Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

The unconscious mind and the organisation

Edited by Jill Wright,

I'm always fascinated by the random path to discovery that Google and the Web so often take us on.

This week, for instance, I started reading a column by Mark Latham in the Financial Review on "right wing masochistic behaviour" - an amusing essay on what the former Labor leader describes as the victimhood mentality driving constant complaints and apparent vengefulness of coalition politicians and conservative commentators towards the ABC.

Latham had obviously been doing a bit of Googling himself, because he mentioned a research paper by "the French clinical professor, Manfred Kets de Vries" about "misery-seeking individuals" and their rejection of opportunities for pleasure.

Latham didn't have it quite right. Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries is in fact of Dutch origin, although he works at the French-based INSEAD business school. His working paper "Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?" to which Latham was referring, is available as a PDF (just do a Google search) and is worth reading.

Anyone interested in organisational behaviour, as Psychology Melbourne's business specialists are, will find Kets de Vries' work fascinating, and INSEAD has quite a collection of his papers available for download.

Much of his work is touched on his "Reflections on Character and Leadership - On the Couch with Manfred Kets de Vries". It is an absorbing study that I highly recommend.

What makes Kets de Vries particularly interesting is the fact that he takes a psychoanalytic approach to organisational theory.

He completed a doctoral degree in economics, before studying under Harvard Business School's Abraham Zaleznik, who had a chair in what was then called Social Psychology of Management. He later completed a psychoanalysis in Paris with Joyce McDougall, who integrated the insights of the brilliant French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, with British and American theories. Later, he trained as a psychoanalyst in Montreal with Maurice Dongier.

His first patient happened to be an entrepreneur - a type which rarely goes on the couch - and as Kets de Vries helped him uncover and deal with the process of unconscious self-destruction which threatened his family and career, the psychoanalyst gained a unique understanding of "the relationship between the world of the mind and the world of work".

The clinical orientation Kets de Vries takes to organisational analysis has produced some fascinating insights into the unconscious processes that can have a dramatic impact on organisations that challenge the purely rational model taken by some theorists. As Kets de Vries observes of his early years studying organisational behaviour, "too much attention was being given to structures and systems and not enough to the person".

His clinical insights have done much to inform understanding of the unconscious behaviour that affects organisations. Anyone managing people, or simply working in an organisation, can learn a good deal from this free publication.

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.