Re: Appalled, eh?

Subject: Re: Appalled, eh?
From: sheldon kohn <sheldon -dot- kohn -at- MCI -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 4 Feb 1999 11:59:22 -0500

Hello All,

I agree that there is something distressing about some recent posts on this
list. I, too, was tempted to use the word "appalled," but the more I work in
business, the less anything appalls me.

Those on the list who are psychologically minded may want to look at an
article by W. Gordon Lawrence called "Totalitarian States of Mind in
Institutions." It is available from Basically, the
article examines contemporary business culture through a psychoanalytic lens
called object relations. If nothing else, it offers food for thought.

I have often had to deal with managers who take it upon themselves to
provide certainty, who always know better, who get upset when subordinates
do not follow rigid institutional patterns and rules precisely, regardless
of whether there is any sense or logic in doing so. According to Lawrence,
these types of managers (and they are legion these days) "collectively bring
into being, consciously and unconsciously, authoritarian organizations that
generate a totalitarian, possibly fascist, state-of-mind in the participants
in the institution. Such an organizational culture diminishes the capacity
for thought and thinking and so role holders at all levels become less able
to relate to the external environment."

Lawrence goes on to say that such managers are really and truly not far from
psychotic: "Ultra-ambitious conformists who are preoccupied with their
personal survival through managing their careers live in projective
identification. This degree of projective identification is a defense
against schizophrenic breakdown and such people are living on the edge of
madness. They therefore have to get their own way."

The next time a manger gets upset with you for some asinine reason, or the
next time an interviewer castigates you, it might be worth your time to
consider what lies behind such actions.

As a technical writing manager, give me someone who learned how to color
outside the lines any day. A lot of the discussion on this list revolves
around how bad technical documentation is, and I agree that much of it is
wretched. To my mind, the people who can provide creative solutions are
those who are a little bit different, who see potential and possibility for
doing things in a new way. Another definition of madness is continuing to do
the same thing as before while expecting a different result.

So long as managers and business owners focus on minutiae and insist that
everyone be as rigid as they are, I do not see how we can expect the
collective quality of our work to improve, or the collective status of our
profession to advance.


Sheldon Kohn
Technical Writing Consultant, who hopes never to describe himself as a

"There is much truth in jest." - Chaucer

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