Sorting Out an Emotional Muddle Insights from neuroscience on the organizational value of emotions

W hatever ‘emotions’ are, most organizations think they are best kept out of sight. They get a bad press. They are seen as the source of irritating irrationality in others – though, oddly, never in oneself. They are certainly not the province of analytical minds. How strange is that, when it is emotions that define our existence and every action? They are the source of all directed action. They give meaning to all experience and colour and definition to life. Separate the word as e=motion and it becomes immediately clear that energy impels action. How even stranger is it that embedded forever in the word is a truth that has only recently been observed? That is because there is a major shift happening in the way we understand human behaviour. It is coming from the modern neurosciences. It has huge implications for leadership, OD and HR. But at the heart of it there is dreadfully unresolved muddle. To see how the muddle has arisen, a little discursion into recent history is called for. In 1867 Karl Marx published the first volume of Das Kapital . From the British Museum’s Reading Room, he set out to formulate a science of social progress in favour of the proletariat, confident of the inevitable collapse of capitalism. His observations about workers’ conditions at the time might have been right, but his solutions proved disastrous. They required an assumption that the mass of human beings would be happy functioning collectively and had no need to express individuality. Another theoretician about human behaviour, slightly later in the 19 th century, was Freud. In his voluminous writings from 1895 onwards both about individuals and society he set out to establish a science of the mind. His thinking became embedded within twentieth century consciousness as if what he proposed were fact. But there is no Id, Ego or Superego in the brain; and the unconscious is not universally driven by repressed sexuality. The ‘science’ he founded, psychoanalysis, is just a set of propositions and metaphors supported, like Marxist-Leninism, only by its own ideology. And, as it turns out, it also rests upon massive falsification of evidence.

By Paul Brown and Theresa Dzendrowskyj

26 | Developing Leaders Issue 29: 2018

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