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Human nature

In his book, Human Nature, Greg Clydesdale argues that even where human nature is addressed at a conceptual level; the link between theory and what actually happens in the workplace is usually weak and often fails to recognise that social ability is probably the defining aspect Greg Clydesdale.

Humans are weird! They can be emotional, irrational and often unpredictable, yet as their manager, it is your job to get the best out of them. In fact they are often the key to your success. Sadly, humans do not come with an instruction manual which lists their technical specifications.

In his book, Human Nature, Greg Clydesdale argues that even where human nature is addressed at a conceptual level; the link between theory and what actually happens in the workplace is usually weak and often fails to recognise that social ability is probably the defining aspect Greg Clydesdale. In recent years, there has still been resistance to the application of evolutionary psychology and the concept of human nature to management.[1] It was resisted by those who argued that we have free will that transcends any inherited biological drives or structures. Other resisted it because they believed that our behaviours have become so sophisticated that we are no longer anchored by our biological identity. Our natural behaviours are modified by the huge array of social options available to us.

Some views of human nature are opposed for political reasons. Some feminists dislike research that argues that women and men have genetic differences that result in different workplace outcomes. For example, one study conducted by Browne (1998) argued that mammalian mothers do not like to be separated from their young.[2] As a consequence, women will generally be less likely to pursue jobs that involve longer hours, require travel and require a single-minded commitment to a career than men will. Consequently, women earn lower incomes and are less likely to be promoted by employers seeking strong commitment. Browne argues that this explains why women earn less than men. However, feminists focusing on discrimination will not welcome such explanations.

Finally, any influence of evolutionary psychology may be opposed on religious grounds. Those who believe in creation may oppose a position born of evolutionary theory. This is a genuine concern given that in a Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans rejected Darwin, ‘and believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago’.[3] However, creationists need not see the concept of human nature as a threat, as it can be detached from evolutionary theory. To detach brain structure from evolutionary theory, we need only ask: what are the behaviour repertoires that God created 10,000 years ago? What characteristics would someone living in Abraham’s nomadic tribe have needed to survive? Abraham’s tribe had to face the same problems of attracting mates, acquiring resources, relationship management, the pursuit of status, and defence. The characteristics of the nomadic tribes that evolutionary psychologists talk of are the same as those of the tribe led by Abraham. It is only necessary to consider the structure of the brain as it is, without the evolutionary explanation.

Despite these areas of resistance, a number of attempts have been made to link management with human nature. We previously mentioned McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. Lawrence and Nohria have also created a text embedded in core human concepts.[4] They argue that human motivations can fit in to four categories: the drive to bond, the drive to defend, the drive to learn and the drive to acquire. These drives originate in our evolutionary biology. Nicholson has drawn on human nature to inform management practice in his book Executive Instinct.[5] He argues that many of the problems of modern organizational life can be linked to a poor fit between our true nature and the economic demands of modern organisations. The problem for managers is that today’s environment is very different to the one in which our nature evolved. Our human nature was moulded over some four million years in which we lived in small hunter-gatherer tribes. The advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago required a new set of behaviours, while modern industrial society is different yet again. Nicolson draws on evolutionary theory to explore the importance of gossip in the workplace, how to identify leaders, the different things that men and women want from organisations, decision-making traps and the problems that occur when we manage against the grain of human nature.

A similar position is taken by Bernhard and Glantz in their book Staying Human in the Organisation.[6] They argue that there is a universal human nature genetically encoded from our time as hunter-gatherers. However, modern organizations are very different from the environment in which our nature was shaped, so if we are to have a happier workforce, organisations should try to more closely replicate the tribal structure, including getting rid of hierarchies. However, this ignores the fact that even in tribes, hierarchies exist. It also reflects the naturalistic fallacy that ‘what happens in nature is right’ – a position which might not be tenable given many of the advances in knowledge we have made. A common theme of these books is that understanding how humans behave in organizations is best studied if we draw on recent work in human biology, ethnology, anthropology and psychology.[7] There can be no doubt that management would be enriched if built on a better perception of human nature, but I would go further and say that human nature is of importance not just to management, but to everyone working in the social sciences. In fact, it could be argued that human nature, and interpersonal relationships, should be a core subject for every university degree.

With the exception of the few examples mentioned above, management academics rarely approach the concept of human nature, a strange oversight given that humans are the principle resource that we manage. Of course, characteristics of humans are embedded in all management courses. These courses reveal the complexity of human behaviour, which suggests that to present a simple model may be counterproductive and an over-simplification of human behaviour and theory. However, Chapter 2 will offer a simple model detailing characteristics that managers frequently encounter in the workplace. The sheer complexity of human behaviour and the variability in behaviours in different environments suggests a need for caution. However, there is a lot of value in using a simplified model. Although our model includes a limited number of human characteristics, this limited approach can actually help to make management education more practical and more relevant. Instead of providing a large number of theories for management trainees to learn, we focus on a small number of theories, then link them to common workplace situations, the emphasis being on applying those theories. The irony is that by simplifying human nature, it is possible to gain a more complex understanding of workplace problems.

This approach is based on the Elaboration Theory of Learning. This theory states that learning should start with a few simple and fundamental ideas with strong practical application. These make it easier for trainees to identify with the new knowledge. Then as learning progresses, instruction becomes more complicated, elaborating on the earlier model. This method of learning draws on studies of human cognition that show that the mental models learners possess provide the scaffolding for future learning.[8] The mental model acts as an organising device that enables learners to make sense of new knowledge.[9] This increases the ability to incorporate, integrate and assimilate more detailed information later on.[10] The other advantage of a simplified model is that it allows us to see how different aspects of human nature affect each other. For example, when motivation is taught separately to emotion, we do not get to see how the two concepts affect each other in the workplace. In reality, emotions have a very close relationship with motivation. To give a simple example, when our motivation for self-esteem is affected by someone who insults us, this gives rise to the emotion of anger. This book argues that understanding this inter-relationship in various real-world situations is important for the development of good managers.

The simple model of human nature in Chapter 2 covers a range of characteristics of humans that contribute to a large range of workplace problems. It considers what motivates humans, what are common characteristics about the way they think, and what role emotions play. As the book progresses, we will draw on these characteristics to help explain workplace problems managers will face throughout their career. Chapter 3 considers the role of relationships in the workplace, along with methods of managing relationships to enhance productivity, and Chapter 4 then calls for constructive management that mitigates human limitations. Following this, Chapters 5, 6 and 7 explore aspects of human nature and relationships in greater depth. Throughout the book, we see how managers must constantly perform balancing acts between conflicting forces that exist at any given time. Finally, Chapter 8 looks at how human characteristics may be undermining ethical behaviour, and suggests that if we want to make the world a better place, we should focus less on social responsibility and more on being better managers. Understanding humans is hard; so is understanding groups of humans, such as organizations. But just because something is hard, and just because anything resembling complete success is unattainable for a long way off doesn't mean that it isn't worth trying.[11] Human Nature: A Guide to Managing Workplace Relations is by Greg Clydesdale and published by Gower Publishing.

1 Nicholson, N. and Wright, R. (2006). ‘Darwinism: A New Paradigm for Organizational Behaviour?’. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 27, 111–19.

2 Browne, K.R. (1998). ‘An Evolutionary Account of Women’s Workplace Status’. Managerial and Decision Economics, 19, 427–40.

3 Nicholson and Wright (2006).

4 Lawrence, P.R. and Nohria, N. (2002). How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

5 Nicholson, N. (2000). Executive Instinct: Managing the Human Animal in the Information Age, New York: Crown Business.

6 Bernhard, J.G. and Glantz, K. (eds) (1992). Staying Human in the Organization: Our Biological Heritage and the Workplace, Westport, CT: Praeger.

7 Markoczy (2003).

8Anderson, R.C., Spiro, R.J. and Anderson, M.C. (1978). ‘Schemata as Scaffolding for the Representation of Information in Connected Discourse’. American Educational Research Journal, 15, 433–40.

9 Wilson, B. and Cole, P. (1992). ‘A Critical Review of Elaboration Theory’. Educational Technology Research and Development, 40(3), 63–79.

10 Reigeluth, C. and Stein, S.F. (1983). ‘The Elaboration Theory of Instruction’, in C.M. Reigeluth (ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models: An Overview of their Current Status, Hillsdale, NJ and London: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 335–381.

11 Markoczy

Human Nature, Greg Clydesdale

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