SCARPINO: I’m talking again to—doing an oral history interview with Edgar Schein, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association, and this is our second session today. I will say just to get this on the record, between sessions I attended your educational session at the International Leadership Association and it was just you and a moderator, and it was—it was an astonishing experience with standing room only in a rather large space. So we finished up the morning conversation with you talking about how you got involved with repatriated service personnel, and how you interviewed them and so on and so forth. Just to kind of make another transition for people who might be listening or reading the transcript in the future, you were kind enough to share with me your draft autobiography and on page one you said, “During my career I had the unusual experience of being involved in the evolution of five different concepts in the field of organizational psychology; coercive persuasion, career anchors, process consultation, organizational culture and helping.” So I want to talk to you about each of those five areas, starting with the first one, of course, of persuasion. To do that I want to remind the recorder and you and me that I mentioned this morning an article you published in 2006 called, “From Brainwashing to Organizational Therapy: a Conceptual and Organizational Journey in Search of ‘Systematic’ Health and a General Model of Changed Dynamics.” This title just cries out for an explanation, and, in particularly, the “from brainwashing to organizational therapy.” So I’m wondering if we could start this conversation by you talking about how those pieces fit together.
SCHEIN: I think that the idea of the influence of the arts on our work is buried in there someplace, in that I thought of my life suddenly as a series of acts, and I thought that might be cool to have scenes, and you could have a chorus, and, you know, depict a career as a Greek play of some sort. The acts sort of fell out. Well, each act was one of my major concepts. At the time I was thinking about this, I was involved with a Japanese colleague, Juichi, who had created a little think tank. He got a Jungian therapist, a Freudian, me, himself and one other Jungian together for two two-day meetings to integrate everything, because he was convinced these things could be integrated. The theme would be organizational therapy. So that’s where that word came from, out of that think tank group, which must have started about 10 years ago, I would guess. In one way or another this Japanese colleague and I have continued to have various kinds of activities together, but we spent several years and ended up writing a little book called Organizational Therapy. But thinking about what is organizational therapy really then caused me to review all the other concepts, and then this paper, I think it was a—also kind of an award paper. I think that Peter Senge and the Society for Organizational Learning were honoring me, and I had to give a talk. The talk was this five acts, which then got turned into this paper. That’s, by the way, often a theme in my writing. I find it sometimes easiest to write from a talk. The talk can be dramatic and so on, and when you figure out the drama, then the writing is easy because the drama is what makes the writing better. So I had given this talk, it went well, and then just converted it to a paper. In each case as I recall, I gave some of the facts and then the Greek chorus reflected on the facts, and that’s how I ended up writing my memoirs; facts and then reflections.
SCARPINO: Could you, for the benefit of somebody who might listen to this and it’s not in your field, just briefly explain what organizational therapy is?
SCHEIN: We never figured it out, because the therapist has a client. We know how to deal with an individual and we know how to deal with a group; group therapy is respected and well. But I recently actually wrote a paper on organizational therapy that highlights the problem, that you don’t really know who the client is. Is it the manager you’re talking to? Is it the manager in the role of the CEO? Is a department? Is it the whole organization? And it doesn’t resolve very easily. So being a therapist to a system in a way doesn’t make sense, or at least we haven’t figured out yet how to make sense with it.
SCARPINO: You’re still working on it.
SCHEIN: Still working on it, and thinking that a lot of people have oversimplified it. They think that when they’re working with the chief executive that then they’re working with the organization. But someone will immediately point out, well, how do you know whether what’s good for him at his level is good for the worker at the worker level, and aren’t they both part of the organization? How would you resolve it? So I think organizational therapy is yet to be figured out, what that means.
SCARPINO: So in writing and we also spoke this morning, you described Gordon Allport as your first important mentor, and David Rioch, R-I-O-C-H, as your second. You wrote, you said, “he engaged me to develop my own research program focusing on influence and leadership.” What impact did he have on your professional development?
SCHEIN: He was a—first of all, a famous psychiatrist, and I think we all respect someone who can work with catatonic schizophrenics and help them. He was writing this thing called The Chestnut Lodge, a Maryland—a famous Maryland psychiatric center, and his wife who was a psychologist was also there. So, first of all, there was the aura of being around a great man, which was also the case with Allport. I was a young psychologist and here was this man who had really done incredible things. So just being around him was good to see and he was a very nice, benign, friendly man. He would dispense these incredible bits of advice like, “If you want to know something, don’t ask about it,” which he particularly said, I think, or reminded me, he said it again in the context of the repatriation research where these people had been through unbelievable experiences, and you kind of sense that they might not want to talk about them, so you have to give them the license to tell their story any way they want to tell it. Then Rioch helped me publish the paper.
SCARPINO: Your first one about the repatriated service people?
SCHEIN: Yeah, because when I sent it to my own journal, they rejected it, and he was—knew the editor of psychiatry, that journal, and what else? I housesat for them. That was a very important experience to be in the house of someone whom you revere, and see what their bookshelves look like, and pick up the aura. Then that was about it. I spent three years there. After I left there, I continued a relationship with his wife, who became a therapist in these A.K. Rice Institutes, which were the British Tavistock version of the sensitivity training workshops that were being held in the U.S. She came to Bethel where I talked to her and she then noticed that the Bethel T-groups were becoming too much therapy for “normals,” where instead of teaching people about groups and leaderships, it was increasingly becoming to be focused on individual feedback. She thought that was all wrong. I thought it was all wrong. So I gradually in the 70’s pulled out of that. She actively wrote articles against it. So that was the end of the Rioch story.
SCARPINO: So you talked, as you mentioned, the phrase you used was the aura of being around a great man. As your own career advanced, did you at some point realize that you’d become a great man, that people …
SCHEIN: I never felt that.
SCARPINO: Did you ever mentor other people?
SCHEIN: Yes, in a coaching sense. But I was always uncomfortable being too distant status-wise. I was not uncomfortable being subordinate, but I was very uncomfortable being superior.
SCARPINO: Does a great man or person necessarily have to be superior?
SCHEIN: No. I think the feelings of being valuable, useful, great, arrives much more around face-to-face helping than giving a great lecture to a thousand people. I could appreciate yesterday, standing ovation, great honors, but did I really feel like a great man at that moment? No. Whereas, if I’m working with someone, I’m doing some Skype coaching, and this other person is really sorting through a problem, and I say some things that really make him feel, you know, that—boy that, you know, I can see it now, that has really helped me. That does give me the feeling of being a great man. I’ve figured out how to really help this person. That elicits the feeling of greatness. Talking to a thousand people or having an undergraduate admire me is all well and good. That was great when these kids came up and wanted to be photographed, but that’s more an event. It doesn’t produce a feeling of greatness. The feeling comes with actual accomplishment.
SCARPINO: In writing about your experience at Walter Reed, one of the things that you said was exposure to interdisciplinary work had a significant impact on your career as it later developed. There was an endocrinologist there and a collagist studying crowding with rats, psychologists and so on. What did you learn from being immersed in that interdisciplinary environment?
SCHEIN: Let me back up and say that the first experience of that was at Harvard. So this was more of a carryover. The experience of being trained as a psychologist and then encountering a Clyde Kluckhohn and a Talcott Parsons and a Robert Murray who were each great men. Murray in clinical psychology, Parsons in sociology, Kluckhohn in anthropology, and then B.F. Skinner was doing all his work on—on animals in the Skinner box, and he was part of that group. Just seeing that there were different ways of looking at the world by eminent people was a real trip, you know, and I could identify and broaden my own outlook by seeing how they thought and how they acted. They were wonderful role models. So then at Walter Reed more different kinds of people, again, to see that science is a very complex, multifaceted thing, and they were all specialists, but we interact. Then, what Rioch did that produced more direct influence was these consultants he brought in, particularly Erving Goffman, who was also a sociologist and became a—and to this day is my hero, because of his approach to how he analyzed interpersonal dynamics. Then there was this other great psychologist, Leon Festinger, who was another one of my heroes in terms of the research that he had done. They would show up maybe once a month at Walter Reed and just interact with us so we could, again—I think the key is I could identify with them, and through that identification incorporate some of their thinking into my own, which enabled me to think more broadly.
SCARPINO: Later on you became a significant consultant in your own right. Did you learn about consulting at least in the beginning from them?
SCHEIN: No, not at all. No. The consulting was learned as a direct result of getting into companies because Rioch hiring these people as consultants, that was—they were consultants in name. They came around and horsed around with us and we could ask them questions and stuff, but it was a collegial relationship. When McGregor got me started consulting with an organization, I knew this was serious business. You’re getting paid for it, there’s a client, they expect something, you have to deliver. So the learning of that was a different process and the example I used from digital was one kind of learning that I got as to how—how you have to get into the client’s world and so on. That was a holy separate experience that happened at least five years after the Walter Reed experience.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you something that I know you talked about in your session this morning, but chances are people won’t gain access to it that way. I also read an interesting piece that you wrote called The Academic as Artist: Personal and Professional Roots, it came out in 1993, and you’re talking about, again, your work with the Korean War or repatriated prisoners, and Rioch telling you if you want to talk about something socially or emotionally sensitive, don’t ask about it. I’m wondering if you could talk about that, not just what he told you, but what you learned from that and how you applied it.
SCHEIN: Well, I remember at the time when he first said it we were having, I think, some kind of a discussion of how to do interviews, that it was kind of a shocking statement, and it was made probably at least a year or more before I ended up in Korea facing a repatriate. But I remembered that at that time in social psychology there was a lot of research on social desirability in saying what’s appropriate. So we all knew that when you interview somebody, the biggest danger is that they will just tell you what they think is appropriate at that point. So I knew that since these repatriates had had some very tough experiences and had been accused of maybe signing false confessions and doing horrible things, that they would be very sensitive and therefore I had to lean over backwards not to make anybody defensive, and the only way I could think about that was to get them to tell me in as much detail as they were willing to share what had actually happened to them, without in any way conveying that I was interested in this, that or the other thing. I just wanted their story. What’s—When—What happened, and I would get some very interesting bits, you know. This communist soldier suddenly came up to me and said, “Congratulations, you’ve been liberated,” in bad English. I thought I was going to be shot by this Chinese, and instead he’s telling me I’ve been liberated in English and congratulates me. Now, could I have elicited that detail in any way other than, “Just tell me from the moment you were captured what happened.” I found that this works, you know. People then, and maybe one person tells you this bit of detail and another person tells you that, and pretty soon you’ve got a pretty good story that you’ve been able to put together from these dozen or so narratives. That became the paper on the Chinese indoctrination program for prisoners of war, was a composite story based on 20, 30, 40 interviews. But in every case, I started with the Rioch principle. Don’t ask about it and only if they gave you a lead, if they said, well, you know, then these interrogators tried to make us sign this false confession. Again, I would be careful and say, “Well, tell me a little more about that,” rather than how did they do it or why did they do it or how did you react. I just suddenly in my own mind connected that to those categories of questioning, then became in my process consultation book and helping book key concepts for how to organize types of questions. But I realized I must have already developed that typology long before I wrote about it.
SCARPINO: At the time that you were doing that, was that kind of a technique common or uncommon in your field?
SCHEIN: I don’t know. I really don’t know.
SCARPINO: Because I’m interviewing you on behalf of the International Leadership Association and because I’m interested in the subject, I’m going to ask you, based on your work with these service personnel who had been prisoners of war, did you learn anything about leadership?
SCHEIN: I did learn a couple of things. I learned that—that leadership matters a great deal to social control in this sense, that one of the main things that military leaders did in the POW camp was to say to the kid who was younger and less experienced and didn’t know what was going on, the sergeant might say to the kid, “Look, don’t believe all this crap that they’re feeding you. Hang in there. We’re going to be okay.” And that worked, and how do I know it worked? Because the Chinese pulled that sergeant right out of there. So the Chinese understood that if you really want to get to the people, pull your leaders out. I’m sure that’s probably in Machiavelli. That’s a well-understood principle; if you want to get to the people, get rid of the leaders first. If only to move them and I know prison wardens do that. They move leader types around. So in that sense I learned leaders are very critical to social control. I learned very little about the process of leadership. I learned more about the importance of it.
SCARPINO: You wrote, again, based on this research, that “further study of what happened under Chinese captivity became a central concern of an interest displaced forever, my commitment to experimentation as a central way of gathering data.” So, apparently, while you were working on this project, you made the transition from experimental research to applied research, participatory research, and why was that significant in the development of your career is what I really want to know?
SCHEIN: Let’s go over the sequence again. Harvard trains me to be a very good experimental psychologist and I do a brilliant thesis on imitation and publish it. I learned that you can train someone to imitate. Okay. Then I end up at Walter Reed. I’m trying to do more experimental research. This POW thing comes along. So suddenly I have all this data. I work on that, and when all that’s said and done, I’ve met my future wife. I get married. I’m shipped—I shipped myself to MIT to start my academic career. Mentally, I am in two places. I have this POW study, which is going to lead to more interest in figuring out what happened to the civilians on the mainland, and I know that this is a project for which I’ll get funded that will continue. I also mentally am gearing up to do more experiments at MIT and getting ready to do that. It will be on leadership on the kind of thing that Harold Leavitt had done in communications, and so I’m now working in parallel. I have a POW study and the experimentation. One year into this, McGregor says, “It might be nice for you to experience these human relations workshops,” but this is now a whole year later.
SCARPINO: Those are the ones at Bethel.
SCHEIN: Those are the ones at Bethel. So I show up at Bethel and have this epiphany that everything I know as a social psychologist doesn’t much help me understand what’s going on in these groups and seeing two kinds of leadership. One, the design leadership of the people who created these workshops, you know. Two hours of T-group and then a 20-minute lecture, then a role-playing exercise, and then back to T-group. I realized, that’s a kind of an interesting arrangement and these people, these social psychologists have organized three weeks’ worth of that. That’s how long the original workshops were. So that was interesting, and inside the T-group are these staff members who don’t do anything, except occasionally speak up and ask a question or whatnot. So I think I got absolutely fascinated during my second year at MIT with this whole new approach, and it was at a pretty place in the summer, and we found a house that we could rent, so I signed up for a second summer. We ended up buying a house up there. So we made a commitment to spending our summers in Maine. I become then an intern and then a staff member trainer. So I still have a research knowledge and head, but my daily interests are in these crazy workshops. Then I realize that those workshops are developing techniques of learning and training that I can use in my classroom because my traditional approach to just lecturing wasn’t all that popular with masters students who had to take the class. Then McGregor put me in with Sloan fellows who weren’t at all interested in being lectured at, and I watched how McGregor used case materials and role plays and so on to get them involved, so I think this—this whole aura of there’s a whole different world of relating to people that is not the traditional academic model. It suddenly became—took me over, as willing this so because I was in a business school. I had to learn this stuff, so I might as well really get into it and do what they’re doing and discovering that I liked it.
SCARPINO: This is when you began to switch to experiential learning?
SCARPINO: Yeah. Okay. As a researcher, what would you say are the most important things that you’ve learned from working with those repatriated prisoners?
SCHEIN: What I learned from the repatriated prisoners? What I learned was captured by the concept of coercive persuasion. I discovered in that setting and then in other settings that if I have you physically captive, I can influence you if I choose to. There is no way you can be strong enough to resist all the things I can do if you can’t leave. So it applies to the POW’s, but it applies equally to the golden handcuffs. If I’m economically committed to this institution, I have tenure, I am going to allow myself or be forced to be socialized into their culture. There is no gain in being a dissident or a deviate if I’m stuck there. If I’m stuck there, I’m going to sooner or later be influenced. I see that in families of kids who have to go along with their parents because they can’t leave. Even when they run away, they get brought back. So naturally they’re going to pick up what their parents want them to pick up. Kids in school, kids in the—people in the military, people in corporations, if you’re there physically, you’re going to adapt and adjust to the culture, and that will happen to prisoners. That’s what the Stockholm Syndrome is allegedly labeled for. Even if you’re a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp, if you’re there long enough and have no hope of ever getting out, sooner or later you find some ways of adjusting and some of those ways of adjusting will be what the captor wants. So that’s coercive persuasion. The coercion is the physical restraint; persuasion is what then happens afterwards.
SCARPINO: So as a person, as a human being, what impact had working with those repatriated prisoners have on you? Some of them must have had terrible stories and I don’t think we had the term, PTSD, in those days, but some of them must have really been suffering.
SCHEIN: You know, the truth about those stories and other stories I’ve run into since is I think I learned somewhere early in life to be detached. I think I could hear those stories without being much influenced by them. I could retell them and tell horrible things that happened, but not feel them. I think that’s a theme that hasn’t really surfaced, maybe not even enough in the memoirs, that my way of relating to the world is a very detached way. So I don’t …
SCARPINO: You said, scientific objectivity or Ed Schein?
SCHEIN: I think it started earlier, you know, all these moves from culture to culture forced a level of detachment, which I think I maintained. I don’t plunge into situations and feel them, and I tend to resist being plunged into situations because I don’t know how I’ll feel. It might be devastating. It might be too much for me. I have to be cautious. I have to stay at the margin in order to protect my own sense of integrity.
SCARPINO: Do you think you learned that from your dad?
SCHEIN: Did I learn that from my dad? Quite possibly, but certainly not consciously. If it happened, it happened unconsciously.
SCARPINO: You published a great deal on coercive persuasion and, as I looked at your CV, I think the last thing that you published on that topic came out in 1962, A Psychological Follow-Up of Former Prisoners of War, The Chinese Communists, Part I and Part 2, in 1960 and 1962. How would you assess, with the benefit of hindsight, the impact of the work that you did or the research that you did on those repatriated prisoners on your field? What was the scholarly impact of your work?
SCHEIN: I think it really helped to understand some aspects of World War II because it got lumped in with a lot of Bettelheim’s and other people’s work on what happened in the Nazi camps and what happened to Russians in Siberia. But I have a feeling that once that whole field became less relevant, so did coercive persuasion become less relevant in the field, and I find myself from time to time reminding people that that’s how culture works. Culture creates a lot of the coercive forces by the kinds of rules. This is how we do things, my friend, and if you don’t like it, leave, and if you can’t leave, you just—that’s coercive persuasion. So in a sense it—it became, for me at least, just one of the normal processes that goes on in the world. I really don’t know to what extent it influenced the field, once the initial wave of, okay, so that’s what brainwashing is, on to other things.
SCARPINO: But the idea of coercive persuasion certainly continued to influence the way you looked at the world, the way you understood things.
SCARPINO: So you decided to accept employment at MIT and stayed there for the rest of your career. Why MIT? You must have had other choices or other opportunities.
SCHEIN: I was toward the tail end of Walter Reed preparing for my academic career and I had a very good offer from Cornell Social Psychology Department. I visited Ithaca, a lovely town, very hard to get to, however, so it was not a completely positive reaction. But while I was still in the early stages of thinking about this, what literally happened is a letter arrived from Douglas McGregor, whom I only knew by reputation at that point, inviting me to consider coming to MIT. I think what—if it had been Rensselaer Poly or even Carnegie Mellon, I might not have even given it a second thought. But it was Cambridge. During my graduate school I had gone and taken a class with Alex Bavelas at MIT, and I knew that Kurt Lewin and all the social psychology stuff at MIT had been very important. So MIT had already some positive cache for me. So when McGregor invited me to look into it, I did look into it and liked it, but realized that this is a go, no go, I mean, this is a, how do I put it, a consequential decision, that if I went to MIT, I was finished with social psychology. I would never be accepted again in an academic department. I felt this very strongly and I think I was correct. There’s a sort of a norm about once you become applied, don’t pretend you can come back and be a basic researcher. So I had to debate that with myself. What were the pro’s and con’s of that, and maybe if I hadn’t had the three years in the army, I would have rejected MIT and gone straight to Cornell. But I was intrigued, Cambridge, what the hell, do it, and never looked back. But I remember being quite nervous about the decision.
SCARPINO: But then after you went, you stayed there for your entire career, even though you reached a point where, I assume, you must have had job offers and at least a theoretical possibility of moving. Why did you decide to stay for all those years?
SCHEIN: Well, a couple of reasons and one complexity. Brand new young school, exciting young faculty, prospect of tenure, so the first six, seven years took care of themselves. I wouldn’t have even thought about moving until after that. So now, it was 65, somewhere in there I had a major offer. Yale wanted me to take a joint appointment in their industrial administration and psychology department, fed by a professor, Donald Taylor, whom I had had at Stanford and liked very much. He tempted me with psychology. You could be back in psychology and, you know, be a true psychologist, and, at the same time, joint appointment, big job. I think tenure was—yeah, tenure came with it. So Mary and I went down there. We had friends at Yale. They loved Yale and New Haven. We had, by then, three kids who were all at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge and liked that very much. We had made the commitment to private school, and so when we raised that question with the Yale people, they said, well, the Foote School is like Shady Hill and we knew that to be true. We have people on their boards, so, you know, there won’t be any problem, you’ll just—we bought that. Bought a big, beautiful brick house, much grander than what we had, big top floor with sort of a recreation area, and really started to have big dreams about life in New Haven, close to New York and so on. Came back to Cambridge to contemplate this and got a letter from the Foote School saying, we are very sorry but we cannot admit any of your children. There is another good school here in New Haven and perhaps in a year or two you can reapply. Mary and I looked at that letter and looked at each other, and said, we’re not going. We’re not going to pull three kids out of a good school into some unknown, no matter how good the job is. So we started to unwind it and it was difficult. We had contracted for the house and we lost a little bit of money. But it suddenly jarred us into what’s important. Is a slightly better job more important than uprooting your whole family into an unknown school situation that might not be anywhere near as good as what you’ve got. So—and my colleagues operated by the principle, which is the other side of coercive persuasion; if you really want someone to be productive and creative, make it easy for them to leave. It’s paradoxical but it’s true, because then if they stay, they’re staying because they want to, not because somehow you trapped them.
SCARPINO: Or you bought them.
SCHEIN: So my dean said, look, if Yale is good, go. When I turned Yale down, he said, we’re very glad you didn’t go. But he would not have tried to hold on to me. That is not how it would work. So that was why I stayed for another 10 years at MIT. But then I had a bad boss who really forced the issue and I had good fortune again. The then-President of MIT pulled me out into a three-year assignment as an undergraduate planning professor, which was like going to another university, and then coming back as department chairman, so I actually had several moves, but they were within MIT. So I never really had any impulse to go anywhere else, and no great offers.
SCARPINO: So by the time that you were chair of your department, you had been in the academy for a long time, you’ve done a great deal of research and study on organizations. How did you do as a department chair? Did it work when you had to do it?
SCHEIN: It worked very well but I didn’t like it. It was the same thing. I could do that—that seasickness study in the Army and be the captain, but I didn’t like it. I could be the department chairman. I had done the career anchor research by then and understood that the managerial career is a different career and you become an organization man, and I knew that this would be particularly true if you became a dean. So when I had sort of vague offers of deanships, I knew, turn those down flat. Being a department chairman you’re still in your field and you will revert back into your field. Being a dean, you’re forever out of it. So I found the department chairmanship fun if I managed it well and really focused on what difference I made and what difference I didn’t make. My sense of accomplishment was that I did commit myself to broadening from psychology, and so my real accomplishment was hiring Lotte Bailyn who was a sociologist, and John Van Maanen who was an anthropologist and a sociologist, and thereby shaping the future, not just at MIT. That turned out to have a huge impact on organizational behavior everywhere because, particularly John Van Maanen became a role model for doing ethnographic research, which at that time was not being done in business schools.
SCARPINO: Anthropological-type, ethnographic research.
SCARPINO: When you hired these folks, did you have some idea of where they could be headed?
SCHEIN: I knew where I wanted them to be headed, but I also had to fight through the tenure issue. Neither one of them was an easy case, so I think I paid my dues as a manager of dealing with the politics and all the heartaches of—because the heartaches were involved with not giving tenure to a couple of people, being against them. It’s interesting in writing the memoirs, I don’t know whether you’ve come to that, there’s a section where I try to explain what exactly justified my saying that another human being can’t have tenure here. That’s an enormous decision and the ultimate justification, which I think does say something about me, is they were excellent pedestrian, unimaginative, and the fact that they were unimaginative justified in my mind saying no. We do not want another colleague who is unimaginative. We’re in this business for growth and imagination and creativity, and I knew that Bailyn’s work was creative and Van Maanen was creative, but the two that I had turned down were not. So I feel comfortable in the end about that, even though at the time it caused a rift. I made some enemies that are still enemies. So I saw the whole political spectrum of what goes on in academia in our little department. I saw the vindictiveness of organizational cultures, how the economists with their quantitative approaches. We had this very good historian, Eleanor Westney, who had done work on—on the Japanese. She had put all her research into a very important book called Imitation and Innovation, and her tenure case almost foundered on the fact that this was a book and it had no numbers in it for a couple of young economists who said, you know, this is—this is not proper research. You know, it’s just history. (laughter) As if that were easy. Little did they know how hard it is to do history. Then the punchline is, 10 years later she had in the meantime had a very productive career at MIT and then went on to Toronto where her mother lived, needed to be closer to her mother, so she left MIT, but from my point of view, under with great glory. But I was sitting with one of these economists at lunch one day and I said, “Now it’s all said and done, what do you think about the Eleanor Westney case?” And he said, “It was always a mistake.” He never could see her having done anything useful. Now, why is this important to the story? Because it has totally colored my view of the problem with business schools, is that they have not at all been able to integrate the quantitative financial paradigm with the humanistic qualitative paradigm. They’re constantly fighting. I don’t see it as being particularly productive and I think it’s going to ruin a lot of business schools in the end because the quantitative is winning, more and more social psychological stuff is getting quantitative and less relevant. It’s really very sad to see how a model of science is pretending to be the only model of science, and I’m happy to be out of it because it made me angry for many years in my later years to see how in every tenure case you had to fight this stupid battle over and over again, over is there enough published research in referee journals instead of what is this body of work worth.
SCARPINO: It’s also one of the perils of interdisciplinary work. On the subject we talked a little while ago about experiential learning, and I noted when I looked through your CV, your impressive CV, that you had co-published with Warren Bennis, Personal and Organizational Change Through Group Methods: the Laboratory Approach, and Interpersonal Dynamics: Essays and Readings on Human Interaction. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the nature of your collaboration with him.
SCHEIN: He had been at MIT and got his degree at MIT while I was at Harvard. We didn’t know each other. When I came to MIT in ’56, he was at BU and I think in ’57 or ’8, he was hired into the MIT group, so he became a colleague and a peer, and there are some stories in his biography about whether or not the fact that we were sort of in parallel, was a problem. Allegedly McGregor wanted to get us both tenure at the same time and ran into some difficulty, that’s all in Warren’s stuff. I didn’t know any of this until I read about it in Warren’s stuff. But we got along very well because we both worked at Bethel in the T-groups. We were co-trainers and enjoyed being designers. We clicked conceptually, so we decided, why not write a book about our lab experiences. Then a couple of years later, we clicked again on being interested in the role of movies and literature and other kinds of things as teaching tools. We had acquired a couple of other faculty who were also interested, and the idea suddenly came up, why don’t we share all these non-academic things that we’re doing and see what we’ve got. We discovered all these interesting stories and cases and whatnot, and it kind of almost jelled on its own that if wrote some introductory chapters and then put in these materials, we would have a very interesting book called Interpersonal Dynamics, where each of the four of us would take a different section. Talked to a publisher, got a good response, and had then for the next, I guess, five, six years it went through, I think, three—at least three editions, what became for many, many courses the major textbook on interpersonal dynamics. But it kind of fell together from each of us being interested in literature rather than just formal research.
SCARPINO: I’d like to get you to talk for a few minutes about career anchors and if you could explain how that came about. It seems to me, based upon what we talked about earlier, that this turns out to be an example of creative opportunism, although I could have that wrong. You were looking for one thing and found something else.
SCHEIN: Right. But in this case it was not opportunism, it was forced on me. I think that there’s a difference between when I saw something, it was vague, and turned it into something. In the case of the career anchors, I had done this panel study to find out how people were indoctrinated into companies. Didn’t find anything. Brought them all back and began to hear these stories. In story after story after story, fell into some kind of a category of what that person was by age 35, 40, looking for in his career. These categories, people say, “Well, isn’t that kind of vague?” And I say, “Well, if you doubt it, go interview somebody and see what you think.” So a lot of skeptics did that. We’d go out and find somebody and interview them, and say, oh yeah, within 10 minutes I could classify. (laughter) So what do you do when—when you know the data is staring you in the face? You’ve got eight categories of types of careers, publish it, you know, because now it’s not something you’ve invented, it’s something that was forced—I did feel it was forced upon me, even the labeled career, anchor, was what the subjects used. It was not my word, it was their word. It taught me, I think, a lesson, that was similar to what I had learned from the POW’s; that when you’ve got a clear data set and it leads to certain conclusions and you publish it, it will work. Others will test it and will see it and will confirm it. If you’ve just invented a typology and throw it out there, maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But I was at this point back to being the good researcher publishing as carefully as I could what I had found from these first initially 44 interviews and then subsequently lots of other research that I and others were doing, that kept confirming. People kept saying, “Well, aren’t there other anchors?” I had a good answer for that. If you’d have at least two interviews on another category, then bring it up as an anchor. Well, no one ever has.
SCARPINO: These panels originally were selected because they held masters’ degrees from …
SCHEIN: They were originally Sloan School second-year students. They didn’t have masters’ degrees, but they were all going out into the world of business.
SCARPINO: What, if anything, did you learn about leadership from your study that became career anchors?
SCHEIN: Well, the obvious thing you learn is how many different kinds of careers in leadership there are, and that we’re basing all our leadership theories on one career anchor category, namely the general manager category, because the entrepreneurs were totally different types of leaders. The technical functional types, depending on whether you were a sales manager or an engineering manager or whatever, those required different kinds of leadership. So it made leadership to me much more diverse. I could see how obsessed the field was with just identifying what will make a good manager, and that that was a very limited view of what leadership was all about, which I already knew from the military and so on. But, in the meantime, I had also been seduced into writing this book called Organizational Psychology, by a very persuasive editor. I didn’t want to write a textbook, and he said, oh, just write a hundred pages, you know.
SCARPINO: (laughter) That’s pretty far into the book-writing process.
SCHEIN: He said, “You must know a hundred pages’ worth.” So I thought about it and it was summer in Bethel and I could—so I just started and, sure enough, I had a clearly organized mind. I think it stimulated me to see, well, what do I know and can I put it into categories, and they turned out to be very good categories. I didn’t know I had that talent, but I do now know that one of the things I’m really good at is categorizing things into categories that make sense to other people. I looked at my first two versions of organizational psychology, and leadership is in the index, but it’s totally interwoven. The third edition, which was 1980, leadership is a whole chapter. So I think I was responding to the research that was getting more and more. We had Fred Fiedler. I knew him very well, by the way. I was glad to see that he’s one of your recipients and I don’t know what’s become of him, but …
SCARPINO: I interviewed Fred two years ago.
SCHEIN: Is he still in Seattle, and still …
SCARPINO: He was the last time I talked to him, a year and a half or so ago.
SCHEIN: His research was absolutely fascinating because it was not pedestrian and because it had clear outcomes. The team either won or it didn’t win. But then there were all these other studies and the field was just piling up data, so I thought, well, I’m obligated to summarize it. But I didn’t really like the field. It was—it didn’t seem to be asking the right questions. It was looking for heroes when I could see that—or in our Bethel groups we were very adamant about saying, it’s about leadership, not about the leader. All of us exercise leadership at different points in a process. So it’s pointless to try to figure out what a leader should be, we should all be concentrating on acts of leadership. I think that was the way I’ve always thought about it and, therefore, all the career anchors and these other things did is to reinforce that, yes, you can look for competencies and all this stuff, but that’s not the important stuff. The important stuff is the activity. I often thought of it as filling in the missing functions. Leadership is doing what’s needed that isn’t being done. When I got into the culture area, I then realized that I do have to talk about the leader who really changes things, which is a particular leadership act, and how that’s also symmetrically opposed to the leader who would love to change things, but the culture won’t let him. So leaders create cultures, but they’re victims of cultures. So that brought me back to thinking of individuals a little bit more. Until then, I think it was mostly the process.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a little bit more about that in a minute. But I want to shift the process consultation, and I was prepared to ask you about Digital Equipment Corporation, but you reminded me in your session this morning how important that is to the development of your ideas related to process consultation, so I think the question I want to ask you is if you could just kind of talk about what you were doing with Digital Equipment Corporation and how that led you to think along the lines that became process consultation.
SCHEIN: I think the experiences with Digital at the time were just interesting experiences from which I learned. In retrospect and when I wrote the book about Digital, I give them much more importance then I did at the time, to the extent of saying that many of the most important things I’ve learned, I’ve learned from clients, not from my own experience, but from experiences that clients created by who they were and how they operated. The best example was Ken Olsen who, first of all, exhibited a level of trust in people that was extraordinary. It fitted the McGregor model of theory Y. But this notion of, I’m paying you well, you’ve been through an interview process, do your job, and only bother me if you can’t get your job done, was really quite extraordinary to think about and come and sit in on these Friday meetings and see what you can do. Why did he give me that trust? Because I was an MIT professor. He loved MIT. He trusted MIT people and so he gave me this carte blanche. Then the other very clear example in the field of surveying, giving, you know, attitude surveys, there’s always been a big controversy about what you do with the data. At the time, it was very clear that the executive who wanted the survey also put down a budget and a time table and so on. So when Ken Olsen asked me one year to survey the engineering department, which was several projects, several hundred people, I put this in my book, you know, as a major event. I asked him, “When would you like to see the data?” It seemed to me a perfectly reasonable question. He kind of reared up and said, “I don’t want to see the data.” You know, what the hell did this mean? It forced me to really invent a whole other way of thinking about surveying because every executive was looking at the data from the survey, and here’s an executive who says he doesn’t want to see it. I put that together with how else he thought about things and I realized that his model was, if he has me go out there and interview people, that that will stir the pot and problems will surface and problems will get solved, that he—he was wise enough to know that he’s probably not going to be able to solve whatever problems come up. So it would only be curiosity that would make him want to see them. Instead, he was saying, “Survey them,” and the hidden message was, “and do what you can to fix it.” So then I invented a new model of what to do with survey data. I would interview a group. When I had all the data, I would summarize it on paper, call that group together for a two-hour meeting, and say, “Here’s what you’ve said to me, and we have two tasks.” This was my invention. “Check the data collectively. Tell me whether I got it right. Two, let’s figure out what to do with it.” So then they would first go through the checking and we’d say, “Okay, this is what we’ve said. Now let’s look at the problems we’ve identified.” Immediately they would say, “Well, these three we can fix. You know, this is in our own bailiwick, so let’s fix them. What about all this stuff about the boss, you know, and all the things he does wrong,” which usually would get fed up and cause great defensiveness and whatnot. The group would say, you know, “Three of these things we’ve said are his personality. Let’s not touch those because that’s him and we’re going to have to live with it. But the way he runs meetings is really bad. We should try to give him some feedback.” I would say, “Well, how are we going to do it?” They had the choice, they could say, “Well, Ed, I think this is something you should say to him because I think if we say it”—and we might negotiate. All right. Say, “Wouldn’t it be better to have the whole group say it?” This wonderful—suddenly here was the same group that had generated the data, solving its problems and I realized, this is what Ken wanted. This is what he dreamed, is that if he shot me in there, the problems would not just be identified, but they would get to work on them. Policy issues, they could get fed up, you know, we are not paid enough. Well, that information could float up. But the group took responsibility. They would at the end of those meetings say, “Ed, this is the best meeting we’ve had in months.” Why, because they were working their own problems, instead of filling in a questionnaire and somebody else months later looks at it.
SCARPINO: So I’ve learned from talking to you today that I’m not supposed to lead the witness. Actually, I already knew that, but …
SCHEIN: It depends on the circumstances.
SCARPINO: Well, I’m going to use a term that a humanist would use just to see if I understand what you’re talking about. Is the difference between a traditional consulting model and process consultation, could I conclude that when one practices process consultation one is engaging in shared authority as opposed to the consultant just coming in and telling them what to do? It’s sort of a give and take?
SCHEIN: Yeah. That would be certainly—or another way to put that is, give the data to the people who can do something about it. It’s an accounting model that McGregor thought of. You know, most accounting models is the accountant, the person investigating goes down and finds out what isn’t working right. He gives that to his boss, who gives it—it eventually goes up to the senior person who then puts it down through the line, and maybe a month later or so the boss says, this is what they found out about us. McGregor said, wouldn’t it have been better if when the accountant saw the problem he fed it directly back to the boss and said, “Here’s a problem, what are you going to do about it?” Now that’s I guess sharing the authority, but more importantly I think it’s—it’s working at the level in the hierarchy where the problems can be solved, rather than engaging a lot of people who have nothing to do with it.
SCARPINO: I read and you also mentioned this morning that when you wrote about process consultation it was partly at the urging of a colleague of yours who more or less accused you of practicing pop culture with your clients, and that you actually published in 1969 was more or less a response to his dare, or a response to his challenge. Could you briefly talk about that?
SCHEIN: Well, I had had these kinds of experiences in digital and was a psychologist, and partly anthropologist—I understood the importance of working with the client in the client’s space, call it within their own culture, whatever, and must have realized that there’s no way someone looking at a consultant working with a company could figure that out. They would assume company has a problem, consultant gives advice. How would they know any different? So the motivation was, I do have a legitimate task here of explaining this and surrounding it with the relevant concepts that you need to understand. You need to understand how groups work, how decisions are made, you don’t—not anybody can walk in and do this. The fact that I was a trained social psychologist with clinical training mattered. So the booklet ended up being a mixture of case material, explanation, the underlying philosophy, and even some of the lecturettes that we had used in Bethel. I remember thinking that this rule in Bethel, we had the rule that you go through the T-group first and then you go have a short 20-minute lecture to help participants understand what might have gone on. It had to be no longer than 20 minutes, had to deal with just clarifying one concept, and we had been doing this now for several years at Bethel. So I had a store of these lectures in outline form. Some of those could be directly transposed into the book because they dealt with the relevant concepts; how groups make decisions and so on. So the book was easy to write. It was partly explaining and partly importing stuff that I already had. I thought that this was a very different way of approaching being a helper, and therefore felt it was very important once I had been challenged to really put it out there and explain it to the world.
SCARPINO: You used the word helper just now and would you sort of attribute it to sort of fifth concept that you developed that we’ll talk about in a minute, but at the time that you wrote this book in 1969, did you think of yourself as a helper? Were you already beginning to think along those lines?
SCHEIN: I don’t know, but I do have to confess something that bothered me a little, that in the helping book a lot of the fundamental models or terms that I actually use came from a 1960’s lecturette that Jack Glidewell, who was another trainer, gave on giving and receiving help. I had forgotten that the basic helping model was already there in that lecture, and then I kind of re-invented it 30, 40 years later. I was shocked to see that some of these little lectures, how groups make decisions and so on, were brilliant pieces of theory condensed into short lecturettes.
SCARPINO: I want to ask you about organizational culture. I looked up a list of your clients, which is long and impressive, but, you know, Digital Equipment Corporation, Ciba-Geigy, Apple, Citibank, General Foods, Proctor and Gamble, and the list goes on and on. I also read in the course of my research that many of your colleagues credit you with coining the term corporate culture or organizational culture. Do you accept credit for that? I mean, they can say whatever they want, but, I mean, it’s …
SCHEIN: It’s yes and no. I think that Elliott Jaques had used the changing culture of the faculty—factory. There were a couple of other people who had talked about union culture or work culture, but I think that the first book with that title, organizational culture, was Organizational Culture and Leadership. Then the book, The Corporate Culture Survival Guide, was several years later. Again, I think the terms were being used, but I don’t know whether you could find many articles or books that had them in print. So in that sense, I formalized it by putting it in print. Certainly, there was no invention there. We all knew the word culture and applying it to organizations was no big deal. But maybe actually I think what—what clicked was my three state—three level model. I hear over and over again that what people took out of the early culture literature was this idea that culture is a three-level phenomenon of, you know, artifacts, spouse values and basic assumptions, and that was again my categorizing genius at work. I think we all knew that culture was that way, but I somehow found a set of labels that made it more understandable.
SCARPINO: Did your work with anthropologists in any way influence your willingness to look at organizations through a cultural lens?
SCHEIN: From the beginning. Two or three of my friends at Harvard were anthropologists and sociologists, and one of the important books we read was Men Who Manage, which was really an ethnographic study, and William White had written the Street Corner Society. There was nothing new about applying culture to groups and organizations. I think what was new in my book was elaborating it as a textbook, in putting a lot of material and combining it with the word leadership, and saying, look, leaders create cultures and are victims of cultures and the best way to understand culture is—organizational culture—is through entrepreneurial behavior. I think being able to contrast Digital and Ciba-Geigy was important. One was an old company that defined leadership. The other was a young company where the leader defined culture. So I had a lot more raw material to put into a book, and I think that also, combined with by then having accepted clinical research as a paradigm and saying, look, building a whole theory on cases is okay. Let the world decide. I felt like writing it that way and that was that. I didn’t want to do a quantitative study like some others had done.
SCARPINO: Well, you mentioned the word leadership and I’ve read in a number of places a quote attributed to you that the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.
SCHEIN: That was my position and I owned it and was willing to foist it on the world, yes. It’s a little bit vague and a little general, but I think it’s accurate. If you really want to know ultimately what makes leaders different from anybody else, what is it they do that’s different from anybody else, it’s they create and manage culture.
SCARPINO: Do you think that effective leaders understand that?
SCHEIN: No. No. But some do. I think one of the best books in the field and you ought to interview him because I think he deserves it, is Gerstner. He, in his book, Elephants Can Learn to Dance, where he describes how he got IBM back into a good company. He talks at length about how he had to evolve certain cultural themes, bring back some of the culture of IBM that had been lost. He understood perfectly well that it was all about culture. So I think the good ones do.
SCARPINO: What do you think that you learned—what do you think people could learn about leadership from reading your work on organizational culture?
SCHEIN: What they could learn about leadership is a great deal because I not only describe in the book how leaders create organizations and then infuse through their own values, those values into the organization, which, if they work, become the culture. People forget that originally it was just the leader’s values. I’ve had a lot of thesis students look at their own organizations historically by saying, well go back and find out what your founders were all about. My best example being Apple, where I had learned early in my consulting with Apple that Gerstner, I mean, Wozniak, wanted something that kids could use. He was a school-oriented person. A simple computer. Steve Jobs was a creative genius who thought he wanted a toy for yuppies. Those—that was tossed around. Now, what, how many, 50 years later, what have we got? We’ve got a whole bunch of toys for yuppies that are very simple to use. I don’t think that’s accidental. I think that somehow the mentality of Wozniak to kind of keep it simple, easy to use, and Jobs says, it’s got to be fun, that that just drove the process into these toys. Why did Apple succeed so much quicker? Because I think that vision got infused into all the engineers, all through the years, and so you could figure out the Apple culture by going back and seeing what… You could figure out the HP culture by going to Packard and Hewlett and seeing what did those people want. You won’t figure out all of it because some of it evolved, but you’ll see the essence. I had a woman from the post office department who was totally able to explain the post office by going back to the early postmaster generals. The woman yesterday from the Marine Corps used my model to analyze the culture of the Marine Corps and found it very easy to figure out if she looked historically at how… So history is, in fact, the best way to get a culture, not just any old history, but going back to the founders and see what they wanted.
SCARPINO: You published Organizational Culture and Leadership in 1985 and in your draft autobiography you called it your opus. Now, for a man who has published such a tremendous body of work you singled out this one piece and called it your opus. Why?
SCHEIN: It’s the only one that I took seriously enough to try to read almost everything and to try to really make it into a complete text, and go to the labor of… The other books were more creative impulses. This was—I felt it as a serious piece of work that had to be able to stand on its own, that had to be able to function as a textbook, that could not be easily dismissed as just a view. Maybe that’s the other thing. This was trying to take in all the views that I was aware of, of organizational culture. There were a few out there, but not many actually.
SCARPINO: I wanted to ask you one more question about culture, and then we’re going to wrap this up. I had this question sort of half-formed in the back of my mind until I heard you speak this morning. What brought it into focus for me was the term you used, safety culture, and having to do with some of your work with the nuclear industry and so on and so forth. In that context you talked about the relationship between the leader or the boss and the subordinate, and the complicating factor of technology, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about safety culture, the leader and the boss, and the complications brought about by technology.
SCHEIN: Well, the more complicated the technology, the more interdependence. If the boss does not understand, if the leader does not understand the interdependency, then the organization becomes vulnerable. This was even illustrated in that movie, The China Syndrome, where you had a person in the operating room seeing some vibrations that didn’t feel right, and having the boss say, it’s okay, don’t worry about it, and then finding out that that reflected a major flaw that could have created a major meltdown. I think the movie didn’t go as far as it could have. But that’s prototypical of this plant, every piece of it had to function. If some pumps weren’t functioning, then the plant was in jeopardy. I keep thinking that more and more parts of the world are that way, they—and it’s technology that’s making this happen. It’s not humans. It’s that machines are getting more complicated. If you look—my ’37 Chevrolet, I could fix it. If you open the hood of a car today…
SCARPINO: You can’t even recognize the parts.
SCHEIN: You just—and they’re all interdependent and you need all kinds of experts and computers all working together to figure out what’s going on in your car engine. So it says to me that systems are beginning more—to be more and more vulnerable to something not working, somewhere in the system. If I’m the leader in one of those systems, how do I ensure that if something isn’t working somewhere, I’ll find out about it, and find out about it in time? Now, I just remember this same point. I have a friend who is a consultant to some of the major financial institutions. He told me once that he asked the head of—it was like Goldman Sachs or one of these places, he said, what keeps you up at night? What the guy said was, that someone of my people out there, somewhere, is doing something that’s going to ruin us, and I won’t find out about it in time. That’s of course exactly what has happened over and over again in these big bank scandals and so on. Some rogue person does something and the company doesn’t find out about it until they’re deep in the hole.
SCARPINO: But the not finding out about it has something to do with the dynamics of the culture of that organization.
SCARPINO: So what have we learned about leadership from that?
SCARPINO: What have we learned about leadership from that?
SCHEIN: Well, that’s where—how we’re going to get back to safety culture. So safety culture, when you look at what in the nuclear plant is safety culture, it’s a description of what leadership at every level better do. You say, well, that’s too complicated. But they can’t simplify it. They can’t figure out how you can condense the concept like safety culture in a complex system unless you save—point one, the CEO has to be completely committed, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Point two, communications have to be continuous on a daily basis illustrating the CEO’s commitment. Point three, training has to be done at every level—so what safety culture ends up being is a prescription for how to run a company safely. But they can’t get it any simpler. All the parts have to function. I think we’ve lived with a lot of organizations over the last several hundred years that don’t require that degree of interdependent supervision, and as I said to the group this morning, the way the world is going, complexity is increasing, which means interdependence will increase, which means these communication chain issues will become more and more vulnerable unless we figure out how to get good communications through status barriers. That’s somehow what the last book, Humble Inquiry, will try to get at because I think the U.S. culture makes that particularly difficult because both pragmatism and individualism lead to minimizing interdependency and relationships, which means less emphasis on building a relationship where people will tell the boss what’s going on. So how are we going to train leaders to recognize that they must develop relationships with their subordinates to the degree that the subordinates will feel psychologically safe enough to tell the boss when something is out of kilter? To me that’s the problem and a huge challenge.
SCARPINO: Do you think it’s possible to use say, process consultation to facilitate?
SCHEIN: Well, process consultation only works when there’s a client who calls you in.
SCARPINO: That’s true. Although, you have worked for some of those that…
SCHEIN: Yes. I think—I think, for example, when I was on the advisory board of—of INPO, the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations, I knew that the key was to work with the CEO, and so I spent a lot of time develop—trying to develop a relationship with him, so that I could become his process consultant so that if and when he had questions about how to run his organization, he would think of me as being available to discuss those. Some of that happened. Some of the key people at INPO did say, look, how should we think about this? I would work with them, not tell them what to do, but work with them to help them figure it out. The same with my medical colleagues. I’m working with a couple of hospital executives and I’m working with them as a process consultant.
SCARPINO: In 2009, you published Helping: How to Offer, Give and Receive Help. You, in your autobiography, described that book in the following terms. You said, “I consider it my most important book even though it is the most simplistic in many ways.” Again, given the tremendous amount that you’ve published, why would you consider that to be your most important book?
SCHEIN: Because it deals with the process that applies to everything else. If you undo culture change, you need to learn how to do humble inquiry. If you want to improve medical safety, you need to do—learn how to do humble inquiry. Every place where I’ve been successful, the key skill underlying it all is humble inquiry. So I would say, you know, if you want to be a better leader, one of the things you’ve got to improve on is your own ability to be a humble inquirer, and ask—learn how to ask for help, not just give it.
SCARPINO: Do you think that’s a hard thing to do on our culture?
SCHEIN: Exactly. That’s why the book is really an attack on the culture. I think our culture makes it extremely hard and the only thing that will fix it is—we’re so pragmatic that if it becomes technologically imperative, then we’ll do it. Like I think we’ve learned that in the airlines. We’ve learned that the captain and the crew has to be in communication, there’s been enough deadly accidents where they weren’t, that they now emphasize, you know, that most, I think, airline captains who are trained today learn that they have to humiliate themselves with their crew in some way to make sure that the crew will tell them when something’s going wrong. Medical schools are beginning to change the way—the reason doctors are so arrogant is because the professors who taught them humiliated them and made them feel, you know, little, so that they then defensively did that to their underlings and patients. There’s quite a bit of movement going on in the medical field, particularly in Boston, by a man by the name of Lucian Leep that talks about civility and doctors developing better manners, not having all these temper tantrums in the surgery, learning how to be more humble with patients. So I think there’s movement, but only where people really see a problem.
SCARPINO: I am going to ask you two more questions and then wrap this up because I know you’ve got to catch a plane.
SCHEIN: Well, and I’d like to take a quick bathroom break and then let’s do the wrap-up.
SCARPINO: I’m going to hit pause.
All right. Let’s see if I can get this thing to go again. We’re now recording. So, as promised, I want to ask you two final questions, which are related. The first one is, is there anything you’d like to add to what we talked to? Anything I didn’t give you a chance to say or that you want to elaborate on?
SCHEIN: Well, yes and no. I think this process that you’ve done with me leads to lots of further thoughts, but I think nothing that stands out that’s missing in this particular piece of the story. But I can think of other elements. We didn’t really talk about my sense of myself as an artist. My discovery that when I retired from teaching that I didn’t miss teaching, when I ought to—that I really am a better coach than a lecturer or teacher, and that really I’m a writer. I’m slowly getting comfortable with the fact that I’m a writer. So am I a novelist? No. I’m a writer about concepts and I’m good at describing concepts and I’ve had a lot of success making concepts clear. But I’m sort of building that as my identity in more recent years.
SCARPINO: Last question. Is there anything that I should have asked you that I just didn’t ask? Maybe I just didn’t have the insight or didn’t read enough.
SCHEIN: Well, I think the question that you maybe should have probed more is whether there were more life experiences that shaped the particular way that I approach problems. But it would have taken 10 more hours, so I don’t—I think you have an impossible task. I’ve been writing on these memoirs and I have 350 single-spaced pages. There is no way that an interview, even a four-hour interview, could do that. So are you missing anything important? I’m not sure you are. I think you’ve covered very well the sort of essential points about how I approach things and how I had—what I hope is clear, it’s getting clear to me, is that even though I’ve worked in five different areas, they really are quite connected, that I sometimes thought, am I an intellectual dillettante? What’s going on here? But the answer, I think, is no, I’ve let the world and the data lead me, and one thing really led to another. Rather than—what I didn’t want to be was the kind of academic who took one area and beat it to death, which a lot of my colleagues said is the way to do it. That never suited me. I was good at lateral thinking, so if I got interested in something new, I thought it was good to follow it, and then found that I enjoyed that more, in a way I didn’t. We didn’t talk about the economics of it. Where were the rewards? They came right off the bat from royalties and consulting. So I didn’t have any reason to believe that I was doing anything wrong from an economic or academic point of view. But I certainly felt different. I did feel what I was doing at MIT was very different from what other schools were doing that were hunkering down, doing a little more psychology, a little deeper psychology, while I was pushing for sociology and anthropology.
SCARPINO: So how do you think other psychologists look at your career and the body of your work because you didn’t fit the mold?
SCHEIN: The ones who are applied in orientation love me and think of me as a father and grandfather of the field of organizational development and so on. The traditional psychologists like the Jeff Feffers at Stanford and so on, I think are totally dismissive. It has struck me that I’ve been out in Palo Alto for a year now. I have not been invited to do anything at the Stanford Business School. Nothing. Except by Dave Bradford, who is running the T-group program for the students, and the leadership program. So I have had contact with him and his group, and with a woman whom I met at a conference at MIT, who’s running a big international leadership program, but she’s non-faculty. So the degree to which I’m invisible to the graduate school of business at Stanford, is clear data as to what my more traditional colleagues think of me. They may not dismiss me, but they also have no interest in me. Nobody has asked me to come and do a seminar for the graduate students or anything like that.
SCARPINO: Ed, thank you very much. Before I turn the recorder off, I want to say, thank you on behalf of myself, and the International Leadership Association and the Tobias Center, for being kind to sit with me for almost three and a half hours.
SCHEIN: I enjoyed it.
SCARPINO: You struggled through a scratchy throat, and I will go ahead and turn this off.
SCHEIN: I may be back to you on more guidance of what to do with the memoirs.