The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Rational or Irrational?

Articles about decision making have a tendency to create confusion between being rational and making logical and well-considered decisions. They acknowledge the idea that we all might be irrational to then continue towards “mental errors” or “misguided thinking”.

It’s an idea I can’t agree with. It’s an idea that seems to describe an expectation of a superhuman being with something that could be a “right” or “correct” thinking. This doesn’t fit the complexity of most of our thinking. It also doesn’t fit the complexity of a group of us having all different experiences and histories leading to a different view on the world and thus a very unique perception of what is right and wrong for us.

I’ve found a helpful view of this using the framework of the Clinical Paradigm. Manfred Kets de Vries described it in “The Neurotic Organization” (coauthored with Danny Miller, 1984) and has been expanding on it since.

The Clinical Paradigm is being described as the framework through which we apply a psychodynamic lens to the study of behavior in organizations. By using this framework we can do the work to make sense out or our behavior that seems to be irrational. It’s through its usage that we give ourselves a practical way of discovering how leaders and organizations really function.

The clinical paradigm uses four basic premises:

  1. “There is a rationale behind every human act” – the assumption here is, that there is an explanation for all behavior. We might have to do a lot of work to figure it out as it will be mixed with our unconscious needs and desires, but once we’ve figured it out we’ll be able to see the logic.
  2. There is a lot of our mental life that lies out of conscious awareness. This includes feelings, fears as well as motives – our blind spots. Starting with the fact that we often are not aware of our behavior it becomes clear that it is even more difficult to know why we have this behavior. Sometimes we even don’t want to know that we have it. And this is true even though this behavior impacts our conscious reality.
  3. Emotions are central to who we are. The way we express and regulate emotions are unique to us and guide our relationships throughout one’s life.
  4. We are a product of our past experiences and they influence us throughout life.

In a way, the Clinical Paradigm helps us to make light and reveal the subconscious forces that drive us by looking at what is “within”. It helps us to make sense of those stories people tell themselves. Accepting that they have some rational background, even if we haven’t understood it yet, opens up a large world of opportunities instead of trying to fix “misguided thinking”.


Psychodynamic Approach, Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, Alicia Cheak – INSEAD Working Paper

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