Monday, May 24, 2010

This is Why

I recently discovered a great blog called PhD 2015 (you can find it in my Links section on the right side of the page), which I've found, among other things, to be a thoughtful initial approach to Organizational Behavior study.  I envy the author's ability to stay on one professional track, as opposed to my own tendency to branch out from a serious topic to things like Muppets, video games, and Kenny Chesney (after all, just a couple of weeks ago you were reading one of my posts explaining social metaphysics, llamas, and Mr. Peanut).  The author of this blog has written a few posts lately that seem to establish her own motivation for studying Organizational Behavior which I found myself very... what's the word I'm looking for... moved by? ... identifying with?  I'm not sure how to put it into words.

It's very similar to my own reasoning for embarking upon this course of study, and it motivates me to talk a little bit about it here, as I don't think I ever have.  And as a side note, those original thoughts on PhD 2015 are well worth your read if you've ever worked in a business team, or if you ever plan to.

I am pursuing a doctorate in Organizational Behavior, intending to specialize in business leadership. I am leaving behind a lucrative career or two, a comfortable lifestyle, and a large house to do this.  I am, in many ways, sacrificing the life I've built for myself over the past ten years in order to start something new and wholly different. Most people would call me a fool (and several have) for going back to school at this point in my life, especially for my audacity of seeking a doctorate when I don't even have a masters or an MBA. They would ask me (and, indeed, have asked me) why I'm throwing away so much to do something so different.

And my answer would be, naturally, because it's what I believe in.

Organizational Behavior is the study of how organizations and teams work, and how they don't.  It's the study of why people are effective and why they aren't.  It's the study of what leadership really is, and what it isn't. It's the study of why people are happy with work, why they enjoy what they do... and why so many don't.

If you think about it, you spend more time in the average day at work, than you do with your family and friends. And for 90% of the world, they hate that time. They find it hostile, they find it unpleasant, they find it undignified. Most of them feel they are led poorly and taken for granted. Many do not use their skills to the fullest because they're not motivated to, or because they don't even know what skills they're supposed to use. They receive feedback that is meaningless, and are told they should be part of an ambiguous team without understanding how or why.

I believe very strongly in a concept that Aristotle called eudaimonia.  It's an old word without a true and precise English translation, but in short it means "the joy of excellence." Aristotle called it the very highest level of human experience, and the greatest form of happiness attainable by mankind. It's the pure joy you feel when you've completed something you enjoyed doing, and that you did very well because you enjoyed doing it. It's the feeling a car hobbyist gets when he finishes restoring that '57 Chevy, or the happiness a dedicated teacher experiences when she sees a once-failing student graduate. It's the very happiest you can possibly be, and better yet, you only experience it when you've contributed something wonderful to the world.  It's a feeling that most people never experience in the modern age.

I want them to. And I believe that improving organizational behavior is the way to make that happen.

In every management position I've held since college, I have attempted to my utmost to bring that feeling of eudaimonia, or at least the possibility of it, to my employees and teams. Although I usually failed, every now and then I'd nail it. The result was happy employees, effective and efficient completion of organization mission, and a real sense that we were all part of a real team... no, more of a family... working together for a goal we all believed in. If you've never felt that way, I feel sorry for you, because it's pretty damned awesome.

I've only scratched the surface, only begun to imagine what organizational psychology can accomplish. I want to be better, and I want to help make the world a better, happier, more effective place through organizational behavior. I want those 8 to 12 hours a day of work we all have to go to, to make more sense, to be something we're proud of, where we hold our head high and feel motivated to accomplish something great. I don't have the power or knowledge to do any of this now... but maybe someday, especially if I can surround myself with people smarter and better than I am.  Hence the doctorate.

I have a world of respect for an Ohio State professor, Dr. Anthony Rucci, who defined this area of study as the enhancement of the dignity and performance of human beings and the organizations they work for.  And it can be. And I want it to be.  Because that's what I'm passionate about, and that's what will bring me that eudaimonia I was just talking about.

In a nutshell, I just want to change the way workplaces operate. I want workplaces to be better, more dignified, more respectful, less conforming, more creative, better led, more motivated, more inspired, more effective, and more efficient. And I think better leadership and management of organizational behavior is the way to do it. I believe we can all be better... myself more than just about anyone. If I can help the world move down that path, even in a very small way, then I'll have a lot I can be proud of.

I've gotta admit, I'm impressed that I made it all the way through this brain-dump without mentioning the Muppets as an ideal organizational team unit, or waxing poetic about Evanescence, or wondering aloud if Roy Clark is the greatest banjo player of all time, or discussing my recent increasing love of cheese. Maybe I can stay focused after all.


  1. In order for any long term success to be achieved, in my opinion, motivation is key. That motivation has to stem from the leader, who can chose to either see their employees as tools of the company, or people who can contribute.

    More often than not, I've seen people in power attempt to maximize efficiancy above anything else. However, in trying to see the big picutre, they tend to forget and neglect about the individual worker, and ironically cause more harm than good. I'll admit, I'm guilty of this, whether becuase I was thinking of the organization as a whole, or out of my own self intrest.

    If the only reason I have to do a good job is to not get fired, then I'm only going to do the bare minimum, because I haven't really succeeded, I've just prolonged failure. If there is some recognition of a good job done, then I'm going to enjoy being recognized, and continue to work hard, with the idea that I am more than just some faceless replaceable workforce.

    In short, you can't always expect people be self motivated. You need to make them enjoy their job. To work hard because they want to, not because they have to.

    ...How's that for a comment?

  2. That's a very insightful comment, I think! Mirrors a lot of what I think, but puts it into words a lot better.

  3. I like it! -Sean

  4. Great post, Jim. Very noble reasons for sacrificing so much in pursuit of your dreams. I suspect you'll accomplish all of this and more, and the collective we will be better for it. I don't think you are a fool or crazy. And I don't think an MBA would help you with this. You are wise for going straight to the doctorate. I'm looking forward to learning from you over the next five years and beyond . . .