Language as Clue — Part 2

The Effect of Paradigms on Creating Systemic Change in Business

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The Behavioral Paradigm

The second paradigm in modern culture emerged after the machine paradigm had taken solid hold, carrying over the idea formulated by thermodynamics that objects need external inputs to work (gas into a car, electricity into a radio) but shifting the input from fuel or energy sources to the manipulative management of one person or group by another. The basic premise of the behavioral paradigm is that people and groups are externally determined by the consequences of their actions and that the introduction of behavior intercedents can give us power to control them based on their reactivity to pleasure and pain. managing these stimuli can produce predictable responses that are beneficial to others, although not necessarily to the person who is being manipulated. The behavioral paradigm has as its goal prediction and control of behavior.

Source: John B. Watson, who originated the field of behaviorism, emphasized the external behavior of people and their reactions in given situations, rather than their internal, mental states. In his opinion, the analysis of behaviors and reactions was the only objective method for developing insight into human actions. This outlook — combined with the complementary ideas of determinism, evolutionary continuism, and empiricism — has contributed to what is now called “radical behaviorism.”

Watson’s behaviorism rejected the study of consciousness In fact, he was convinced that it actually could not be studied, and that past attempts to do so had only hindered the advancement of psychological theories. He felt introspection was faulty at best and rewarded researchers with nothing but infinitely more issues to be resolved. He pushed for a psychology that would no longer be considered the science of the “mind” and insisted that even the existence of a mental life is false. Thus individuals are only the sums of their behaviors.

Watson’s work became relevant to business when he made a promise and later a deal with leading industrialists, who were benefiting greatly from the industrial revolution and the marketing of goods to a newly rising middle class. Contrary to the way machines worked, human producers were problematic. They were emotional and unpredictable, and managing them consumed energy. Watson promised that in return for funding to build a lab, he would show industrialists how to control people and their behaviors, making them as docile as the powerful machines they operated.

The industrialists bought the idea, and Watson set up his lab at Johns Hopkins university to study motivation and behavior. His successful selling of the theory that rats and humans were interchangeable in the development of motivation theory affected the basic operation of industrial organizations and influenced hundreds of doctoral students, including B.F. Skinner. Thus, since the mid-1950s, the faulty reduction of the human mind to rat brain has been rampant in business, education and even parenting. (A footnote to this story is Watson’s experimentation on orphans and the children in his own extended family, which led to their long-term mental illness and caused Watson to lose his teaching positions.)

Use: The behavioral paradigm has as its goal the the prediction and control of behavior, with the intention to manipulate outcomes in others. The intention is to discover how to manipulate human behavior through the study of rat behavior. In fact, behavioral science still draws inferences about human behavior from studies of lower-order mammals.

Scientific Direction: The behavioral paradigm’s guiding theory is that people are not self- and internally motivated, that all behavior is the outcome of avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. Its guiding principle is to find what external stimulus produces what reactive response and, as in the physical sciences, to find a general description of how behavior works, independent of the unique behaviors of specific individuals.

Instruments: Because the foundation of this paradigm is that there is no inner life, no human mind, its method is to detect with observation via the senses and sense based instruments, which are considered to be reliably objective. Controlled studies, usually in a laboratory as described above, are the core instrument. Adopted from physical science, studies always start with hypotheses and attempt to disprove them, based on what is in physical existence and can be present to the senses. However, as stated in the introduction to this article, all human events are observed through filters that give them shape and meaning. Thus the major flaw in this work is the observers’ unawareness that their findings on human behavior have been framed by a world view based almost entirely on the study of lower order mammals trapped in cages.

Terms that are clues to the behavioral paradigm include influence, incentivize, train, role model, top or bottom of class, best in class, winning, and win/win. There are two assumptions embedded in this language. The first is the idea that there are external ideals that everyone should meet. The second is the idea that people can be maneuvered toward ideal behavior by external reinforcement and forces. Influence, incentives, and role models, along with rating and ranking, are based on manipulating others for our own ends, even when these are supposedly good ends.

Because the intention is to manipulate others with the use of pain and pleasure, the primary business instruments are incentives, rewards, recognition, rating, and ranking. These practices are most often applied without examination of the paradigm’s assumption that lower order animal behaviors translate directly to human behavior. Performance Reviews are based on the promise of external control, even when others give input, and the assumption that everyone moves toward the same ideals. Modern neuroscience has confirmed this is not the case.

This paradigm, as played out in business, promotes internal considering, which causes individuals to focus on themselves and the potential effect of every outcome on them alone. When people are internally considering, they have no thoughts about the greater good or the value of their actions for others. Everything is considered from a personal bias.

Behavioral systems that are set up primarily as managing systems drive and accelerate internal considering because they do not put people in control of their own destinies, with the ability to affect outcomes. Two of the primary methods in this kind of system are incentives and rewards, which are based on results that are tied to the performance measures of management. They make recognition seem scarce because others determine the few who are to be acknowledged and therefore valued. When a few are set up as role models, the default concern becomes, “all about me and the effects on me.”

Another effect of managing systems is to cause people to seek to “beat the game”. The goal is winning and some become winners, good at meeting the conditions. With limited rewards, high stakes, and secretiveness, a lot of innovative energy is put to winning. Even when it is a win-win for the company and the individual, people are likely to modify their behavior to win, thinking less about their contribution to an end larger than themselves.

Managing systems also reduce motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation. The focus is external, as is intended by the behavior systems. But when people are tantalized by the carrot at the end of the stick, they do not motivate themselves or pursue personal agency applied to grander work. They pursue the carrot.

In the next part of this series, we’ll investigate the language and outcomes derived from the next paradigm: human potential.

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson | Best Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator

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