Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay: The Theory of the Organizational Ideal

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Its performance as part of the organizational drama becomes the only meaning it has.

Guide Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay: The Theory of the Organizational Ideal

Accordingly, the parts it plays in the organization's transactions with the world become irrelevant. When this happens, work loses its adaptive function and becomes mere ritual. At the same time , the rituals that serve to express the individual 's identification with the organization ideal , especially those connected with rank , come to be infused with significance for the individual. They become sacred. Thus, reality and appearance trade places. The energy that once went into the production of goods and services of value to others is channelled into the dramatization of a narcissistic fantasy in which the organization's environment is merely a stage setting.

Schein describes the condition of ' conformity ' that follows from an insistence by the organization that all of its norms be accepted as being equally important.

Under that condition, the individual 'can tune in so completely on what he sees to be the way others are handling themselves that he becomes a carbon-copy and sometimes a caricature of them. It alienates people from themselves and gives them over to others. Whatever victories ensue must be pyrrhic. Whatever happiness is to be attained here is not the happiness of the individual. This must make a mockery of all attempts to break down status barriers that stand in the way of effective communication—as appears to be the idea behind various "quality of working life" efforts.

Development of Hostile Orientation Toward the Environment. If the totalitarian manager is successful, as we have seen, organizational participants take the organization as an organization ideal. It must follow, in their thinking, that such an organization will be successful in its dealings with the world.

This poses a difficulty of interpretation for the necessarily problematic relationships between the organization and its environment. Thus, in the nature of things Katz and Kahn, the environment places constant demands on the organization.

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Failure to meet them will result in the organization's death. But from the standpoint of the totalitarian manager committed to portraying the organization as the organization ideal, this sort of reasoning cannot be acknowledged. From this point of view it is the organization that is the criterion of worth. The environment is not conceived of as existing as an independent environment at all; it exists only in order to support the organization.

From this standpoint the demands of the environment must be presented as hostile actions on the part of bad external forces—hostile actions to which a legitimate response is equally hostile action. Sending private detectives to find out the dirty details of his private life suggests something about their attitude toward him.

It suggests that they expected to find something to show that he was a bad person. He had to be a bad person: he had attacked GM, hadn't he? Criticism from the outside is generally viewed as ill-informed. General Motors management thinks what it is doing is right, because it is GM that is doing it and the outside world is wrong. It is always "they" versus "us. And when Peter Drucker , wrote The Concept of a Corporation , a work which was generally regarded as decidedly pro-business and pro-GM, "he was resoundingly criticized within the company for daring to criticize the organization of the corporation.

Thus, the picture of the organization as organization ideal leads to an orientation toward the world that can best be described as paranoid. It is clear enough that such a conception must degrade the relationships with the environment that ultimately the organization requires for its survival. The Transposition of Work and Ritual.

Narcissism Project and Corporate Decay: The Case of General Motors | SpringerLink

When work, the productive process, becomes display, its meaning becomes lost. Its performance as part of the organizational drama becomes the only meaning that it has. Accordingly, the parts it plays in the organization's transactions with the world become irrelevant.

When this happens, it loses its adaptive function and becomes mere ritual. At the same time, those rituals which serve to express the individual's identification with the organization ideal, especially those connected with rank, come to be infused with significance for the individual. They become sacred. Thus, reality and appearance, signified and signifier, trade places. The energy that once went into the production of goods and services of value to others is channeled into the dramatization of a narcissistic fantasy in which the organization's environment is merely a stage setting.

Consider how this shows up in the matter of dress. One can easily make a case that patterns of dress among organizational participants often have some functionality. But when the issue comes to be invested with great meaning, one must suspect that ritual has supplanted function. Thus, De Lorean describes how half of his first meeting as a GM employee was taken up in a discussion of how a vice-president had been sent home for wearing a brown suit.

The Theory of the Organizational Ideal

The dynamics of the ways in which ritual comes to assume the importance work should have helps to explain the dynamics of the ritualization of work. For the willingness to allow one's behavior to be determined by meaningless rituals comes to be justified by an idealization of the organization that elevates its customs above, and discredits, one's values—one's sense of what is important.

This willingness to subordinate and delegitimate , in a word to repress, one's own sense of what is important, even about matters that should be within the competence of anyone's judgment, must have its consequences magnified when the matters in question become more abstruse and difficult to make judgments about, as is the case with real executive work.

Then the repression of one's values deprives one of any basis for making such judgments, and leads naturally to a superimposition of the rituals with which one is familiar, even where, patently, they do not belong. I saw that the job Some of these things, which had little or no impact on the business, were an insult to a person's intelligence As I recall, [for example, my boss] asked me to catalogue service parts numbers and to prepare reports on the size of parts inventories. De Lorean , feeling that a person at his high level should be involved in planning, rather than in trivia, set up a meeting with Vice-Chairman Thomas Murphy to straighten out his job assignment.

But Murphy found nothing peculiar, and:. I suddenly realized that what I felt was a weakness of life on the Fourteenth Floor, he and others thought was "business as usual. Loss of Creativity. The delegitimation of one's sense of what is important gives rise to a special case of the ritualization of work—the loss of creativity. Thus, Schein describes the condition of "conformity" which follows from an insistence by the organization that all of its norms be accepted as being equally important.

Under that condition, the individual. And he notes:.

The conforming individual curbs his creativity and thereby moves the organization toward a sterile form of bureaucracy, p. Mas low gives us insight into the psychodynamics of this when he observes that creativity is characteristic of both ends of the continuum of personality development, but not of the stages in the middle pp. Creativity, this suggests, is a function of spontaneity, a function of taking seriously our actual affects and interacting in the world in consideration of our spontaneous feelings. But as the self comes to be dominated by a concern for how things appear to others, which is characteristic of the middle stages of personality development Schwartz, , creativity disappears as a mode of interacting with the world.

As the organization requires that the individual subordinate his or her spontaneous perception to an uncritical acceptance of the ideal character of the organization, it thus determines that the affective basis of creativity will be repressed. The lack of creativity, since it is a lack of something, cannot be positively demonstrated.

As an experience, it makes itself known as a feeling of missing something different that has not occurred, even though one does not know what the different element would have been. Thus, De Lorean found himself introducing a "new" crop of Chevrolets that were not really new at all:.

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This whole show is nothing but a replay of last year's show, and the year before that and the year before that. The speech I just gave was the same speech I gave last year, written by the same guy in public relations about the same superficial product improvements as previous years Almost nothing has changed In benign times, one may experience boredom: the consciousness of a sameness, a lack of originality.


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When circumstances are harsh, partly as a result of the lack of creativity that the organization needed if it was to have adapted, one may simply experience the intractability of the situation. Adding up the figures in the usual way simply shows one, again and again, how hopeless the situation is. One may then experience the loss of creativity as a wish for a savior who will make the organization's problems disappear.