The Muse

The sheer variety of symbols and artefacts in use across the ages and geographies does not necessarily point to a multitude of assumptions and values from which they spring. The study of mythology and folklore then, is a reverse approach to anthropology. This blog is dedicated to my favourite symbols, tales and artefacts - both ancient and contemporary.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


In this personal learning paper, I intend to discuss not the content of the course, but what I learnt by attending the classes – both about myself and about the subject.

In the very beginning, the subject of Organizational Behaviour seemed to me an attempt to formalize, through theory and jargon, what is commonly known as ‘common sense’. It was a bad attitude, because it prevented me from learning anything at all.

The only life I’ve known so far is that of a student, and I’ve learnt to trust my teachers completely. So when encountered with a subject that seemed wholly unworthy of study, and that too by so respectable a teacher, in an institution of such calibre, was rather disconcerting. Even my father, who’s an MBA in finance, spoke highly of the subject. All of this compelled me to reconsider my view.

I commenced my soul searching by trying to relate what I learnt to subjects I was more familiar with, i.e. the pure sciences. The very backbone of this viewpoint is that there exists a chain of things in nature, and various levels in this scale come under the purview of various sciences. The very fact that this hierarchy exists, justifies the study of all hierarchies. In fact I recalled that one of the things that motivated me to do an MBA was to understand the hierarchy in the artificial chain of things – the economy, for example.

One of the first pillars of OB is that people will inevitably form groups. Thus, even though in OB-1 we focus on the individual, experiments like the Hawthorne one and the various theories of learning and motivation prove the power and influence of groups on people. In that way people are like atoms. A silver atom, for example, has the power to kill the highly dangerous MRSA bacteria when in isolation, but loses that property when it is part of a wire. Similarly, copper loses its superior conducting powers when made into nanotubes.

As a student of Biology, I had the opportunity to get to learn about the basics of this subject under the head of Ecology and Behaviour. We learnt that all behaviour in the wild originated from one motive – the preservation of one’s genetic makeup, even if it meant reducing or destroying the chances of another creature of the same species i.e. the object of all behaviour was to ensure that the creature left viable offspring. And that all other needs and motives could be traced back to this one.

Take the case of the butterfly, for example. Upon hatching, the caterpillar does nothing but eat, so it can pupate properly and become a butterfly. This creature spends its time pollinating flowers of the plants that it knows will be food for its future generations, mates, lays eggs (if female) and then dies.

The behaviour of solitary, selfish herd and colonial animals (other kingdoms as well) could be equally explained by this one need. In a true colonial situation, for example naked mole rats or ants or bees, each member is practically a genetic clone of the other, so it doesn’t hurt to have only one reproducing member.

Students of ecology and behaviour rarely venture into the domain of Human Behaviour, even if they do realize that there is an inevitable linkage. I realized that Freud, who didn’t sound like an ecologist to me, was probably also referring to this same point of view in his notions of infantile sexuality.

Exceptions in this theory, of course, are grouped under altruistic behaviour, and are more difficult to explain. For example, emperor penguins fight over the adoption of an orphaned chick, which is not genetically close to either prospective parent.

Humans are by no means wholly altruistic, but do seem to display a component in their behaviour that doesn’t comply with the prevalent theory. And I am glad that I got the opportunity to study theories of need and motivation that capture that component. With each passing day, I understood the relevance of the subject.

But perhaps the strongest link I perceived was that between models of perception and Optics. I mean Rayleigh’s criteria for resolvability of images is exactly what is implied by the perceptual grouping models.

At the end of it, I realized that the fundamental premise on which this field is based is not just that Human behaviour is explainable and predictable, but that it can and should be managed to the advantage of the organisation. OB isn’t just about knowing others, it is about knowing myself.


dinakar said...

Is it an OB-PLP or a biology-PLP :)

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting PLP...the way you've tied up OB concepts to Biology, it's a pretty different take. :)

Bunty said...

nice :) but a bit too inconsiderate for non-bio students :P

Shilpa said...

Very intresting ans well articulated...........extremely informative too........