validity – Of particular importance are the observed consequences of the decisions that are being made. As Lohr’s article points out, our data based operations do not just portray the world, but play an active role in shaping the empirical world around us. It’s important to compare results with intentions.

Good decisions are based on data and evidence, but inevitably will rely on many implicit assumptions. Validity is about making these assumptions explicit and justifiable in the decision making process.

“The principles of validity apply not just to interpretive and action inferences derived from test scores as ordinarily conceived, but also to inferences based on any means of observing or documenting consistent behaviors or attributes. . . . Hence, the principles of validity apply to all assessments . . .”(Messick, ibid, p.741).

Reference – Messick, S. (1995). Validity of Psychological Assessments: Validation of Inferences From Persons’ Responses and Performances as Scientific Inquiry Into Score Meaning, American Psychologist, 50, 741-749.

A Dialogical Understanding of User-Centered Design

The Anomalogue Blog inspired me to think when it said: “this is what brand strategy wants to become: a philosophy of an organization which enables it to function according to a particular intellectual and artistic taste”.
I believe a good brand strategy is user centric in that it engages the user as an involved participant in the brand. Everyone today wants to channel the mojo of Apple, maybe even Apple itself now that Steve’s gone. I think the core of Apple was that it was out to change the world through technology, but unlike IBM, we were invited as participants in that change through using Apple’s technology.  IBM wants to change the world by what it’s experts do to us, but Apple changes the world with our participation.

Yes, as Amonalogue says, the backstory of strategy design can be understood in terms of a philosophically deep pragmatism and I understand that as it is expressed by Wittgenstein and Bakhtin.

From the Wikipedia article on Wittgenstein:

. . . philosophical problems arise when language is forced from its proper home into a metaphysical environment, where all the familiar and necessary landmarks and contextual clues are removed. He describes this metaphysical environment as like being on frictionless ice: where . . . all philosophical problems can be solved without the muddying effects of everyday contexts; but where, precisely because of the lack of friction, language can in fact do no work at all.[154] Wittgenstein argues that philosophers must leave the frictionless ice and return to the “rough ground” of ordinary language in use.

OK, as Ludwick anticipated, most of the world doesn’t get Wittgenstein. I believe one key is to understand the nature of this rough ground. Here’s where I look to Bakhtin.

“We must renounce our monological habits so that we might come to feel at home in the new (dialogic) artistic sphere which Dostoevsky discovered, so that we might orient ourselves in that incomparably more complex artistic model of the world which he created” (Bakhtin, 1984, p.272).

I think Design operates in this artistic sphere of dialogue. This sphere is user centric, but in a way that is dynamic, relational and chiasmic (multiply intertwined).   From John Shotter

“All real and integral understanding is actively responsive… And the speaker himself is oriented precisely toward such an actively responsive understanding. He does not expect passive understanding that, so to speak, only duplicates his or her own idea in someone else’s mind. Rather, he expects response, agreement, sympathy, objection, execution, and so forth… “

In this view, successful design does not try to capture the user, but invites the user to become chaismically intertwined with the organization and with other users in what could be called dialogic design. Apple invitation to participate as technology changes the world is one example of dialogic design in strategy. Where are other example of this type of design:

In science I look to Messick’s understanding of assessment validity (judgments of the truthfulness of empirical observations). He looks not only within traditional boundaries of science through construct validity (judgments of consistency with theory, domain and prior empirical observations), he also considers categories outside of traditional science in judgments of the utility of assessment tools, the value implications of those tools and social consequences that are secondary to tools use.

In journalism I look at the move from reporting the facts, to the new role of journalists as community builders; where people do not want to only be told the truth, but want to become active participants in building the world as well. One example is  There they are using journalist tools for the purpose of creating a politically active community where people’s voice can be expressed as they participate in political action.

Can Apple keep it’s mojo? Not by building pretty things, that’s Tiffany’s brand. Apple’s only brand is changing the world through technology and bring us along to drive the change. Can Apple continue to change the world though us?